To celebrate his 70th birthday, a group of Guy Clark’s friends and admirers came together to pay tribute to the master songwriter on the double album This One’s for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark. They didn’t know that only four short years later, on May 17th, Clark would pass away at the age of 74. Even though he played while seated on a stool for this performance at the Americana Music Awards in 2012 to herald the LP winning Album of the Year, he seemed as creatively strong as ever, as evidenced by the new material he played for the audience. Namely, a song about his late wife Susanna, “My Favorite Picture of You.”
Joined by Verlon Thompson and Shawn Camp, two of his closest collaborators later in life, he played the song that would become the title track of his last album, 2013’s My Favorite Picture of You. Already a recipient of the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, This One’s for Him showcased the vastness not only of his catalogue but his peer fanbase: Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, Hayes Carll, Steve Earle and Patty Griffin were just some of the names who covered his songs, while Jerry Jeff Walker, a fellow Texas troubadour, closed out the album with his version of “My Favorite Picture of You.” A bookend on the tribute record, it lead seamlessly into Clark’s next project, swinging open a door that came slamming to a close far too soon.
My Favorite Picture of You, which won Clark a long-elusive Grammy in 2013, was the Texas-born songwriter at his finest. Age and disease may have worn down his bones, but the 11-track record was as strong as ever. “El Coyote,” which embraced the Spanish language and Flamenco-style guitar that Clark so admired, dealt with the injustices he saw along the Texas border; while “The High Price of Inspiration” talked of both the fickle creative muse and his desire to write music just for the joy of it, not because of pressure from an office somewhere.
Perhaps most poignant was “My Favorite Picture of You,” the emotional heft of which can be seen clearly in Clark’s eyes during this performance. Susanna, a songwriter herself who was also best friends with one of her husband’s closest comrades, Townes Van Zandt, died in June 2012 after a long battle with lung cancer. The picture in question is a Polaroid of his wife in a leather jacket with her arms crossed — apparently she was annoyed at Van Zandt and Clark for drinking too much and goofing around, and a friend captured the moment on film. Clark could have chosen a glamour shot, but he liked the one where he could see the fire in her eyes. That was more real to life, and to their relationship, than anything else.
“It’s a thousand words/in the blink of an eye,” he sang. “The camera loves you, and so do I.”