There are no trees on the West Texas prairie. It's a wonder any settlers ever came through the place and decided to put down roots, says singer and artist Terry Allen.
There's a museum in Lubbock, where Allen was raised, that displays a couple of bird's nests made of barbed wire – the only material the birds could find during the Depression. The late Guy Clark, who was born in Monahans, Texas, was fascinated by the nests, Allen recalls. They epitomized a simple, powerful idea: making something out of nothing.
He's not sure yet, but Allen – a renowned sculptor who has permanent public installations across the country – might use the barbed wire bird's nests as inspiration for a unique tribute to Clark, his good friend of more than 30 years, who died in May at age 74. Whatever sculpture he makes, it will incorporate Clark's ashes, fulfilling one of the singer's final wishes.
It was just like the legendarily crusty Clark to put that kind of burden on his friend, Allen says with a wry laugh: "I think it was kind of like a 'Fuck you, Terry.'"
The two songwriters met on a package tour in the early Eighties, hitting it off so well they got themselves bumped off the gig. Allen took Clark to see Trees, his installation on the U.C. San Diego campus: a few eucalyptus trees preserved from a grove that was razed during campus expansion, encased in lead and inlaid with speakers that play songs and poems. The two remained close over the years, enjoying holidays together with their wives and faxing each other regularly. (Clark never quite took to computers when email replaced faxes, Allen says.)
They wrote a few songs together, too. "Queenie's Song," which they both recorded, recounts Allen finding a beloved old dog under a bush, dead from a bullet hole. Queenie died in Santa Fe, where Allen and his wife, Jo Harvey, have kept a home for years.
After a private wake two weeks ago in Nashville, attended by Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, Shawn Camp, sideman Verlon Thompson and several more of Clark's friends and protégés, the group boarded a tour bus to Santa Fe, where the Allens hosted one last memorial.
They brought the ashes. "It was like Guy's last road trip," Allen says.
More of Clark's admirers, including Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett and Joe Ely, flew in from around the country to be there. Huddled around a fire pit, they took turns singing the songs Clark would have expected them to sing for him.
Though Clark had been in poor health for some time, Allen still finds it tough to talk about his friend's death. They read the same books, had the same sense of humor. They never ran out of things to talk about, he says.
"I always thought he was just a real straight shooter," Allen says. The songs made him immortal. The sculpture, whatever it turns out to be, will just confirm it.