Of course I’ve always loved Lucinda Williams’ work, and what guy in America who knows what’s what hasn’t been a little bit in love with Lucinda herself, certainly after that Car Wheels on a Gravel Road album. The title song wasn’t even the best. “Metal Firecracker,” a masterpiece, was. (And yeah there’s “Sweet Old World” on the album of that title, the song she’s best known for, I think, but it’s a bit too mopey for me. I go for the purr and growl of her World Without Tears CD.)
And forgive my bringing this up, but one of my favorite things ever printed about me was the proposed linkage of me and Lucinda in this very publication, some dozen years ago by longtime columnist here, Mickey Kaus. I’m probably the only person in the world who remembers it, but he had this feature of his mostly political column, the “Yent-a-Matic” I think the feature was called, where he actually tried to play yenta and propose theoretical matches between writers and artists he felt were meant for each other. And one of the matches he proposed was between me and Lucinda, seeing as how she was the daughter of the poet laureate Miller Williams and I was, well, someone who, um, studied poetry at Yale. And loved country-music femme fatales.
But my heart was set, at the time, hopelessly, of course, on Rosanne Cash, though I also loved Emmylou, Joni, Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies, and Rickie Lee Jones too. And I was sure Lucinda had far more worthy suitors.
But now I’ve come to feel she doesn’t get the respect she deserves. She’s just kept getting better and better, so good she demands more recognition. Not just for this one cut on the Lost Notebooks CD, but for her amazing (relatively) new album Blessed, which is a killer.
What is it about her that makes her distinctive amidst a plethora of brilliant country-influenced singer-songwriters?
I think it’s got something to do with that sexy, husky growl-and-purr voice she deploys, so strong, so loving, and (sometimes) so bitter. And the strong emotional lyrics she’s so adept at.
There’s something about her that’s brave too. Try the title song on Blessed. The refrain is:
If you should ever wonder
You shouldn’t have to ask
'Cause I know you know, brother
I’ve always got your back.
When I think of her, when I hear that song, I think of an incident from a long love affair. I had just come out of the hospital after an operation, was pretty shaky, and was crossing the street with my then-girlfriend on the night of St. Patrick’s Day when we crossed paths with a cluster of ugly, ratlike drunks who were looking for a fight and took offense at us, probably because they felt I didn’t deserve a woman so stunning. (I probably didn’t, I’ll admit it. But maybe I had other things to offer, like my sparkling personality.)
As they turned upon me, sensing my weakness, ready for a beatdown, she just took her place in front of me, glared at them and said something gentle but persuasive like, “Get the fuck out of our way!” And they did. I’ll never forget that. Like Lucinda sings, she had my back. I think the St. Pats rats sensed they were face to face with a lioness. And they were.
I somehow feel Lucinda’s like that. A lioness. Scary strong when roused. Or aroused.
So it was brave of Lucinda to choose this one upbeat song “I’m So Happy I Found You” on the Lost Notebooks CD. It was almost like facing down a crowd of her sad-faced fellow singers and saying, “Get out of my way; I want to show you something about Hank you might not have seen in all that teary beery stuff.”
And singers don’t often get credit for upbeat uplift; it’s not considered as “deep,” you know.
But true uplift can be deep, even spiritual. Sexy, too. It has to be strong. It has so much downbeat reality to struggle with, to transcend.
Here’s Hank’s first verse sung by Lucinda. It begins with tears, but not the conventional kind of tears:
The tears you see within my eyes
Don’t mean that I’m sad and blue.
No one has told me of your lies.
I’m cryin’ ’cause I’m so happy I found you.
That one ambiguous line—“No one has told me of your lies”—does NOT, I’m certain, mean he HAS lied, just that she’s not crying for the conventional Hank Williams cheatin’ heart reasons.
The song is a deep delight that will take your mind off the whole world going down the tubes. I hope you’ll feel the gratitude I do for the sublime moments of pleasure to be found in listening to it over and over and over again as I do. A pearl of great price: the kind of love song that MAY be better than being in love itself, because it will never die, although, true, it may remind you of love that did die.
But that’s OK! For a few brief blissful moments you will be back in love with the person who made you happiest when the two of you were happiest. Tell me that isn’t a gift.