Friday, March 11, 2016

River Songs: How many Texas rivers can you fit in one song?

I've always liked river songs. If you know a place, you know its rivers. It used to be we traveled on them, so a river was a highway, the way you got from here to there, maybe from poverty to prosperity, maybe even from slavery to freedom. But rivers were also something to be feared, and there are many songs about great floods.

But rivers were also barriers. The other side of the river, in these songs, is a kind of promised land, perhaps heartbreakingly out of reach. Maybe the greatest river song ever written was by Townes van Zandt, who in my opinion was one of the greatest American songwriters who ever lived. It seems he set out to write a song that named every major river in Texas. The dream down under these lyrics is a dream of crossing, and all these rivers are troubling and dangerous barriers. "La la la li, lend me your hand."

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