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Opening Arguments

With a song on my blog

Is there a song that's so affected you that it's always stayed with you? "The Dutchman" by Chicago songwriter Michael Smith is that song for me. I first heard it performed by one of those traveling, semi-professional folksingers at a small place in Michigan City. It seemed to me the one of the saddest, most moving things I had ever heard. Every time I went out and heard a new singer, and request time came, I'd ask for that song. I've since heard it covered by any number of artists, and I have a few of them in my collection. It made me cry the first time I heard it, and it can still do that today.

What was the point? I know I had one. Oh, yeah, I remember. I caught a little of the Pat White show in the car on the way home yesterday, and they were talking about a new list of "100 greatest songs ever" by some songwriters' magazine. "Imagine" by John Lennon was  No. 1, and "Stardust" by Hoagy Carmichael was No. 2. Bob Dylan's  "All Along the Watchtower" was No. 5, and "What's Goin' On" was in the top 10 somewhere. As soon as I got home, I tried to look the list up online to see if "The Dutchman" was on it somewhere. I didn't find it -- apparently the list isn't out officially yet -- but saw lots of other ones. There was the Rolling Stone one from a couple of years ago that had Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" as No. 1. Somebody else picked "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay" for his top song.

Different people have different standards for what makes a song great. For me, it's a combination of a memorable tune and eloquent but accessible lyrics. That's why "All Along the Watchtower" falls  short for me; it's a little too dense. I much prefer some of Dylan's more straightforward songs -- "Forever Young," for example, or "I Threw it All Away."

Anyway, following are the lyrics to "The Dutchman." It's not a complicated song -- an old woman takes care of her husband as his mind slowly slips away. If you've ever watched anybody close to you struggle with Alzheimer's, you might not come away with dry eyes:

The Dutchman's not the kind of man
To keep his thumb jammed in the dam
That holds his dreams in
But that's a secret only Margaret knows

When Amsterdam is golden in the morning
Margaret brings him breakfast
She believes him
He thinks the tulips bloom beneath the snow
He's mad as he can be but Margaret only sees that sometimes
Sometimes she sees her unborn children in his eyes

Let us go to the banks of the ocean
Where the walls rise above the Zuiderzee
Long ago, I used to be a young man
And dear Margaret remembers that for me

The Dutchman still wears wooden shoes
His cap and coat are patched with love
That Margaret sewed in
Sometimes he thinks he's still in Rotterdam
He watches tugboats down canals
And calls out to them when he thinks he knows the Captain
'Til Margaret comes to take him home again
Through unforgiving streets that trip him
Though she holds his arm
Sometimes he thinks that he's alone and calls her name


The windmills whirl the winter in
She winds his muffler tighter,
They sit in the kitchen
Some tea with whiskey keeps away the dew
He sees her for a moment, calls her name
She makes the bed up humming some old love song
She learned it when the tune was very new
He hums a line or two
They hum together in the night
The Dutchman falls asleep and Margaret blows the candle out.



Dan Carmody
Tue, 03/13/2007 - 4:47am

That song is one of my favorites as well. I prefer the version recorded by Steve Goodman on his best lp - Somebody Else's Problems. I believe Michael Smith also penned a song called Crazy Mary which is also a great song.

Leo Morris
Tue, 03/13/2007 - 6:14am

I like Goodman's version, and two other favorites are Jerry Jeff Walker's (on "Hill Country Rain") and David Bromberg's (on a Goodman tribute album). Have you heard Bonnie Koloc's version of "Crazy Mary"?

Dan Carmody
Tue, 03/13/2007 - 9:22am

Leo, there is only one version of Crazy Mary that I recognize - the one by Ms. Koloc. From that same long lost lp the Song You're Gonna Love Yourself in the Morning is fabulous and not to be confused with Bromberg's classic I Like to Sleep Late in the Morning. . .