Badge number 301
Sits in his car and stares at his gun
He wipes the blood from his shirt,
The sweat from his brow
He got out this time but he don’t know how
Well he’d go on home but nobody’s there
No one to hold; no one to care
There was a time he had someone
But one day he came home, she was gone
Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing Chris Knight, one of my favorite recording artists, play in person at a little bar in Columbia, SC. One of the advantages of not being terribly mainstream in musical taste is that you can see these folks play up close and personal. Knight is a former coal mine inspector from Kentucky, and he speaks and sings with that region’s deep accent. This is the supremely gritty, unpolished end of the country music spectrum, the kind that projects a big heart, full of insight, sympathy and understanding, not to mention a deep familiarity with suffering. But Knight is not sweet. “Boy, this group over here is a talkative group…(pause)… What I’m trying to say is shut [the front door] up while I’m singing.” (Followed by uproarious laughter from the crowd.)
The Decade of Naught has been one of massive flux in my life. Good, bad, and indifferent. Chris Knight is one of the two artists who has unknowingly accompanied me through this. I found out at his show recently that I am not the only one.
The audience was composed almost entirely of men. There was a smattering of girlfriends and wives (mine being one) but, as I looked around, all of the men were captivated by Knight’s presence and songs. They were college kids, burnouts, good ol’ boys, high-level lawyers, businessmen, and retired men. We were singing along together to the stark stories about criminals, regret, frustrated dreams, and love in the midst of it all. No exhortations to progress. No lying. No superficial platitudes. No repression or denial. Just the futile cycle of human striving. All with isolated affirmations from the crowd: “Yep, that’s me”, “That happens to me all the time”, etc. Catharsis and abreaction. How rare it is to see folks who would otherwise be barroom toughs stand visibly moved.
One of the tests of truly powerful art is the universality with which it connects. Honesty, insight, unflinching reality, a view from the precipice, compassion, mercy. This is what a preacher should be.
I want to preach like Chris Knight.
Love and a .45
Are all you need to get through the night
One’ll kill you one’ll keep you alive
Love and a .45