Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Guy Clark

Guy Clark, Diamond Club, Toronto, Feb. 1993

THIS HAS BEEN AN AWFUL YEAR FOR MUSIC FANS, and I've had to dip into my archives more times than I want to, searching for photos for memorial posts. The death of Texas singer and songwriter Guy Clark is particularly sad, as it puts a capstone on the career of a man who should probably have been a lot bigger than he was, and sets the stage for the bitter consolation prize of posthumous acclaim.

The last time I pulled out these negatives was just a few months ago, when Allen Toussaint died after a concert in Madrid. I'd shot Clark with Toussaint, Joe Ely and Michelle Shocked at a songwriters' showcase at the Diamond, over twenty years ago. I only barely knew about Clark then, but friends with impeccable taste had told me to make sure I got some pictures of him.

Guy Clark, Diamond Club, Toronto, Feb. 1993

Clark was the sort of figure connoisseurs adore - a songwriter whose biggest hits were recorded by other people, the kind of musician who gets namechecked by much more famous ones eager to burnish their discerning eye for influences or try to let a bit of their fortune trickle down to the sorts of talents who haven't had their luck. He'd been at the centre of a circle of songwriters in Nashville for years before he released his first record in 1975, and managed to get a new one out every few years since then, touring in between with peers and friends like Toussaint and Ely, John Hiatt, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett.

I only shot a few frames of Clark at the Diamond that night - I was supposed to hand in shots of Toussaint - and struggled to get something decent under the dim overhead spots. The frame at the top of him looking up into the light - an obvious choice for a memorial post like this; perhaps too obvious - was the second to last one.

Allen Toussaint, Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Diamond Club, Toronto, Feb. 1993

I still don't know why I got these shots of Clark, Ely and Toussaint after the show, or why Shocked isn't in them. I knew getting them together would be a nice document, at the very least, but I still can't explain why I didn't take the trouble to get individual portraits. I like the clear affection and camaraderie you can see in the photo above, and it makes me sad that only one of these men is still alive.

Clark made a lot of good records, but his most poignant might be My Favorite Picture of You, the one that turned out to be his last. The title track is a candid, aching recollection of his wife, Susanna Clark, also a singer and songwriter, who had died just two years previous. It's the kind of song that you can only write once, and which takes years before you can listen to it with enough life behind you to feel its real emotional weight.

Guy Clark died in Nashville on May 17, 2016.


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