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, and an insistent cat. Author of How to Play a Blue Guitar, A Bridge at Crossroads, Refuse to be Afraid, and A Scream of Consciousness.

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