“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.
Sometimes I sit down and start writing and I have zero thoughts in my head, and I don’t know what’s going to come out because it’s all intuition. It’s hard to write about music. Sometimes there’s concrete things to say or stories to tell, but a lot of times what comes up is a lot of incoherent feelings and recollections. That’s when it’s easy to start rambling or get too personal. Especially when it’s love songs we’re dealing with. Especially longing sad ones that cut to the bone. And especially if it’s an artist I was attached to in a particular moment in my life. Like Lucinda Williams, who I discovered and became slightly obsessed with at a pretty crucial junction. That was when I was first living on my own and needless to say there was a bad romance. 90% imaginary, but a romance nonetheless. Now I realize that it was a dumb mistake (not the dumbest mistake I’ve ever made, but pretty dumb) and not worth the energy I put into it, and it’s not something I think about or try to remember very often. In fact, it only ever pops up on my radar when I listen to certain music. Like Lucinda Williams. She makes me remember how I was feeling. For a while I found it irritating and I avoided listening to her music. Now it doesn’t bother me anymore and I’ve started to really enjoy her again. Because she writes so much about her own rocky love life, it’s impossible not make a strong emotional connection to her music and start relating it back to your life. And when you’re young and impressionable, those connections stay vivid for years. But after a while it doesn’t hurt anymore, and it becomes almost a pleasant nostalgia. You begin to smile at your own stupidity. I remember how much I felt this song when I first heard it (it’s one of her less depressing numbers). There was someone I would’ve drove my car all night to go see, if I’d had the chance. Those feelings turned out to be misdirected and didn’t lead to anything good, but it would be nice just to get that excited again. I’d like to really feel this song again like I used to.