Flown Away

Nanci Griffith ~ July 6, 1953 – August 13, 2021


Gulf coast highway, he worked the rails;
He worked the rice fields with their cold, dark wells;
He worked the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico;
The only thing we’ve ever owned is this old house here by the road.
And when he dies he says he’ll catch some blackbird’s wing
And we will fly away to heaven
Come some sweet bluebonnet spring.
She walked through springtime when I was home;
The days were sweet, our nights were warm;
The seasons changed, the jobs would come,
The flowers fade, and this old house felt so alone
When the work took me away.
And when she dies she says she’ll catch some blackbird’s wing
And she will fly away to heaven
Come some sweet bluebonnet spring
Highway 90, the jobs are gone;
We tend our garden, we set the sun;
This is the only place on Earth bluebonnets grow,
And once a year they come and go
At this old house here by the road.
And when we die we say we’ll catch some blackbird’s wing
And we will fly away to heaven
Come some sweet bluebonnet spring.
Yes when we die we say we’ll catch some blackbird’s wing
And we will fly away together
Come some sweet bluebonnet spring.
                   “Gulf Coast Highway” ~ Nanci Griffith, James Hooker, Danny Flowers


Comments always are welcome.

43 thoughts on “Flown Away

    1. She was a shining star wherever she performed: not only as a singer/songwriter, but as a person. She knew what it meant to awaken, in Theodore Roethke’s sense:

      I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
      I learn by going where I have to go.

  1. Sad news. I hadn’t heard. “A statement from her management company on Friday confirmed her death, but no cause was provided. ‘It was Nanci’s wish that no further formal statement or press release happen for a week following her passing,’ Gold Mountain Entertainment said in a statement.”

    1. That wish seems so perfectly ‘her.’ I still remember the first words she spoke the first time I heard her at the Kerrville Folk Festival: “It would make me right happy to sing you a song.”

    1. There are songs ‘about’ Texas, and songs that embody Texas, and “Gulf Coast Highway” can bring a tear to the eye of plenty of Texans. This version of “The Rivers of Texas” is another one. It’s a perfect Lone Star driving song: it fits no matter which part of the state you’re visiting.

      1. That’s a side of Mason Williams I had never seen (or heard, that is.) I remember him from way back when, so long ago that the first time I heard of him was on an early Kingston Trio album where the Trio did a few of his funny, short songs. I was a teenager then. I had to look it up to be sure this was the same Mason Williams, and indeed it was. I had no idea he was from Abilene.

        1. For years I knew him only from “Classical Gas,” and was equally surprised when I found his Of Time and Rivers Flowing collection. The only song on that CD that doesn’t appeal to me is “Moon River.” Now and forever, that’s Andy Williams’s song.

  2. Oh Wow… This is sad, sad news. I never managed to see her in person and always wished I had, I think I need to visit a 5 and dime and sit a spell. Rest In Peace Nanci.

    1. This video has a wonderful spoken introduction to the Five and Dime song. In it, she explains the single note that’s meant to replicate the sound of the Woolworth’s elevator, and brings a laugh with a reference to her impulse to fill up her suitcase with plastic gewgaws from the Woolworth’s in London.

  3. I recall seeing her at the Cactus Cafe in about 1984 along with Robert Earl Keen. Maybe there were 15 people there. A beautiful songwriter and artist. I was sad to hear about her death. Very nice tribute, Linda.

    1. Doug Cugini, who owned the Hole in the Wall when Griffith began playing there, once said ““She was the first accomplished person to play the Hole in the Wall. Lots of people got up there with a guitar. It’s hard to get the attention of that room. She got the attention of that room.”

    1. Her music wasn’t to everyone’s taste — I can remember some people getting up to wander during her sets at the Kerrville Folk Festival — but she’s left quite a legacy. I suspect her songs will be covered by others for years to come.

  4. A wonderful talent who brought joy to many. None of us know when our time will be up but we should act like every day is full of purpose and meaning. Sad that she passed so young.

    1. And isn’t it interesting that everyone comments on how ‘young’ she was? I’m old enough to remember when 68 would have been considered a typical age for death. All of my grandparents died in their mid-sixties, and my mother expected to die at 64 or shortly thereafter, because none of her family had lived longer than that. She made it to 93, and her sister currently is 95. I’m hoping I’ve emerged from the same part of the gene pool.

      1. I guess 68 is the new 58 or something like that. They haven’t released cause of death so it could be that age had less to do with it than susceptibility to whatever it was. My mother and I used to talk about making it to 85. She died of lung cancer at age 69 so I have surpassed that plus I never smoked. My father died of old age, dementia and probably complications from diabetes, at 87 so I’ve a way to go to pass him. I have some bad habits, mostly lack of exercise but diabetes also, so maybe, maybe not.
        I would imagine an entertainer’s life on the road takes a toll plus being in crowded rooms full of people is its own hazardous workplace. Here’s one of my favorites with two of your state’s gems on one of my favorite programs…although I never saw it on TV..

        1. Griffith herself asked that no cause of death or other details be released until a week after her death. That sounds like disease might be the cause; it will come out eventually. She had both breast and thyroid cancer in the past, so it’s possible that some form of that disease came back.

          1. Probably. Remission is not forever…at least not yet. Cancer is always lurking. I’ve known several women who had breast cancer totally gone only to have it return. Our own body turned against us.

    1. Our musical heritage is so rich and diverse. It occurred to me that recently losing both Nanci Griffith and Dusty Hill, bassist for ZZ Top, is an odd sort of testament to that diversity.

    1. She fought cancer twice in the past, so it’s hard to say what the cause of death was. She specifically asked that no details be posted for a week after her death, so it seems clear it wasn’t something unexpected.

    1. Now that you say that, I hear it, too. The lyrics differ from online posting to posting, depending on who’s covering the song, so I always try to listen to the version I’ve posted to be sure the lyrics and performance are congruent. I made a couple of other changes to these, but missed that one.

    1. It wasn’t so very long before Nanci’s departure that we lost another Texas legend: ZZ Top’s Dusty Hill. I came this close to giving my recent post about the fancy alligator a different title: “Every Girl Crazy ‘Bout a Sharp-dressed ‘Gator.” Whether it’s Highway 90 or that Chicken Ranch in La Grange, there’s something about a Texas-grounded musician that makes me happy. Even after they’re gone, we’ve still got the music.

    1. But if the singer is gone, the song remains. And, lucky for us, quite a library of her performances, too. I was lucky enough to see her in person, and always enjoyed it.

        1. I really like Pandora, and I’ve found some great musicians there. I’ve tried a couple of other streaming services, but Pandora seems to have more of what I enjoy.

    1. She was an interesting person: sweet, but not saccharine. As with most artists, I liked some of her songs better than others, but the best — like this one — have real staying power.

    1. It’s fun imagining some of the duets being sung that never would have taken place on earth. How about Piaf and Nanci Griffith? Or Frankie Sinatra and Johnny Cash? Our loss may be their really great jam session.

  5. Texas lost a lovely writer and performer. I read just about all of the comments and I agree with the folks that considered 68 years old, too young to leave this world. But I am pretty sure that she lived a full and satisfying life. She was admired by many for her talent and thankfully her words and music live on for folks to enjoy.

    1. I’m not someone who goes to concerts, but one of the great things about Texas is the number of places you can hear music in smaller venues. I’ve been able to hear a lot of our now-departed musicians in places like the Kerrville Folk Festival and in Houston clubs, and those memories never will fade. The good music won’t fade, either — and it helps to keep the memories alive.

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