"My Black Bess" If I mistook the way that you sometimes look at me Please don't worry and please don't run because I will shrink away Oh I will shrink away I played our joys on the record player waiting for the sun I thought if I could be someone that you could love me better, you could love me better CHORUS: So here I am on your doorstep the unsure and unwelcome guest you should say what's on your troubled mind Oh honey, for you I've got plenty of time honey, for you I've got plenty of time I rode my horse past your window tonight and I blew kisses from the back of my mind oh if love was as simple as a ray of light Honey, you'd be shining day or night hHney, you'd be shining day or night Repeat CHORUS Oh I never knew which road was truer to be the love or pursuer I'd give my all but I'm often the loser And I don't want to go No, I don't want to go Repeat CHORUS Oh honey, for you I've got plenty of time.
“My Black Bess” is an oddity for a couple of reasons. First of all, the title of the song appears no where in the song and for that reason it has garnered some confusion throughout the years that I hope has waned as the song and I have both aged. I’ll get to the reason why in a bit. Second of all, it was one of three songs I wrote in a single night. I have never repeated that achievement ever again. I probably never will. You can blame the fever pitch of falling in love and then subsequently, being terrified of it. Manly, right?
On that night I probably started writing around 10pm and I was up until probably 5 or 6 in the morning. All I remember was that the sun was coming up before I found myself to weary to continue. I wrote “My Black Bess”, “Marianne”, and “The Day We Drove to the Rodeo” all in one night. I guess you can say I had some feelings I had been holding in. This was also back in college when I held no reservations about being late or skipping class the next day. I might not have made it to class the next day. I plead the Fifth. Let’s keep my parents out of this loop.
The title of the song is derived from a Woody Guthrie song that Billy Bragg and Wilco covered on their album of Guthrie covers, “Mermaid Avenue.” The Guthrie song was entitled, “The Unwelcome Guest.” I have to mention beforehand that “Mermaid Avenue” is one of my favorite albums of all time and I love just about every song on that album. Billy Bragg and Wilco do a peerless job of translating Woody’s song for a new generation. However, I sat for a while with “The Unwelcome Guest” after I listened to it. Sure, the blacklisting of Communist sympathizers needed to be addressed by someone as competent as Woody Guthrie, but I also thought, brewing in haze of my own shortcomings and flawed romantic pursuits, “The Unwelcome Guest” was also the perfect metaphor for unrequited love. Damn Woody. It was so perfect it wasn’t even a metaphor anymore.
And so, the naive boy in me sought a way to understand what it meant to love someone who might never love him back and what he might do to ensure he wouldn’t destroy the beautiful connection they already shared. It was a fine line. And, in retrospect, many lessons were learned that I still carry with me to this day. One of which is to always take a chance at love. The world does not end with heartbreak. It keeps going. And you will too. A broken heart educates you very quickly. You can say that for it at least. The rest, as they say, is just history. You move on. You grow. You get some good stories, or songs, out of it. It is never time wasted. It is just a lesson learned.
Go find “The Unwelcome Guest,” if you don’t know it already. Bess was his most trusted companion. I’m sure you can sew together the rest.