Nanci 2007 (OP)

17th July 2007

We went to see Nanci Griffith on Sunday (15th). A wonderful night as usual – I am often close to tears when listening to and watching Nanci live. She played at the Alexandra Theatre rather than Symphony Hall – so we swapped the airiness and light and modernity and perfect sound quality of Symphony Hall for the rather splendid faded inter-war attempted grandeur of the Alex – but I think that any slight gain in atmosphere was more than outweighed by the loss in sound quality and comfort.

 The set list comprised most of the usual favourites plus three songs from the new album Ruby’s Torch – it went as follows (as far as I can recall)…

  1. A Simple Life
  2. Speed of the Sound of Loneliness
  3. Love Conquers All
  4. From a Distance
  5. Beautiful
  6. Drops from the Faucet
  7. Late Night Grande Hotel
  8. Ruby’s Arms
  9. Gulf Coast Highway
  10. The Flyer
  11. Listen to the Radio
  12. Love at the Five and Dime
  13. Its a Hard Life
  14. Across the Great Divide
  15. Road to Aberdeen (encore)
  16. Well Allright (encore)

Notable introductions were to Ruby’s Arms – Nanci said that though she loved torch songs few of them expressed the kind of the political position she was comfortable with; as she was opposed to the unjustified, unwanted wars our governments were waging this song about a man having to go off to war  was an exception..

         He will leave behind all of his clothes
He wore when he was with her
All he need’s are his railroad boots
And his leather jacket
As he say goodbye to Ruby’s arms
Although his heart is breaking
He will steal away out through her blinds
For soon she will be waking

Morning light has washed her face
And everything is turning blue now
She holds onto her pillow case
There’s nothing he can do now
As he says goodbye to Ruby’s arms
He says she’ll find another soldier
And he swears to God by Christmas time
There’ll be someone else to hold you

The only thing he’s taking is
The scarf off of her clothesline
He’ll hurry past her chest of drawers
And her broken wind chimes
As he says goodbye
He says goodbye
Goodbye to Ruby’s arms

He will feel his way down her darkened hall
And out into the morning
The hobos in the freight yards
Have kept their fires burning
And Jesus Christ this cold hard rain
Won’t someone put him on his train
He’ll never kiss her lips again
Or break her heart
As he says goodbye
He says goodbye
Say goodbye to Ruby’s arms 

Gulf Coast Highway she dedicated to LadyBird Johnson who had died a few days earlier. Nanci recalled that the last job she had before this one (which she said wasn’t really a job :)) had been working in a deli; she was absolutely useless. But LadyBird Johnson, who’s nephew was dating Nanci’s sister (I think I have that right), used to come into the deli and ask for something made by Nanci Griffith – which enabled Nanci to keep the job for six months! 

She returned to LadyBird in the intro to Across the Great Divide where she spoke of the fact that it had been a very bad year for strong East Texas women with the deaths of LadyBird, Molly Ivins and Ann Richards. The latter had requested that Nanci sing at her funeral and Across the Great Divide was the song Nanci chose.

Finally in the introduction to Its A Hard Life she spoke, as she usually does, of her contempt for current American politicians (and her words apply equally of course to British politicians). Maybe I have put these lyrics on the blog before but it is no harm to repeat them (repeat them every year maybe!)..

 I am a backseat driver from America
They drive to the left on Falls Road
The man at the wheel’s name is Seamus
We pass a child on the corner he knows
And Seamus says,”Now, what chance has that kid got?”
And I say from the back,”I don’t know.”
He says,”There’s barbed wire at all of these exits
And there ain’t no place in Belfast for that kid to go.”

It’s a hard life
It’s a hard life
It’s a very hard life
It’s a hard life wherever you go
If we poison our children with hatred
Then, the hard life is all they’ll ever know
And there ain’t no place in (Belfast) for these kids to go
(this world)

A cafeteria line in Chicago
The fat man in front of me
Is calling black people trash to his children
He’s the only trash here I see
And I’m thinking this man wears a white hood
In the night when his children should sleep
But, they slip to their window and they see him
And they think that white hood’s all they need


I was a child in the sixties
Dreams could be held through TV
With Disney and Cronkite and Martin Luther
Oh, I believed, I believed, I believed
Now, I am a backstreet driver from America
I am not at the wheel of control
I am guilty, I am war I am the root of all evil
Lord, and I can’t drive on the left side of the road


Nanci wrote this in Belfast in 1988. I suppose it is good to say that the first verse is to some extent outdated now – but then how many places in the world could now replace it. Baghdad springs instantly to mind of course. But I know it and love it as it is and wouldn’t want her to change a word.

She always slips ‘I will always believe’ or ‘I still believe’ in just after the three I believeds – and I always get a lump in my throat when she does.

We reckon we first saw Nanci over 20 years ago now – at the Irish Centre with an audience of about a hundred, most standing and an open bar – and she has been part of our lives since then in the way that some artists can be. Because she tours so regularly that connection is kept more vibrant and alive. Seeing her is like coming home. I think that is part of the emotion, part of the reason I always find myself welling up. Magical.

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