Guy Clark’s pean to Ernest Hemingway and the freedom to live life to the full.
Last week we were in the Highlands of Scotland with Gaelic supergroup Daimh who have been known to use a Guy Clark record as their warm-up act. With this in mind, it seems unavoidable that this weeks Chain Gang track is Guy Clark’s ‘Hemingway’s Whiskey’ from ‘Somedays The Song Writes You’. By the time he came to record 2009’s ‘Somedays The Song Writes You’ Clark had not only fully honed his songwriting, often with input from other writers, but also the sound of his own records. This is an album where the sound and arrangements are just right to support Clark’s voice and the songs and I doubt if there is a lick or a flourish that is superfluous or that there is any additional instrumental colour that would improve the arrangements.
Ernest Hemingway was a Nobel Prize winning American novelist, short-story writer, journalist and sportsman who had an economical and understated style of writing and who was also a cultural icon because of his adventurous lifestyle. ‘Hemingway’s Whiskey’, written by Clark with Joe Leathers and Ray Stephenson, is about living life to the full and taking full responsibility for your actions, something that Clark did until his death in 2016. In 2013 Clark released ‘My Favorite Picture Of You’ which is one of his best albums despite, or because of, the then recent death of his wife Susanna and long-term major health problems, clear evidence that Clark did it his way to the very end. Kenny Chesney, who named an album after the song, has said it is about “walking between the raindrops” and being agile and free-spirited enough to make the most of life. The song is not about excess, though Hemingway was a notorious drinker, so much as getting full value from life. While Hemingway was certainly a heavy drinker, he never drank while he was writing.
Kris Kristofferson recorded a version for the tribute album ‘This One’s For Him: A Tribute To Guy Clark’ and it was one of the standout tracks on the record. Kristofferson, who is not known for his own simple lyrics, gets to the essence of freedom that is at the heart of Clark’s expertly honed lyrics about someone whose books were burnt in the 1933 Nazis student book burnings and who can still speak to us today.
“Sail away, sail away, three sheets to the wind
Live hard, die hard, this one’s for him.”