Lucinda Williams’ album World Without Tears is a harrowing ride. It’s one of the most raw and emotional albums I can think of, just to put it plainly. It’s cathartic, or merely depressing. This song is one of the quieter moments, amid songs of rage and despair. I’ve always been a supporter of ‘deep cuts’ – the tracks tucked away in the middle or end of an album, that carry the mood, bridging between the hits. Some people think of those songs as filler, but I relish taking them out of context and examining them on their own. Very often, forgotten filler songs are really gems that have been outshone by louder tracks. I think this is really rewarding. Try listening to the track first, then listen to the entire album. It doesn’t exactly form a narrative, but it does flow.
“I guess one afternoon, you won’t cross my mind, and I’ll get over you, over time.”
Stop and think back to the last time you felt this way. How very, very hard it is to stop holding in your mind images of an old flame. It is slow torture. The assurance that one day you won’t remember their face is the opposite of comfort. Time heals all wounds, so they say, and this process is just the way of nature. Love leaches its way out of the body the same way alcohol does; like the toxin that it is, kicking and screaming.
Nobody has explored this territory more intimately than Lucinda Williams. She truly is the ultimate copilot for the battered heart.
Lucinda Williams nails a lot of things about romance, mostly the bad ones. Mostly heartaches; that could be her motto. She really comes at it from every side. What she’s coming at here is, as usual, loss and its afterburn. It’s one of the most painful things about ended romance, a regret that often hangs on for years after desire has died down; it’s the loss of friendship. Long after the love has died, you mourn the companionship, all of the shared things of two lives together, the friends in common and favorite spots and in-jokes and habits. Because when you move on from a longtime love, you’re also reshaping your day to day life. You have to change your routines, your places to go, the people in your circle, the objects in your home. That’s if you’re lucky and you get out with relative ease. You may have to say goodbye to your home, your car, your pets, custody of your children, the face you were born with, your savings, your reputation. Few things descend into destruction and trauma as dramatically and irreversibly fast as the separation of two lives. But even in the most basic and painless breakup, you’re still losing a huge chunk of your life, and you may still mourn the details of that life, and even if you’re past mourning the romance, you may still wish that you’d been friends instead of lovers.
Lucinda Williams is the antidote for disposable youth culture. She’s the opposite of an ingenue – she has the wisdom and glamour of hard living. And she’s a living rebuke to anyone dumb enough to think that rock music is a game for young men. Williams didn’t even begin to experience to success until she was well into her forties. In 1998 she a breakout, a rising star, a hot new voice on the scene – all despite having been a working musician and recording artist for decades. Now 63, she’s established a niche for herself, with a loyal fanbase and the respect of peers and critics. She’s a roots musician at heart, intersecting Delta blues, honky tonk, gospel and confessional songwriting. And she’s done nothing but get better and better. Her writing is intimate, often painfully so, and it’s deeply moral. Not exactly religious – though she does have a taste for what I would call Southern Baptist Kitsch – and not even exactly spiritual, at least not in the sense that we expect music to be spiritual, i.e. uplifting and edifying. Her point of view is essentially sad; she writes about the sorrows of the world, from the personal to the broadly social. Empathy and forgiveness are big themes, as is grief, as is redemption, as is love. It’s an artistic vision that could only come from long years of down and out living, heartbreak, struggle, loss, and growth. A young woman could never have that much wisdom and gravitas.
Ready to feel depressed? Lucinda Williams has you covered. Williams long ago proved herself one of the highest masters of documenting every conceivable shade of misery. Because misery isn’t always the same; every hard time has its own particularity. You have to gaze into each abyss and remember it in its uniqueness. In this case, you may recall a long cold winter of the heart that comes after someone has left you. You give up waiting for that person to come back (they never do, do they?) and eventually you’re huddled down waiting just to feel something good again. And if you have to undergo that while in Minneapolis, more bad luck for you. Lucinda is a Southern girl; for her surviving the frost and windchill of Minnesota must be torture on top of torture. Even for those of us bred in permafrost, there’s something so exhausting about the act of wintering. It’s emotionally debilitating to be cold all the time, on top of the physical stress of it. And if your heart is all broken too…
If we lived in a world without tears, we wouldn’t need Lucinda Williams.
Here’s an old favorite I haven’t listened to much lately. Lucinda Williams helped me through some bad times, but now that times are good I’m not in the mood for her very often. That’s the way with artists who put so much of their own grief out there; they serve as poor-weather friends. You need them when you’re down, and when you’re up you tuck them away with the bad memories. Lucinda Williams is an artist who audibly wrenches her own heart out on every record, and she makes for either great or terrible company depending on your mental state at any given time. I recall for a fact that this is the first Lucinda Williams song I ever listened to. I was working with a girl who was from Slidell, Louisiana. She had never heard of Louisiana girl Lucinda either, and someone thought to play her this song. I think I was far more taken with it than she was. I was impressed by Lucinda’s attitude, a mix of heartbreak and defiance. So much so that I went out and bought all of her albums in quick succession. Later on in life I realized that I was being a self-indulgent fool to even imagine that I had anything to feel bad about, but at the time, not being lucky in love seemed like the worst of travails. Nobody has been unluckier in love than Lucinda Williams – she has a thing for the suicidal ones – and nobody writes about it quite like her, so she became, for a time, a very close traveling companion. I haven’t come far enough along that I would feel any nostalgia for the Lucinda years, but maybe someday I will or maybe she’ll just stop reminding me of being young and stupid. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still appreciate her, in all her messed-up honesty.