Some rock critic once described a song as sounding like the singer had traveled a long way to deliver their message. (It was probably Greil Marcus, and probably about Bob Dylan, but I truly don’t remember.) There are songs like that, with a sense of hard-won but weary wisdom, deep truth that’s extracted a cost in being acquired. For you, it may be any one of a number of songs from Hank Williams’s sturdy catalog. For me, this song fits the bill.
In the first verse the singer talks about a moment of connection with a street singer he happens to hear. In the final verse that street singer is long gone, probably dead, but his song lives on in the singer’s memory. The song is about perseverance, about not giving in to circumstance, about the necessary belief in a place in this lifetime beyond darkness and pain and the necessary struggle to get there. In the middle verse the singer reflects on how this message applies in his own life:
You and me darling, we took the long way around
Across the wide open country, past the heart attack towns
We hit the fork in the road where we all have to choose
Between darkness and light
Beyond the blues…
I love that phrase “the long way around.” (Co-writer Tom Russell must have liked it too, enough to name the album on which he covers the song after it.) We all want shortcuts, but we seldom get them and when we do they don’t always work out as we expected. Perhaps we’d be happier if we resigned ourselves to a more methodical design for living. Or as expressed in another Peter Case couplet, from another song:
Been on this road since I was two
Just found out that it don’t cut through…
That resonates for me. But then I’ve always been an effort-is-its-own-reward kind of guy, and also a you-can’t-make-your own-circumstances-but-you-can-choose-how-you-respond-to-them kind of guy. Both of those are in this song.
Peter Case. Always thought he was English. “The Plimsouls,” what kind of name is that for an American band? “A Million Miles Away” is a great song, though. I was quite enamored of Peter’s first, folky solo album in 1986. I gave it a listen last night and it holds up well. “Walk in the Woods” is like a male version of “Ode to Billie Joe.” I saw him play at a club around that time; what I mostly remember is he looked homeless. I liked the album this song comes from, “Six-Pack of Love,” a lot too, but haven’t kept up since except the occasional song I hear on folk radio (seek out ‘Beautiful Grind”). So I know maybe 20% of his ouevre. There are probably 10 other great Peter Case songs I may or may not ever get around to hearing. Sad for me, sadder for Peter, but perhaps hopeful in a general sense of the existence of undiscovered richness, of so much good stuff out there ready to be stumbled over just when you need it most. Maybe even, as the song says, from some random old man on a corner playing guitar with a rusty knife.