Saturday, February 16, 2008

Remember Eric Anderson?

"Thirsty Boots" , an old folk tune written by "new Dylan" Eric Anderson came on the radio the other day and at once I was taken back to the Sixties, the decade that born the song; flower power, bell bottoms, brave new sideburns and peach fuzz beards made my skin itch all over again.





Thirsty Boots
By Eric Andersen


You've long been on the open road,
You've been sleeping in the rain,
From dirty words and muddy cells
Your clothes are smeared and stained,
But the dirty words and muddy cells
Will soon be hid in shame
So only stop to rest yourself
Till you are off again

Chorus:

So take off your thirsty boots
and stay for a while,
Your feet are hot and weary,
from a dusty mile,
And maybe I can make you laugh,
maybe I can try,
I'm just looking for the evening,
the morning in your eye.

So tell me of the ones you saw
As far as you could see
Across the plain from field to town
A-marching to be free
And of the rusted prison gates
That tumbled by degree
Like laughing children, one by one,
They look like you and me

Chorus.

I know you are no stranger down
The crooked rainbow trails
From dancing cliff-edged shattered sills
Of slandered, shackled jails
For the voices drift up from below
As the walls they're being scaled
Yes, all of this, and more, my friend,
Your song shall not be failed.

Chorus.

Yes, you've long been on the open road
You've been sleeping in the rain
From dirty words and muddy cells
Your clothes are smeared and stained
But the dirty words, the muddy cells,
They'll soon be judged insane
So only stop to rest yourself
'til you are off again.



I was greatly enamored of this song when I was fifteen, when I was discovering folk music, modern poetry and the like, and it seemed at the time to be both wonderful and mysterious. It was too long to wait to be old enough to get out and ramble and jangle and experience "dues paying" in an effort to have things to commit to precious language. I still enjoy the song and have fond memories of Anderson, but this lyric seems precious after all this time, which is to say that it reads (and sounds) artfully contrived.
The affectation of dropping the g's that spoils what other wise would be a lovely (if unreal) scenario. As with Dylan and other pioneers of the singer-songwriter form, there was a compulsion for city kids to try to sound rural and unschooled, oddly combined with the need to show off the influences of the poets they've read. Sometimes the contradictions resulted in extended genius, the case with Dylan, but many other tunes have travelled much less well through the years; "Thirsty Boots" is one of those tunes that haven’t surmounted its naïveté. The gauge I use is that the lyrics no longer evoke something greater than what the mere words are getting at. What they do instead is make me nostalgic, at best.