After twenty years

Most people who know me know that I am a huge fan of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, ever since I first heard the lush minor hit they made when I was 13 years old called “Buy For Me The Rain.” I have made it my mission to let people know there’s a lot more to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band than “Mr. Bojangles.”

“Bojangles,” of course, is their most popular song, their first mega-top-10 song, and the song that still gets played all the time on the oldies stations. And so, when Jerry Jeff Walker — who wrote “Mr. Bojangles” — died the other day, it was a death in the Nitty Gritty Dirt family.

It never has been my favorite NGDB song, although it has a fond place in my heart as the door that opened them to wider recognition. Repetition sometimes diminishes the power of a song, and I’ve heard “Mr. Bojangles” so many times that it’s hard to recall the wonder of hearing the story for the first time — “I met a man, Bojangles, and he’d dance for you …”

But even after 50 years of endless replays, a few lines in the middle stab me in the heart every time:

He spoke through tears of 15 years how his dog and him traveled about. The dog up and died — he up and died. After 20 years he still grieves.

See? Just typing those words again, my eyes teared up and I felt a little lump in my throat. What a powerful image.

In 29 words he tells what happened, how deeply he loved that dog, and how the loss of the dog affected the man. I nominate that image for the Hall of Fame of powerful emotional lyrics.

Rest in peace, Mr. Walker.

Published by WarrenBluhm

Wordsmith and podcaster, Warren is a reporter, editor and storyteller who lives near the shores of Green Bay with his wife, two golden retrievers, Dejah and Summer, and Blackberry, an insistent cat. Author of Full, Refuse to be Afraid, Gladness is Infectious, 24 flashes, How to Play a Blue Guitar, Myke Phoenix: The Complete Novelettes, A Bridge at Crossroads, The Imaginary Bomb, A Scream of Consciousness, and The Imaginary Revolution.

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