Nanci Caroline Griffith (July 6, 1953 – August 13, 2021)

Nanci Caroline Griffith (July 6, 1953 – August 13, 2021)

I nev­er met Nan­ci Grif­fith. This, despite the fact that she is arguably my favorite musi­cal artist. And that is say­ing a lot. Because I am not prone to pick­ing favorites in any­thing. You see, gen­er­al­ly, I believe that when you pick one thing over all the oth­ers, it some­how lessens every­thing else. And I have a per­son­al­i­ty that just has a hard time doing that.

But Nan­ci Grif­fith was, for sure, my favorite singer/songwriter. I dis­cov­ered her when I was in my twen­ties, either on Austin City Lim­its or on Geor­gia Pub­lic Radio’s Folk Alley. I hon­est­ly could not tell you which one it was. But once dis­cov­ered, I quick­ly pur­chased every sin­gle one of her records. And I played them all the time. Over and over.

I made cas­sette tapes and played them in the car, back in the days when cars had cas­sette tape play­ers in them. Ha! I bought all the CDs when they came out, and I down­loaded all of them to my com­put­er, phone and tablet, just as soon as I could. I’ve pur­chased her music in one form or anoth­er across forty years and sev­er­al for­mats. You could pick just about any room in my house and find some­thing with her music on it.

Nan­ci Griffith’s music took me home, at least in my heart, because I could feel it, even when it was talk­ing about some­where else, and some­times some­where I’d nev­er even been. There were oth­er times it took me back to favorite mem­o­ries — the five and dime (or as I knew it, “the dime store”) — and the Woolworth’s counter, although mine was in Asheville, North Car­oli­na and she wrote about one in down­town Austin, Texas, and anoth­er that was a big two sto­ry affair in Lon­don.

I’ve only ever dri­ven through West Texas, but I know it like the back of my hand because of Nan­ci Grif­fith. Same with Blue­bells and the Gulf Coast High­way. I knew the love she sang about, and I’ve been somebody’s fool. I came from farm­ers who loved the land and suf­fered through the Great Depres­sion, and I felt the weight of them work­ing their fields, and in some cas­es hav­ing to leave them behind for­ev­er.

On Grafton Street always makes me think of lost fam­i­ly mem­bers. Because it IS fun­ny “how my world goes round with­out” them. “You’re the one thing I nev­er thought I could live with­out. And I just found this smile to think about you. You’re a Sat­ur­day night. Far from the madding crowd.” Who could NOT feel the emo­tion and the loss and the love in that song.

And Ire­land? I’ve nev­er been, despite hav­ing Irish ances­try. But lis­ten­ing to Nan­ci Grif­fith sing about Ire­land took me there, with all things beau­ti­ful and all things ugly. Trou­bled times. She saw them, and under­stood their toll on all of us humans — from Ire­land to Viet Nam.

Nan­ci Grif­fith said many of her songs were not auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal, and that writ­ing them with­out hav­ing to tie them to real sit­u­a­tions and real peo­ple gave her the free­dom to explore oth­er peo­ple and places with her music. But when I lis­ten to her songs, I can­not help but think she always put a lit­tle piece of her­self in them, whether or not she posi­tioned them as her own mem­o­ries. If she didn’t, we’ll nev­er know. But I choose to believe she was a piece of every­thing she wrote, beyond the writ­ing of it, and just gave her­self the free­dom to change the details. In the end, she was a sto­ry­teller. And her sto­ries changed the world.


Rest in Peace, Nanci Griffith.

You remain my favorite musician, and my favorite story teller.