On Guy Clark’s “Anyhow, I Love You” by Shannon Tharp
I miss Guy Clark. I never met Guy Clark. But I know enough about his place in the world of country music and the musicians who orbited him—enough to say that there will never be another singer-songwriter who comes close to living life on his own terms and making brilliant songs the way Clark did. When I think of him, I think of the opening credits of James Szalapski’s Heartworn Highways, in which Clark sings “L.A. Freeway” beautifully. When the song ends he reaches offscreen for his lit cigarette, takes a drag, looks at whoever’s filming, and says of the way he played: “A little loose.”
I also think of the love Clark held for his wife, Susanna. I try not to be prescriptive, but if you haven’t listened to “My Favorite Picture of You”—a song Clark wrote about a decades-old picture of Susanna, a picture in which (per Clark’s words) Susanna is pissed off at Clark and Townes Van Zandt for getting too drunk—you should. You might not make it through without crying. I can’t. Clark wrote the song not long before Susanna passed away in 2012.
But the song I’m meaning to write about is “Anyhow, I Love You,” from 1976’s Texas Cookin’, Clark’s second album. The song’s a ballad, and a relatively unsentimental one at that. Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and Waylon Jennings can all be heard singing with Clark at one point or another throughout. For me, the greatest moment in the song occurs when Clark says—not sings, says—“don’t” at the end of the phrase “So when you feel like runnin’ for the back door, don’t.” That one word said plainly and quietly, as though you and your beloved have arrived at the end of a dumb argument, don’t remember what you were arguing about, just drop it: don’t. This is part of Clark’s brilliance, making something sung sound as though it’s said. It’s how the song welcomes the listener, makes room for the listener to stay.
And then there’s “I wouldn’t trade a tree for the way I feel about you,” the line upon which the whole hymn-like waltz crescendos, along with the singers, to the finish. It’s also one of the lines that Waylon Jennings can best be heard on, almost hollering the final time he sings “about you.” Who wouldn’t want to have that line sung or said to them, for them? We don’t talk about good, true love enough as it is anyhow.
Aside from love, there’s absence of money in the song. Clark begins carefully, “I wish I had a dime for every bad time / But the bad times always seem to keep the change.” Awhile later, as though the singer’s looked around to find anything in proximity that could end up money—the paper on which currency is printed, lumber sold for building—the listener is given the tree the song turns around. It’s a radiant gift, the singer’s eventual disregard of money.
For every song that addresses difficult love, troubled love, bad love, mediocre love (I could keep going, but I won’t), there’s “Anyhow, I Love You.” It sounds as though it’s always been there waiting for you to listen, waiting for you to carry it with you across whatever time remains.
TO THE RIVER
Why do I continue
to force false
all I’m trying
to say is it hurts
to live like this,
may be beyond.
Shannon Tharp is the author of The Cost of Walking (Skysill Press, 2011) and Vertigo in Spring (The Cultural Society, 2013). Her poems and essays have recently appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, The RS 500, Typo, and The Volta. She lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
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Contact Jackie Clark: jackie [at] coldfrontmag [dot] com.
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