“Love’s a gamble, love’s a curse. Love’s a bitch but it could be worse.”
If any single line on Guy Clark’s new album My Favorite Picture of You could sum up the common theme of all eleven tracks, that’s it. It comes about halfway into “Hell Bent on a Heartache”, where the storied songwriter explores his unending yearning for newness. It’s not a song about seeking love so much as it is an admittance of the inevitability of disappointment. Indeed, the coexistence of love and heartbreak – and the various ways the two feed off each other – is at the core of each song on the album. It’s this balance Clark strikes which says the most about what he means by a love song.
There are enough songs in the world about all the easy and obvious ways of love – the first storied glance, the romance and lust, the longing and all the other schmaltz. But, when you get to the raw truth of it all, the stuff that lasts doesn’t do so devoid of heartbreak, but rather in spite of it.
The title track tells the story behind the Polaroid Clark holds on the cover of the disc. It’s a shot of his wife Susanna in the 1970s, when she had just come home to find Guy and his friend Townes Van Zandt drunk again. She was angry and hurt, storming off, full of fire. “You never left but your bags were packed just in case,” he sings, describing her as “nobody’s fool … smarter than me.” It’s not an easy song to hear, but neither is lasting love an easy task. Telling the story in simple terms that are emotional and provocative – and rhyme – is another feat altogether. But, Clark is one of the best.
The disc isn’t all romantic love, though. There’s “Heroes” – a smart, emotional song about soldiers living with PTSD. He flexes his epic story-song muscles on “The Death of Sis Draper” (set to the tune of “Shady Grove”) and turns to commentary on “Good Advice”. The latter seems more a reaction to others trying to offer good advice than it is an attempt to provide some. Though, he does manage a few words of wisdom: “If it’s not one thing, it’s another, and that you can count on.”
But, it’s “I’ll Show Me” – the self-effacing tune which closes the disc – where Clark finally shrugs the downside of his running theme. With wonder and pride, he credits the love: “How’d I get this far, you ask. I’m here today it was no small task.”