75: The Cape

75: The Cape

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

The Cape

Story by Jim Janosky

Song written by Guy Clark, Jim Janosky, and Susanna Clark

Recorded by Guy Clark, Kathy Mattea

Susanna Clark and I were just visiting one day and we got to talking about our childhoods and the pranks we used to play. Then we started talking about how, when we were kids, we used to really think we could fly. That led to a conversation about the amazing faith that little kids have, and how they really believe those kinds of things could happen. We had several more conversations about this and started writing down random notes and phrases and lines on the idea of childhood faith.

I told her the story of a guy I used to work with up in Pennsylvania. We worked at a butcher shop together. Once, when he was a kid, he tried to be a tightrope walker. He put a rope between two beams in his barn and took the tires off his bicycle and tried to go across that tightrope on the rims of his bicycle. He got about a foot and ended up unconscious on the floor of his barn. His mother woke him up just so she could beat him! She said, “What made you think you could do this?” He said, “I just believed I could!”

So we kept talking about the idea of childhood faith and it stewed for a while. Over the course of several meetings, we got four or five verses down on this theme of thinking you could fly. Later, Susanna showed it to Guy, and he got pretty interested in that idea. He took all of our notes and then we met once or twice after that. Guy basically congealed it all into “The Cape.”

Guy started singing it in his live shows and got some really good feedback from it. One day, he was rehearsing it at a gig in New York and Kathy Mattea heard it. She later put it on her Walking Away A Winner album, and then Guy later put it on his Dublin Blues. Her version was a lot more up-tempo version of it. I’ve always liked Guy’s a little better, because it’s more earthy and natural.

What we were trying to get at with the song was to maintain that faith in yourself, in your dream, in your idea, even in God — no matter what happens. In this song, the guy is older and still has that childlike faith. He still thinks he can fly, metaphorically, and believes that life is just a leap of faith, and he’ll probably still believe it until he’s dead. That’s certainly been a theme of my life. “The Cape” is really a symbol of that ability to maintain your belief, no matter how tough things get, and it gets harder as you get older. And if you really keep that faith, you’ll be able to fly; you won’t crash and burn.

I found a letter I got a few years ago from a cancer survivor. It reads, “Jim, I am the patient featured in a film about lung cancer that Dr. Alan Kramer is making in the Living with Cancer series. Let me add my thanks to you and Guy and Susanna for allowing us to use that wonderful song, ‘The Cape’ in the film. I was turned on to the song this spring by a friend who knows me very well and thought that it sounded made-to-order for me; in particular, about the leap of faith. Later, I was lucky enough to attend (the bluegrass festival) MerleFest in North Carolina and heard Guy singing it. I was blown away by him. I was diagnosed at age 65 with Stage 4 lung cancer and given only 8-10 months to live. I never quite accepted that, though, and worked hard with my doctors. I am trying to do something to change my chances. I have been very lucky and am now a five-year survivor. That is what our film is all about: the conjunction of my hard work and luck, along with the medical world’s advances in treatment and drugs. In a month, I will be celebrating my 70th birthday, my five-year survival, and life in general here in Sonoma Valley with a few hundred of my closest friends and family. My friend is going to sing his version of ‘The Cape’ and we are going to show rough cuts of the film. Thanks again for everything. Wells Whitney.”

I just found out that recently that Mr. Whitney is actually now a twelve-year survivor and at 77 is still doing great. It’s good to hear something like that. It gives you a really nice, warm feeling. There’s so much rejection in the songwriting world. Getting a letter like that makes up for about 400,000 rejections!

The Cape

Eight years old with flour sack cape

Tied all around his neck

He climbed up on the garage

Figurin’ what the heck

He screwed his courage up so tight

The whole thing come unwound

He got a runnin’ start and bless his heart

He headed for the ground

CHORUS:

He’s one of those who knows that life

Is just a leap of faith

Spread your arms and hold your breath

And always trust your cape

All grown up with a flour sack cape

Tied all around his dream

He’s full of piss and vinegar

He’s bustin’ at the seams

He licked his finger and checked the wind

It’s gonna be do or die

He wasn’t scared of nothin’, boys

He was pretty sure he could fly

CHORUS

Old and grey with a flour sack cape

Tied all around his head

He’s still jumpin’ off the garage

And will be till he’s dead

All these years the people said

He’s actin’ like a kid

He did not know he could not fly

So he did

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