Punchin’ cows sure don’t arouse me anymore
I’m getting’ tired of listenin’ to the coyotes snore
Oh, sleepin’ on the Rio Grande is makin’ him snore –
I’m a tired cowboy
Just a tired guy!
Welcome, pals, to the dustbin of history; the never-ending tale of the Tired Man! The story of men being “fed up with it” is just called “History:” “Make it new!” quoth irate facist Ezra Pound, and modernism gets an audience! Fuck capitalism!, quoth Marx, and the dancing table becomes commodity magic! I know it’s glib to refract a broad moral history through the single lens of male fatigue, but what I’m saying is that these songs of men feeling bored and agitated and sleepy—mostly, obviously, because of a woman—cast a broader, and deeper, line when they get all shuffled together.
Anyway, it’s not really my plan to tell Big Man History with “Tired Man, Vol. 1.” It’s just the tip (LOL, right??) of the iceberg—and, probably, of at least one more mix—of times that men felt very exhausted and sang about it to a beat.
When a man gets trouble in his mind
He wanna sleep all the time
If he could sleep all the time,
Trouble won’t worry his mind.
“Tired Man” the first is a paean to the knowing, cowboy-style ennui that gestures at action before inevitably going limp. And it can be so beautiful while it lasts! Booker White’s “Sleepy Man Blues,” a rambling slide guitar improvisation, is as perfect a balancing act as the last four lines of “An Irish Airman Forsees His Death,” with the very cool result of being totally self-sustaining and solipsistic in its form and in its content. Which is a little more complicated, but no more entertaining, than all the triflin’ woman blues besides it; “so tired of being alone” (Dallas String Band’s “So Tired”), “I’m sick and tired of foolin’ around with you” (Chris Kenner, “Sick and Tired,”), “tired, just plain “Tired of It All”” (T. Texas Tyler), and onwards! Nothing like the clip-clop of hooves for percussion to convince you that white boy existentialism is totally valid. Lean on your boy bff and let it all out…
Which is also not to say that these songs aren’t huge tunes in themselves. I’m particularly enamored with cowboy ennui—the deep down lonesomeness of hanging with horses and rubbing tobacco into your worn-from-wandering cowboy boots?—and the lovely, float-y, delicate croon that accompanies it. And, especially, the actually very poignant religious fatigue of the Bright Light Quartet’s and Willie Carter’s tired men blues, both recorded by Alan Lomax, the latter in a prison camp, both swellings of call-and-response group song. Or the hilariously lackluster complaint of Gus Cannon and his Jug Stompers! Is your lady actually pretty cool with you getting drunk with your friends so that she can hang out with hers, so cool that she might even cook you dinner while you’re out?
“I’m tired of chicken, baby I’m tired of steak”
Or, Jaybird Coleman, sotto voce with “harp:”
When a man gets in trouble, every woman throws him down! I’m so worried! Don’t know what to do…When I’m in my whiskey, whiskey will not change my blues.
The “Man Trouble Blues” springs eternal, but fortunately for us, it’s hilarious, and even, sometimes, very moving. To everyone else who is also fed up, and everyone else who has been: a mix to take the edge off. It’s your story too.