drawing of a cloud
guy clark album cover. image of a silhouette of a boy riding a toy horse wearing a cape

'The Cape' Now available in stores and all streaming platforms

spotify itunes
image of a boy and his dog. both wearing capes and flying
illustration of a cloud

Other Albums: Listen Now

guy clark essential album guy clark better days album guy clark boats album guy clark dualtone album
 

illustration of a decorative arrow The Story

The Cape

Eight years old with a floursack cape
Tied all around his neck
He climbed up on the garage
Figurin' what the heck
He screwed his courage up so tight
The whole thing came unwound
He got a runnin' start and bless his heart
He headed for the ground

He's one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape

All grown up with a floursack cape
Tied around his dreams
He was full of spit and vinegar
He was bustin' at the seams
He licked his finger and he checked the wind
It was gonna be do or die
He wasn't scared of nothin' boys
And he was pretty sure he could fly

He's one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape

Old and grey with a floursack cape
Tied all around his head
He's still jumpin' off the garage
Will be till he's dead
All these years the people said
He's actin' like a kid
He did not know he could not fly
So he did

He's one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape

illustration of a cloud
a teenage superhero wearing a cape stands on a cloud

"The point of this little story is that whatever the risks were, our main character was willing to take them and keep taking them throughout his life."

Metaphor, Guy Clark, and the cape

Posted on January 26, 2012 by elizhunter

I’m in awe of good songwriters. A good song is a complete story told in three or four minutes. Set to music. Now, I’m a decent writer, but I hold a certain reverence for those talented individuals who can tell a story, put it to music, and often, sing it too. That, my friends, is talent.

I listened to a variety of music growing up, from the Statler Brothers to Led Zeppelin, folk music of all kinds and classical music, too. My own musical training was classical (voice and piano) but I always had an affection for traditional country music. When I went to school in Houston, I fell in love with Texas songwriters. Lyle Lovett was the first, quickly followed by Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark.

Now, a lot of you may never have heard of Guy Clark (or Van Zandt, which is a crime), but you’ve probably heard his songs. They’ve been covered by some of the biggest names in country music. However, if you’ve never heard Clark sing, you’re missing out. I’ve heard him described as a musician’s musician. He builds guitars and often plays them. He’s a songwriter, a mentor, and he’s probably one of the most emotionally evocative performers I’ve ever seen with nothing more on stage than himself and a guitar. If you think I’m exaggerating, here’s a video of Clark performing his song, Dublin Blues, last year:

Okay, this has kind of turned into a Guy Clark Appreciation Post (which is fine) but I wanted to get back to the idea of songs as really tiny, efficient stories and what we can learn from that as prose writers. One of the reasons songwriters can get away with telling big stories in tiny settings is effective use of metaphor.

The Cape is one of my favorite songs. In 171 words, Clark gives us the story of a character at three stages of life. He’s optimistic. A risk-taker. Is he successful? Maybe. We’re not too sure, but that’s not really the point. The point of this little story is that whatever the risks were, our main character was willing to take them and keep taking them throughout his life.

It’s a universal theme that most of us can relate to. Maybe you’re the kid jumping off the garage and maybe you’re the person who says “he’s acting like a kid,” but we can all place ourselves somewhere in this story. How does Clark achieve this in 171 words?

Metaphor. Clark uses the image of the cape, a recognizable symbol of invincibility to his audience to drive the song. The Cape is such an evocative metaphor that he doesn’t have to spend much time explaining his character. All he has to say is that there’s a little boy standing on the garage wearing a flour-sack cape, and he’s ready to jump. Our minds do the rest. (I can do an entirely separate post on metaphor and audience, so we’ll leave that alone here.) For now, just keep this in mind: metaphor is powerful, and it’s a great shortcut for writers.

Listen for it. Learn it. Use it to create layered writing.

Oh, and on a personal note: if you’re a writer, get yourself a cape.

“He did not know he could not fly…so he did.”

