RIP Susanna Clark (March 11, 1939 – June 27, 2012)
I’ve gotten many sweet condolence calls and messages about Susanna Clark’s death, yet I don’t feel worthy of them. I’m not a close family friend. I was Guy’s publicist until I started working on his biography, but even then, I was Guy’s publicist, not Susanna’s.
Now, I’m the biographer. At an authors panel earlier this year at Folk Alliance someone from the audience asked the panel if it was easier to write about someone while they were still alive or better if the subject was dead. All of the authors—at the exact same moment—shouted “Dead!” Sitting in the audience, I shook my head no, felt that I was the lucky one because my subject is alive and interested and engaging and boy, oh, boy I’m going to have a great book because Guy is in this with me.
Guy might be in it with me, but Susanna? I did not know Susanna well. I know plenty about her because I’ve been researching her life for the last four years. In total, I have 6 hours of interview tape with Susanna, plus another several hours that other journalists have shared with me, not to mention the hours and hours that Guy and I have discussed her. I don’t know Susanna the woman nearly as well as I know Susanna the subject. And today, well, intellectually, I don’t think I should be surprised by Susanna’s death, yet, I am. I am stunned that she is gone.
Two weeks ago I spent an afternoon with Guy and Susanna. It was a rare day when Susanna’s caretaker was not there. The house was strangely quiet with just Guy and Susanna spending the day at home like an old married couple.
I went over to Guy and Susanna’s to drop off archives that Guy had shared with me and I had not intended on interviewing either Guy or Susanna that day. When I walked into the house, I asked Guy if I should put away the photos and clippings he had given me. Guy said, “Nah, let’s put them on the dining room table and maybe Susanna will want to look through some of it.”
For the next several hours, Guy, Susanna and I looked through photos. I turned on my tape recorder and Susanna—more lucid and animated than I had seen her in years— told me story after story about her family history. She talked about her parents, her siblings, and her first husband. Then she turned to stories about she and Guy in the early years, and Townes, and her songwriting partners and then talked about Rodney and Emmylou and the large circle of friends she and Guy have cultivated in their 40 year marriage.
Eventually, she tired, and while Guy was on the phone in the kitchen Susanna asked me to help her to bed. In our last few minutes together, Susanna said: “Tamara, you’ve got a big job on your hands to write this book.” I said, “Yes, I know, but it’s fun.” Susanna laughed, raised her eyebrows and said “Fun!?” Then she sort of chuckled to herself and asked me to lift her legs up on to the bed and under the covers. I tucked her in the way I tucked in my daughter when she was small. I returned to the dining room and Guy and I waited for his high school friend from Rockport to show up.
Susanna got up once when Guy’s friends were there, said a quick hello and then Guy took her back to the bedroom to help her back in bed. As he came out of the room and closed the door he called back to her, “You just sleep, Baby, I’ll take care of everything here.”
It was an endearing moment and a sweet afternoon.
The day she died, I listened to some of my interview MP3s and hearing Susanna’s voice brought tears to my eyes. I don’t know what Guy’s day-to-day life will be like without Susanna. Guy and Susanna have a fascinating and enduring love story and to write honestly about Guy, one must equally consider Susanna’s life.
I wish I had more time to consider it while Susanna was still alive. Yet, I think my time with Susanna two weeks ago was a gift from the universe. A gift that I may not be able to fully appreciate during the initial shock of her death…but I will not take it for granted. Susanna and I were not what I would call friends but she was in my life for what I believe to be an important reason.
Rest in peace, dear Susanna. You will be missed.