Many songs cause me to pause and remember. A night, a friend, a love. Some bring a tear, but “The Randall Knife” breaks me down every damn time.
Songs remember fathers in two ways, the son of a bitch or the saint. The first is written by someone crippled by the disapproval of a father who cannot love himself, much less a child. A father loved, or feared, from afar.
The second, more rare and certainly more beautiful, is a kind and loving man, a true father. One who quietly sets the stage for a son’s life, then lets him live it. He’s always there, alive or dead, to cushion the falls and to remind you of what’s right and what’s wrong.
This is the father portrayed by Guy Clark in “The Randall Knife”. A good man with a lucky son who lives a bit in his wake. A son who struggles to measure up be his father and learns, in grieving, that the struggle was never the point.
Clark speaks the lyrics, reverent and thankful and proud, as though singing the words would add more weight than some of us could bear. Guy circles his father’s memory, too hot to touch, until a tool of bone and steel releases all and brings it home. “I found a tear for my father’s life, and all it stood for.”
My own father was somewhere between son of a bitch and saint. He hit the road way too soon, taking some of me with him. I found him again once I was a man, when he was failing and falling back, and he passed before we could say what needed to be said. He lives on in me, the good parts and the bad.
I had no choice in the matter, but if I did, I would still call him father.
If you have father issues, and who doesn’t, this song may heal you a little bit.