Thanks for reading,

Elizabeth

 
illustration of clouds

About Guy Clark an illustration of a decorative arrow

 
by Kurt Wolff

Guy Clark didn't just write songs, he crafted them, with the kind of hands-on care and respect that a master carpenter (a favorite image of his) would when faced with a stack of rare hardwood. Clark worked slowly and with strict attention to detail -- he released only 13 studio albums in his 40-year career -- but he produced an impressive collection of timeless gems, leaving very little waste behind. His albums never met much commercial success, but the emotional level of his work consistently transcended sales figures and musical genres. He's the archetype of the modern country songwriter that young artists study and seasoned writers (and listeners) admire.

Clark was born in the West Texas town of Monahans. His mother worked and his father was in the Army, so he was raised mostly by his grandmother, who ran the town hotel. One of her residents was an oil well driller who would later end up the subject of one of Clark's most moving and stunningly beautiful songs, "Desperados Waiting for a Train." Many of Clark's songs, in fact, centered around his days growing up in West Texas, including "Texas 1947" (from his debut album) and the 1992 song "Boats to Build," which harked back to a summer job he once had as a teenager on the Gulf Coast.

The first songs Clark learned were mostly in Spanish. Later, when he moved to Houston and began working the folk music circuit, he met fellow songwriter Townes Van Zandt (the two often toured together until Van Zandt's death in 1997) and blues singers Lightnin' Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb. It was here that Clark began playing and writing his sturdy brand of folk- and blues-influenced country music.

In the late '60s, Clark moved to California, living first in San Francisco (where he met and married his wife Susanna, a painter and songwriter) and then in Los Angeles, where he worked in the Dopyera brothers' Dobro factory. Tiring quickly of Southern California (sentiments he expressed in another of his classics, "L.A. Freeway"), he and Susanna packed up and headed for Nashville in 1971, where he picked up work as a writer with publishing companies and, eventually, a recording contract with RCA. Clark's first album, Old No. 1, came out in 1975, a few years after Jerry Jeff Walker had turned "L.A. Freeway" into a minor hit. By this time Clark was considered one of the most promising young writers in country music, and while he didn't live in Texas anymore, the state's influence still ran thick in his blood.

Clark recorded one more album for RCA, Texas Cookin', before switching to Warner Bros. for his next three albums, released between 1978 and 1983. Three of his songs from these albums cracked the Top 100. By the mid-'80s, however, a number of his songs had been made into hits by country stars such as Johnny Cash, David Allan Coe, Ricky Skaggs (who took "Heartbroke" to number one), George Strait, Vince Gill, and the Highwaymen. Clark continued to work as a writer but didn't record again until 1988's Old Friends, released by Sugar Hill. He then switched labels once more, this time to Asylum, which released his 1992 album Boats to Build as part of their acclaimed American Explorer series.

His eighth album, Dublin Blues, came out in 1995, and among its finely crafted moments was a rereading of one of his most enduring songs, "Randall Knife," about the death of his father. Clark next released a pair of albums for his old label Sugar Hill, Cold Dog Soup in 1999 and Dark in 2002. He moved to Dualtone beginning with 2006's Workbench Songs, and received great reviews, both for it and the follow-up Somedays the Song Writes You in 2009. The year 2011 found Clark releasing Songs and Stories (recorded live at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville), an intimate recap of his 40 years as a singer, songwriter, and storyteller.

Clark's wife Susanna passed in 2012. A year later in 2013, her memory figured heavily on his first new studio album in four years, My Favorite Picture of You. It was an intimate set of songs showing that Clark at the age of 71 was still a master songwriter, as good and as elegantly moving as ever. It was the final album he released during his life; years of illness, including a bout with cancer, finally claimed him on May 17, 2016.

 
an image of guy clark holding a guitar
guy clark on the cover of his album for my favorite picture of you. He holds a polaroid of another person
guy clark portrait from the waist up. He wears a scarf
guy clark profile view holding a guitar
old man superhero wearing a cape and riding in a car floating in clouds

Upcoming Tour Dates

illustration of the moon hanging from a cloud on a string
BACK TO TOP