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Without Getting Caught or Killed

I just finished reading Tamara Saviano’s biography of Guy Clark, Without Getting Killed or Caught – the life and music of Guy Clark. Guy Clark passed away earlier this year, leaving behind a fantastic songwriting and performing legacy. I should say before writing about this book that I love Guy Clark’s music. His final recording, My Favorite Picture of You is also among Tuffy P’s faves.

Guy Clark was at the centre of the songwriting community in Nashville, and in particular he was known for his long friendship with Townes van Zandt. Here is Guy Clark with a bunch of his friends supporting Nanci Griffith on Letterman. They’re playing Clark’s Desperadoes Waiting for a Train.

Here’s Lyle Lovett talking about Guy Clark and performing Clark’s Anyhow I Love You.

Without Getting Killed or Caught is a loving biography. Sure, it deals with some difficult things in Guy Clark’s life, but author Tamara Saviano makes it clear she loved both Guy Clark and his music. My biggest criticism of the book is that structurally it is so very linear. It starts at the beginning and explores Guy Clark’s life chronologically. I would have enjoyed the biography more had she been able to break it up some, perhaps give some events or periods more prominence.

One of the things Saviano writes about quite a bit is the Nashville music establishment’s difficulty in dealing with the kind of music Clark wrote and performed. She suggests he was pushed toward making records with country instrumentation in an effort to turn Guy Clark into a “hit” artist, and tells us he was not happy with the production of several of his recordings.  Reading the book, it seems Nashville record execs were obsessed with hit-making. Clark was one of a number of musicians who didn’t quite fit the mold, and Saviano writes about the development of the idea of “Americana Music” as a new category to shoehorn performers like Guy Clark and his friends into.

Here’s Townes van Zandt playing the Pueblo Waltz, in which he sings “maybe we’ll move to Tennessee – leave these Texas blues behind, see Susanna and Guy.” Townes and Guy Clark were best friends, but the book also explores Townes’ relationship with Susanna. They were very close – soulmates perhaps. For years, Townes phoned Susanna every morning.

The book suggests that Susanna never really recovered from Townes’ death, and she declined physically from that point. It also marked the end of her creative life. Although Saviano gives plenty of space to Susanna in her biography of Guy, she remains to me an enigmatic figure. She wrote songs – which were very successful for various performers – but it seems as if her songwriting just came out of the ether, as before it is mentioned, she is referred to as a painter.

If you’re a fan of Guy Clark’s music and the music of his friends, you’re going to enjoy Without Getting Killed or Caught. It’s a good read and Saviano gives us compelling look behind the scenes. I’m not a big biography reader, but I enjoyed this one because I’m familiar with the subject and I liked reading about the context of some of the songs and also about how Guy Clark lived his life.

Here’s Dublin Blues – it might be my fave Guy Clark song.

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