Monday, July 1, 2002

Am I Too Blue?

Why should I listen to . . . whatever when I can listen to John Coltrane?"

"I like rock clubs, big clubs like First Avenue in Minneapolis or the Fillmore. Any place people can stand up and have a drink."
-Lucinda Williams

No one hates my writing more than I do (although the race for second would be mighty populous, close, and perhaps even electoral). My friend Spunky had it right on the money when he said I know how to write things exceedingly well but I have nothing really to say.

But that's OK at least I'm smart enough to know that writing is about reading, and more specifically reading great writers. And that's why I endured stifling heat on the smothering dance floor of First Ave., shoved against a staircase railing, after a night where I got a quality one freaking hour of sleep after having a friend over who told me she no longer believes in God (and the best I could do was to hug her and send her home with a picture of Max the Cat), to see the writer Time Magazine last year called America's finest songwriter, (a title I wouldn't dispute if you don't count anyone named Bob), Lucinda Williams.

And what a marvelous show it was. I was a bit worried going in having just read that four days prior Williams had a show in Vegas where she came out 75 minutes late, played three songs and then announced she wasn't feeling well, turned around and left her band to face a not too pleased crowd. Now since I'm at least as temperamental as any hissy fit prone but up to this point always gracious celebrity I can hardly call someone on any prima donna like behavior . In fact somehow it made me relate to the artist on a level I'm not sure I'm qualified to relate on. There are moments in life it's just best to realize things are not going to go well in the near future and the best bet is to pack it up and try some other time.

The place was packed to the gills and she came out looking way too slim but a bit too cool to be forgotten dressed in a black tank top (that made her almost look as good as another favorite writer who recently visited me in her Liz Phair T-shirt). The band immediately fired up a fiery and moving "Drunken Angel." 16 songs later the highlight of the evening was the five(!) new songs performed, all five which point to a must hear next CD. Included in the five new songs were "Ocean of Love" ( nice little ballad that provides a nice response to Dylan's epic "Highlands"), "Righteously" (a funky song that explains all the music we need in this world was played by John Coltrane), "Minneapolis" (which was an obvious crowd favorite- "I was wasted, angry and sad when you left Minneapolis..."), "American Dream" (which sounded ripe for a Johnny Cash cover with it's sardonic but appropriate refrain, "Everything's wrong"), and "Little Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings" that she dedicated to Paul Westerberg ("a brilliant songwriter). The new songs were a reminder (and at the same time a revelation) that there is a difference between death and failure no matter how closely those two roads sometimes intertwine. Those that can keep that in mind are those that are probably able to somehow "Get Right with God" in some small manner and in some internal sense.

Other highlights of the evening was a blow the roof off the dump rendition of "Pineola" the best rocking song about a suicide ever written; and "Essence" which may have held an extra special place to my heart seeing it was the only song that I had an uninterrupted sight line to the singer and her ever expressive voice and uncanny ability to write a line that cuts through the divide between the heart and the brain, the imagination and a lingering bugger of a memory.

I had arrived about a half an hour before the doors opened after giving serious consideration to skipping the show altogether- "ying yang" indecision Lucinda might call it. I at first thought I didn't want to endure the crowd, the heat, the traffic, and all else but this was a performer I was so impressed with when I saw her last summer and whose CDs continue to peel away some of the clotting around my own heart as she opens up her own. I was too late to get a table or a seat on the ledge off to the side of the stage. Instead I staked out a spot by the stairs (where I figured I could step up if Manute Bol were to stand in front of me) and where I could also sit down clearing enough space and a clear view to the stage.

I was soon joined by a couple from Hudson (he being the president of the Wisconsin ACLU and she being a dental hygienist who reminded me enough of my former wife to be, Stephanie Jane). She asked what I did for a living and I told her (at least for the next few weeks). She seemed genuinely interested and told me she had meant to get into journalism but turned to creative writing and later to working with little kids that led her to pediatric dental work. Over the next few hours (with an opening act we agreed we enjoyed, featuring Bob Dylan's ex-drummer, Winston Watson) we ended up pressed up against each other close enough that when the lights were raised and the crowd began to exit and we were separated I felt bad that I didn't have a chance to hear how she enjoyed the show. The whole tale could probably make a decent Lucinda Williams song.

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