Feb. 23rd, 2009

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In 1987 the album Bring the family by John Hiatt was released. Great album, beautiful songs, a huge discovery for the teenage music fan I was back then. At home a video recorder still hadn’t entered our household, but on Sunday evening, while babysitting, I was able to use the machine there.I taped a documentary about Hiatt, in those days mainly popular in The Netherlands, but an unknown in his native US. Interesting back ground information, great songs, atmospheric images, live songs, compliments for the maker of the documentary.

That first tape was played on a regular basis, by the time we owned a VCR ourselves. A concert by The Nits, Joe Jackson live, but mainly that same documentary about Hiatt. Images from Nashville, a factory for singer-songwriters, though especially famous for its Country and Western music.

Not exactly my type of music. Not then, still not today. I can easily grow old without listening to Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton or Hank Williams. Twenty years later though, I have to bring some nuance to that idea. Johnny Cash and especially Guy Clark did manage to touch me. Clark in that documentary about Hiatt, with his famous song ‘Desperados waiting for a train’. Some Jerry Jeff Walker in 1973 already recorded it and had a small hit. Clark himself wrote the song, but recorded the song not until a couple of years later. The album ‘Old No1’ was released in 1975, I bought i talmost twenty years later. After years of searching to no avail, in Amsterdam I found it and immediately had to have it. Based on that one simple song, I had heard only a fragment of it. The album turned out to be a pearl in my extended collection. With the highlight this one song about the friendship from a small boy and an old man. Can’t hear that song too often.

And it seems I’m not the only one. 9 other artists have made the list covering the song. Also on YouTube many are inspired by this great song. Clark turns out to be a great songwriter, many of the greats of this earth have played a song by him, John Denver, Johnny Cash and The Everly Brothers to name but a few.

So time and time again I listen to this song. I’m very happy to encounter different live versions on YouTube. Thanks to one of those versions I now know this song has been written about his grandmother’s boyfriend. Not his own grandfather, yet someone who played the part convincingly apparently. Listening to this, even Country music can be tolerated. Nice vulnerable voice, but without the exaggerated howls that so many country songs have. The story would have fitted, but I’m glad Clark didn’t fall in that trap.



I played the Red River Valley
He'd sit in the kitchen and cry
Run his fingers through seventy years of livin'
And wonder, "Lord, why has every well I've drilled gone dry?"

We were friends, me and this old man
We's like desperados waitin' for a train
Desperados waitin' for a train

He's a drifter, a driller of oil wells
He's an old school man of the world
He taught me how to drive his car when he was too drunk to
And he'd wink and give me money for the girls
And our lives was like, some old Western movie
Like desperados waitin' for a train
Like desperados waitin' for a train

From the time that I could walk he'd take me with him
To a bar called the Green Frog Cafe
There was old men with beer guts and dominos
Lying 'bout their lives while they played
I was just a kid, they all called me "Sidekick"
Just like desperados waitin' for a train
Like desperados waitin' for a train

One day I looked up and he's pushin' eighty
He's got brown tobacco stains all down his chin
Well to me he was a hero of this country
So why's he all dressed up like them old men
Drinkin' beer and playin' Moon and Forty-two
Jus' like desperados waitin' for a train
Like a desperado waitin' for a train

The day 'fore he died I went to see him
I was grown and he was almost gone.
So we just closed our eyes and dreamed us up a kitchen
And sang another verse to that old song
(spoken) Come on, Jack, that son-of-a-bitch is comin'

We're desperados waitin' for a train
Was like desperados waitin' for a train



32 songs. Thanx to Nick Hornby. A series about songs that have influenced my life in one way or another.

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May 2009

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