Nightly Song
Musings on Songs that Strike a Chord Tonight

Looking for Lewis and Clark – The Long Ryders

Written by Sid Griffin and performed by The Long Ryders.  You can listen to the song here and a live version here. You can buy the song on iTunes here. The song appeared on the album, State of Our Union and you can buy that album here.  

 “Looking for Lewis and Clark” cracks opens like a thunderbolt of rage and righteousness fueled by crashing drums, slashing guitars and a howl of anger.  It’s a cry over what should be and what we wind up with. The anger wells up from a faith betrayed, from a belief in a United States that’s possible – think Whitman’s America – and the one delivered by tawdry politicians. It’s a cry over a music world that grinds up the likes of Gram Parsons and Tim Buckley while the moneymen get rich and fat. It’s that Biblical moment when the Jesus takes to the traders befouling the temple.

The Long Ryders were a great bar band that rose to prominence in Southern California in the early to mid-80’s and became part of the Paisley Underground. Mixing the country of the late Byrds and Gram Parsons with the fury of X and Black Flag, the Long Ryders chased broken American dreams broken by poverty and false promises. Led by Sid Griffin, with Stephen McCarthy on guitar, Greg Sowders on drums and changing bass players, the Long Ryder’s staked out their claim with a combination of hard-driving rock and the pedal steel longing of deep Country soul.

Sid Griffin opens this song in a rage of the betrayal of ideals for money:

I thought I saw some diplomat hawking secret plans in the park
I thought I saw my President walking through Harlem late after dark
In a world of love where they burn like Nero
You write them a check and you then add zero
In a world of love where they burn like Nero
You write them a check and you then add zero
Looking For Lewis and Clark

Lewis and Clark are the ideals, the real hero and instead we’re left with the money changers, those who want nothing more than the fast buck and will sell their souls and their country for a fast payout.

The second verse turns to the music world and is full of inside references. We hear about Mabuhay Gardens, a Philippinese restaurant in San Francisco’s North Beach that became a punk club. He’s thinking of Tim Hardin, singer-songwriter of “If I Were a Carpenter” and “Reason to Believe,” who never reached the fame his talent seemed to deserve and died of a heroin overdoes in 1980.  He’s thinking of Gram Parsons, who helped bring country into rock with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Griffin wants to stand in their company:

I was standing alone in Mabuhay Gardens (looking for Lewis and Clark!)
I was thinking about the late Tim Hardin
Well, when Tim gets to heaven hope he told Gram
About the Long Ryders and just who I am
Yeah, no one gave Tim reason to believe
So he just packed his bags to leave

The final verse mixes the betrayal of the music business with the betrayal by the government: “I thought I saw my government running away with my heart.”

The Long Ryders faced the same fate as their musical heroes. They churned out a series of great songs – State of My Union, I Want You Bad, I Had a Dream, Lights of Downtown, etc. – yet never reached the critical claim they might have deserved. By 1987, they had broken up, the four band members scattered across the U.S. and England. In addition to releasing several solo albums, Sid Griffin has written a biography of Gram Parsons (Gram Parsons: A Music Biography) and two books on Bob Dylan’s music. Sid Griffin and Stephen McCarthy also played on the one-off masterpiece Lost Weekend put out under the name Danny and Dusty. That album included the anthem, “Song for the Dreamers.”


2 Responses to “Looking for Lewis and Clark – The Long Ryders”

  1. Love this song! Keep trying to get my neighbor to incorporate into his US history class. Don’t get too many musical references to Lewis and/or Clark.

  2. The dude’s books about Dylan are godawful, though — so bad I never imagined that was the same guy

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