Bob, Bourbon, and Books Meets Johnny, Jim, and Longmire

This semi-regular series alternates between Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen songs that perfectly complement a good bourbon and a quality book. You can make your own suggestions and recommendations in the comments section or by tweeting @WritersBone.


Daniel Ford: How has it taken so long for us to get to this song? I blame the bourbon. This version of “Girl From the North Country” with Johnny Cash leads off Bob Dylan’s excellent “Nashville Skyline” album, and is the perfect introduction to the sound Dylan was striving for with that project. Whimsical and love sick, the whole album could easily have been sung by pioneers settling the Old West. Cash’s razor sharp voice lends the song even more poignancy, making it seem like the pair are just two old cowboys sitting around a campfire talking about old conquests and heartbreak. Dylan’s lyrics are especially haunting in this tune, giving mercy no quarter as he laments, “I’m a-wondering if she remembers me at all/many times I’ve often prayed/in the darkness of my night/in the brightness of my day.” As is often the case with Dylan songs, it doesn’t look good for our hero, but at least he has at least one beautiful memory he can envision when he meets the end of his dusty trail.  

Dave Pezza: Make “Nashville Skyline” your go-to for summer nights! It literally has everything you need: “Girl From The North Country” for a sunset driving with the windows down and the radio up, “To Be Alone with You” if you are down for a little grooving and a little dancing, “Lay, Lady, Lay” for, well, laying…, and “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” to keep the party going and the booze flowing! “Girl From The North Country” opens this album magnificently. You can hear the history in air between Cash’s boom and Dylan’s falsetto. The best part of this song isn’t the pain of love lost both men emote so well, it is the simplicity of the song: Dylan, Cash, and two guitars. That’s it. That’s all you need. It’s not perfect. It’s not flashy. It’s real and honest. Cash and Dylan are feeling each other out the whole song, working off of each other’s voice and guitar. Cash even messes up the lyrics and Dylan just keeps on keeping on as if to say, “If Johnny Cash wants to change the words, dammit we’re changing the words!”


Dave:  Jim Beam. Jimmy Beam. Jim is a bourbon mainstay and was formerly my bourbon of choice. I even visited the Jim Beam distillery while on a road trip to Nashville. If you’re out at a bar, you order Jim Beam for shots, and you order it with cocktails. Anything else could cost you more Jacksons and Grants than you’d care to lose in a single night out. Jim Beam has been the face of bourbon for some time; however, since selling its distillery to Suntory Holdings Ltd. in January of 2014, Jim Beam (including Maker’s Mark) has been replaced on some bourbon enthusiasts shelves (myself included) with bourbon owned and operated by American distillers (such as Buffalo Trace’s massive distillery and wide selections). I haven’t bought a bottle of Jim since, although I can’t say I haven’t ordered it out. It might be a silly thing to protest, but something about one of the largest distillers of America’s official alcohol being owned by a foreign company rubs me the wrong way. To each their own.

Daniel: Young David and I have ended more than a few days with a shot of Jim Beam and a Budweiser chaser. I’m not sure whether my night improves or worsens after that because more drinks usually follow. Also, a slug of Jim Beam might be the kind of thing Walt Longmire’s foulmouthed deputy Vic might pour on your head after you try to hit on her. I’d love every minute of it.  


Daniel: If you’re reading a Walt Longmire novel, odds are you’re drinking a Rainier, but since Pappy Van Winkle makes a cameo in Death Without Company, it’s the perfect occasion to pour something a little bit more special into your glass. I waited a long time to read another Craig Johnson novel because I so loved The Cold Dish. I didn’t want anything to sully the memory of that novel, so I held off on digging into the rest of the series. Boy howdy, I’m an idiot! Five pages into Death Without Company I remembered what made Johnson’s debut so special. The plot moves at a quick pace for sure (kick started by the seemingly innocuous death of an old woman in a nursing home), but the best moments are saved for Walt’s interactions with Vic, his best friend Henry Standing Bear, and his assistant Ruby. They keep Walt on track with cursing, Native American folklore and friendship, and Post-It Notes. Despite those warm and familiar relationships, my favorite Walt scenes might be those in which he’s alone with his thoughts, his dog, or his visions of the Old Cheyenne. Johnson isn’t afraid to show that Walt is highly educated despite his rural post, and that his scars are permanent and not easily overcome. Walt’s melancholy bleeds across every page, but it doesn’t stop him from being a badass sheriff who stops at nothing to solve a mystery. Death Without Company is set over the course of a couple days in the deep winter of Wyoming, so you’ll need a full glass of Jim Beam by your side to stay warm.

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