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Home Reviews Song Writer's Sojourn Unpacking 'Cold Dog Soup': The misery and magic of Guy Clark's poetry

Unpacking 'Cold Dog Soup': The misery and magic of Guy Clark's poetry

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There’s no better look at the life of a starving artist than the lyrics of Guy Clark’s 1999 song “Cold Dog Soup,” reinterpreted by James McMurtry on “This One’s For Him,” a 2-CD tribute to Clark released on Dec. 6 by Icehouse Records. The lyrics are spoken during the verses, with a haunting melody sung during the chorus.

Dog soup is diner slang for water. Rainbow pie is taken from the hobo song “Sugar Dumpling Line,” hinting that a songwriter’s life rarely includes a bountiful buffet.


Lose all your troubles, kick up some sand
And follow me, buddy, to the Promised Land.
I’m here to tell you, and I wouldn’t lie,
You’ll wear ten-dollar shoes and eat rainbow pie.





COLD DOG SOUP

William Butler Yeats in jeans
Got up to play guitar and sing
In some joint in Mission Beach last night.

At the door sat Tom Waits
In a pork pie hat and skates
He was juggling three collection plates.
Jesus Christ.

Townes Van Zandt was standing at the bar
Skinning a Hollywood movie star
He can’t remember where he parked his car
Or to whom he lost the keys.
But he’s full of angst and hillbilly haiku
What’s a poor Fort Worth boy to do
Go ahead, rhyme something for ‘em, man
Tell ‘em how you really feel.

There ain’t no money in poetry
That’s what keeps the poet free
I’ve had all the freedom I can stand.
You got your cold dog soup and rainbow pie
That’s all it takes to get me by.
Fool my belly ‘til the day I day
Cold dog soup and rainbow pie.

Ginsberg and Kerouac were shooting dice
And playing Ramblin’ Jack’s guitar
With the cowboy paint guard and pick guard on it
They sat in the back and they drank for free
And they rhymed orange with Rosalee
Now there’s a pride of lions to draw to.

There ain’t no money in poetry
That’s what keeps the poet free
I’ve had all the freedom I can stand.
It’s cold dog soup and rainbow pie
That’s all it takes to get me by.
Fool my belly ‘til the day I day
Cold dog soup and rainbow pie.

For more than 50 years, Clark has been writing songs that matter – songs that tell stories about hard working people, people on the edges of society and people who have found – and lost – true love.

“Anyone thinks they can be a songwriter and people make a lot of money writing hit songs for radio,” said Tamara Saviano, the Grammy-winning producer of the new CD. “But to be an artist and writer like Guy, well, you can’t manufacture that.”

For most of his 70 years, Clark has been a student of the writing process. In a 2009 News-Telegram interview he talked about authors who influenced him.

“Of course, I am a Hemingway fan,” he said. “Like Hemingway, I’m still trying to learn what to leave out.”

When he was a young boy, Clark’s family sat around the dinner table and read the poetry of Robert Frost and Stephen Vincent Benet. As a young artist, Clark and Townes Van Zandt, his best friend of 30 years, would listen to cassette tapes of Dylan Thomas reading his poetry. Listening to a master like Thomas made the two beginners realize they had a lot to learn.

With this song, Clark pays tribute to the writers who inspired him, especially Van Zandt. Clark’s lyrics refer to his friend’s legendary prowess when it came to women. Van Zandt, who grew up as a child of privilege, turned his back on his family’s riches and chose the life of a poet. He died on Jan. 1, 1997, but his influence on modern music continues.

“I do think it’s one of the killer pieces,” Verlon Thompson, Clark’s close friend and writing and touring partner for over 20 years, said of the tune. “I’d forgotten how good that song was.”

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

A new book, “I’ll Be Here in the Morning: The Songwriting Legacy of Townes Van Zandt,” a collection of musicians interviews by Brian T. Atkinson, was recently released by Texas A&M University Press.
Watch the News-Telegram for an interview with Atkinson.

Comments (1)Add Comment
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Nice job
written by a guest , April 23, 2013
Nice article pal. I have been looking up some interpretations to what "cold dog soup and rainbow pie" is. Ran up in this.

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