Time Does the Talking: Patty Griffin Discussion
General >> Song Interpretations >> "Chief"

Message started by srt on 02/24/04 at 08:14:03

Title: "Chief"
Post by srt on 02/24/04 at 08:14:03

Hi, all.  My lovely wife and I are new Patty fans.  The quality of her songwriting in covers by the Dixie Chicks and others, combined with the video for "Chief," convinced us that we wanted to know more about her music.  We now own three Patty CDs, but "Chief" remains our favorite song.  And I love how the DADDAD tuning she uses makes my guitars rumble when I play it.

So, what's your take on "Chief?"  We're a little confused by what seems like a shift in point of view after the first verse.  But we like to think that the eccentric character, Chief, somehow taught others a lesson in his endless walking and that the narrator, in the end, finds herself somehow compelled to follow in his footsteps--even if she doesn't know why.  I like to think that it's Chief speaking in the bridge ("the way I laugh, the way I fly...") because it reflects his beautiful view of the world that he wishes others could share, but something that happened to him in the Army keeps him from communicating it.  I dunno...lots of stuff going on in that song with the images of the actress and hands and machinery and brains and talking.  

So, how do all of you more experienced Patty fans interpet "Chief?"  Thanks!  --srt

Title: Re: "Chief"
Post by altCountryGuy on 02/29/04 at 09:38:39

I love this song too. Patty gives an explanation of Chief on the' A Kiss in Time' DVD. I have transcribed it pretty closely here. I hope this helps.

There was man that was called Chief, he was a native-american man, who would march around my town, up and down the streets. The story goes that this man came back from the Vietnam War, and was not ever himself again. You couldn't really tell when you were going to see him. I used to deliver papers in the morning, and he would come up behind me and salute me at 4 oclock in the morning. He'd say hello and good morning and keep marching. He would be out there in the heat in the summer, with bare feet, and he would be out there in the freezing cold in the middle of the night. It Just really struck me one day, that there may just be futility to what we are doing, or there may just be no explanation of why we are here or why we are doing it. It just struck me at that point, it was a very clear picture that maybe I am no different. And maybe that's not a bad thing. Maybe there is still a dignity in chief, and maybe a dignity in what I am doing, too.

Title: Re: "Chief"
Post by marybeth on 02/29/04 at 13:42:59

I like your take on Chief. Welcome to the site!

Title: Re: "Chief"
Post by judy on 03/17/04 at 17:40:34

Dear Ms. Griffin,

I hope you had a Happy Birthday yesterday, and many more.

I just wanted to relate to you a coincidence between your life and mine.  The first song of yours I ever heard was Chief.  I liked it very much, because it reminded me of my brother, who would walk around town, wearing holes into the bottom of his shoes.  When I heard yesterday that it was your birthday, I got a very eerie feeling, because yesterday was the 3rd anniversary of my brother's death.  Weird, huh?

I also want to thank you for the wonderful 1000 Kisses album.  Almost every song in it reminds me of someone in my life.  The songs are great, and I love your voice.  Keep up the good work.

Much success in the future.

Title: Re: "Chief"
Post by jethrom on 05/18/05 at 01:43:11

Back in 1994, I waited tables in a Golden Corral restauraunt in Alabama.  There was this native american guy who would come in and everybody would call him cheif.  He didn't drive a car and always walked everywhere up and down Lorna Road.  He was obviously lonely and would try to get the servers to sit down and talk with him after the evening rush died down.  Most of the employees assumed that he had mental problems and he may have, I don't know.   I felt sorry for him and would sit with him some nights. Sometimes he didn't seem to make very much sense.  I just remembering him telling me that his brain told him what to say.    So weird.

Title: Re: "Chief"
Post by Tom Kern on 06/10/05 at 00:24:54

Patti - Your music came to me totally at random on a CD that my future sister-in-law made for me with songs from her unending collection of ecclectic musical tastes. I have been writing songs for 25 years for fun and to "get the devils out of my head", but recently have had some health issues and some trying times with my carreer. I always in the past was able to vent my frustrations by writing songs and made my poor kids go to sleep at night as I tried them out on those same poor little devils. For the past 3-4 years or so, as Jerry Jeff Walker put it, I was "all out of soap" if you know what I mean. When I heard "Chief", a wellspring of emotions came over me and now I am prolifically writing and re-writing songs at a furious pace. My daughter sang "Cheif" at her Elementary school talent show and I accompanied her on guitar and sang harmony on the "well I wish that you could see me when I'm flying in my dreams", part. Well, you brought my daughter and I closer together, and we have been having an ongoing discussion of what the song really means. We really do get the character, Chief, and I knew an older man that used to wander around my home town in a similar way in West Texas. But I "really" get what you mean by "watching myself in some play". We all wonder what live is really about and get to feeling boxed in and some of us get depressed. But we all have a restless spirit that wants to jump out of our skin and carry us wherever we dream. We all have an inner self that is so much more than what we show the world if we could drop the pretense, drop the veil of trying to just "fit in" to an expected norm. I really believe that your song has propelled my daughter to another plain and has freed her to let her beautiful strong voice be heard without fear or embarrassment and now she has found that inner voice and is writing songs. As a diabetic, I know how cheif feels when the hand won't work the machinery cause the brain tells him what to say. You just can't control what you body is doing to you, but you go on and just do the best you can and live as much of your dreams as you can.

You have a true gift from God and I hope that some day I can put something to paper half as profound as you have. You have broadened my daughters world and I thank you.

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