Monday, August 2, 2004

It's All About the Capo

"Go find a jukebox and see what a quarter will do..."
-Lucinda Williams

Last winter I took a creative nonfiction writing class with the Blue-Eyed Editor at the Loft. As part of the class we were all allowed (or required depending on your point of view) to read two pieces aloud that the rest of the class would then comment on.

My week to read was fast approaching and I had no idea what I was going to write and share with my classmates. It wasn't as if I was afraid of what the others in class might think of my writing. That obstacle had long since out of self survival, become a non-issue. It also wasn't as if I thought any feedback offered would suddenly make me a better writer. If there is one thing I know I can do pretty well these days it is evaluating the things I do OK and the things I need to work on. Nope I was just having a difficult time coming up with something worth sharing.

So I found myself one day at my day job in an endless meeting with my thoughts everywhere but in that particular conference room. Lucinda Williams' song "Fruits of My Labor" bounced around inside my head just as it had for most of the week and I really wasn't sure why. In a moment of clarity I began furiously jotting down notes for my essay. It was going to be about how my work seems a little less than inspirational these days and a lot of that is a confessed self inflicted wound of wanting to keep my professional and private lives completely isolated from each other.

My classmates weren't quite sure what to make of my piece. I quoted lyrics from the Lucinda song throughout. And it took me weeks to figure out why that particular song was involuntarily permeating my soul. She's singing about how her hard work and her relative fame has allowed her to own things like velvet curtains yet that wasn't exactly what she had in mind when she began her career all those years ago.

The same feeling relentlessly washed over me as I sat watching Lucinda play at the Minnesota Zoo last Wednesday. It was a "glad I made the effort to go" show as she continues to grow as a performer. The same Blue-Eyed Editor/Classmate accompanied me to the show, her first time in seeing Lucinda, and at one point my friend astutely remarked how charismatic Lucinda was and how it was difficult to take one's eyes off of her.

As if it wasn't enough to be the creator of so many stellar songs, I must say Lucinda is about as an attractive woman as any in this hemisphere. She possesses in excess the two most appealing traits (as far as I'm concerned) of any woman- creativity and lots of soul. She is a writer who drives me crazy- both because her songs penetrate the deepest parts inside and help make some sense of this place, but also because I'm insanely jealous of her ability to express something I'm feeling far far better (and more simply) than I ever could.

The show's song list was dominated by songs from her last two CDs, Essence and World Without Tears. The lack of songs from her most popular CD Car Wheels Down a Gravel Road, clearly disappointed some of the people around us. (She did only one song from that CD- a ragged "Joy.") The guy behind us kept shouting for her to sing the title cut of that CD- only he and the woman he was with had a little joke about the song title-he kept yelling, "Hot Wheels Down a Gravel Road." That was kind of annoying and not even as funny as my best friend's misinterpretation of the song she calls, "Cartwheels Down a Gravel Road."

Yet I was somewhat satisfied by the song choices. In preparation for the show I had made my friend a Lucinda mix and the first nine songs of the show were included on that disc.

The early part of the show featured several piercing versions of slow sad songs like "Ventura," "Reason to Cry," and "Out of Touch," where Lucinda's slurred southern drawl was made even more heart pounding by the occasional crack of her voice. A few people began dancing during "Joy" but the oddest moment of the show came when the band followed up that guitar driven song with the bluesy dirge like "Atonement" perhaps the least danceable song of all time (though the dweeby devoted kept trying.)

The absolute highlight for me and the one I was with came during the encore. Lucinda returned to the stage to surprisingly play two older songs from her great 1988 CD, Lucinda Williams. The first, a heart stopping version of "Side of the Road" was performed accompanied only with her own strumming acoustic guitar and the subtle embellishments from her lead guitarist. The second was one of all time favorite songs, "Am I Too Blue?" that not in my wildest dreams was I expecting her to play. Cool beans.

By the time we got to the closing "Get Right By God" performed in an convincing religious revival style, one couldn't help but understand things just a little more clearly if only for a frustratingly fleeting moment. As we walked home under the stars the future once again seemed for the moment, full of possibilities.

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