Texas 1947

by Scott on January 17, 2012

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The thing I admire most about good song writers generally (and Guy Clark in particular) is their ability to paint a picture using very few words. “Texas 1947” is one of my favorite Guy Clark songs because he’s able to do more than paint a picture in my mind–he actually creates a 5 minute movie as seen through the eyes of a six year old boy in the middle of the 20th century. And the poetry of this song is its ability to storyboard this movie with simple words creating unbelievably strong images.

This little boy (presumably Clark) has already had enough life experience to know something different is about to happen. He just doesn’t know what it is yet. He has a definite idea of exactly what a train is; how it looks, what it sounds like, and that it’s the most powerful force he can imagine. But he picks up on cues that make it clear to him something is amiss:

Well there’s fifty or sixty people they’re just sittin’ on their cars,
and the old men left their dominoes and come down from the bars.

The whole town is making a big deal out of whatever is about to reveal itself, and nobody knows exactly what to expect:

And you’d a-thought that Jesus Christ his-self was rollin’ down the line.

‘Cause things got real quiet, momma jerked me back,
But not before I’d got the chance to lay a nickel on the track.

And when the chorus kicks in, we can almost feel the train coming through the song. The pace picks up until the train has passed through town:

Look out here she comes, she’s comin’,
Look out there she goes, she’s gone,
screamin’ straight through Texas
like a mad dog cyclone.

Big, red, and silver,
she don’t make no smoke,
she’s a fast-rollin’ streamline
come to show the folks.

Look out here she comes, she’s comin’
Look out there she goes, she’s gone,
screamin’ straight through Texas
like a mad dog cyclone.

. . .Lord, she never even stopped.

I think the last verse of the song is the strongest part. It’s here that we find out this song is about much more than a six year old boy watching a streamline train come through his town for the first time. This song is about change. It’s about the realization of everyone in the town that the future holds something different, and for the listener there’s the hint that some of these people and these towns are going to be left behind as a result…maybe stuck in 1947 as the rest of the world speeds by.

She left fifty or sixty people still sittin’ on their cars,
and they’re wonderin’ what it’s comin’ to
and how it got this far.

The silver lining here is that the little boy gets a souvenir to remind him for the rest of his life (or as long as he keeps the nickel) of the day he saw this happen, what it felt like, and the significance of it.

But me, I got a nickel smashed flatter than a dime
by a mad dog, runaway red-silver streamline. . . train

Please, point me to something on country radio this well written that captures a moment in our history like this. Please.

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