Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life & Music of Guy Clark
During a chance encounter with celebrated Scottish singer-songwriter Norrie McCulloch at SummerTyne 2016 the conversation somehow turned to Guy Clark. By sheer coincidence I had received this book the previous day and was wondering if (at all) I could fit in the time to read it. His face lit up at the prospect of not only reading it; but ‘guest reviewing it ‘ for my website The Rocking Magpie.
Over to Norrie…….
I was delighted and felt privileged to have been asked to guest review Without Getting Killed or Caught and thought it a suitable nod to the great Guy Clark that I read the book whilst traveling around in my VW camper-van during a few weeks this summer to play festivals. Guy and Suzanna drove from Austin to Nashville in their old VW and these stories of Guy Clark and his fellow band of desperados within the book were a great companion for me at the end of the day as I cozied up in my own VW with the ringing of a days festival music in my ears.
Author Tamara Saviano’s writing style smoothly journeys you through these pages, thoroughly covering all stages of the artists’ life including great insights into Clark’s recorded output with much information gathered from Guy himself, family and friends and many of the Nashville musicians with whom Clark was associated.
Even if you do not know who Guy Clark is (and you should!) this book is going to have you wishing you’d known about him a long time ago. From the opening chapters defining his early family life as a clean cut all American boy, through learning to play guitar and catching Lightning Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb live in concert hooking the young Clark on a life long love of guitars, songwriting and the Blues.
WGKOC acts as a very fine document of the time. Offering a detailed account of the early Texas life and the later Nashville scene that Guy Clark moved within, it’s a must read for any fans of Clark, Van Zandt, Crowell and anyone who wishes to hear the stories from Clark and many of the Nashville elite on their intertwined lives, song craft and love for music.
Along the way you are introduced to characters such as his grandfather Jack who’s relationship with the young Guy would be the inspiration for one of Clark’s most well known songs ‘Desperados Waiting For a Train’. You hear of Guys father and the full Randall Knife story, and of course there is Suzanna (Clark’s wife and muse) and, of course….his best friend Townes Van Zandt who’s relationship with both Clark and his wife Suzanna is contained (or restrained may be a better word) within part 2 of the book which covers Nashville, 1972-1997… the prime part of this artist’s story that many readers will no doubt be eager to get to.
One observer within the book describing the scene around the Clark’s Nashville house in the mid 70’s reveals that many looked on Guy Clark like the sun and Suzanna was the moon and everyone else were all the planets spinning around them… friends such as Mickey Newbury who when he came to town was like a visit from royalty and Townes whom everyone saw as a wandering troubadour character, each character that enters the musician’s life in the book seems to be drawn to him like he was the burning source and people just needed to follow him around.
The lifeline running through the book from as soon as they meet is the relationship between Guy and Susanna. It reads like a beautifully perfect storm of a relationship with all manner of individuals blowing in from every direction, with the Clarks centered as the sun and the moon blasting around in an artistic country musical cosmos filled with enough dope and booze to fuel a rocket ship through the stars.
The author having gained access to all areas to the Clark family archives has selected some great images also for inclusion in the book with this reviewers favorite being a still from a pro photo-shoot of Guy, Suzanna and an overjoyed Townes holding 2 huge stuffed dogs he’d won at the Tennessee state fair; but there are many nice photographic additions here throughout the book that help document certain periods of Clarks life very well.
WGKOC was written when Guy Clark was very much alive and his life shines off the pages. It was however easy to forget while you get lost in Guy’s Nashville that he is now gone and ultimately it hits hard when you come to the final part of the book detailing Clarks later years, the authors close relationship with the Clarks and eventually the absoluteness of illness and we are finally left with the very touching obituary the author wrote shortly after guys passing.
If you listen to Guy Clark albums, you’ll know the intimate stories and accounts of the artists life that jump right out of the grooves and into the room you’re sitting in. You may have watched Heartworn Highways- James Szalapski’s documentary on the Outlaw Country movement in Texas and Tennessee which captures Clark, Van Zandt and many other musicians of the time in their prime during 1975-76. However, until now there has not been a book from an author allowed such close access to the Clarks and their friends that even touches what Saviano was granted with WGKOC and thus the book fills that vacant space perfectly.
It’s a book that shines light into all corners of this much loved musicians life…a life that was full of stuff that was real, stuff you feel…the kind of stuff you reach for when you fall.
Highly recommended – Go buy it.
Norrie McCulloch ( http://www.norriemcculloch.com/ )