Unexpected benefits of sleep deprivation:
Cool raspy, slurry voice not unlike a young Sean Connery
eyes make me a shoo-in for casting
Loopy, tangential thoughts mistaken for bizarre wit
Illusion of living longer when more hours are spent awake
Stunned, glassy, glazed look consistent with corporate culture
Coffee = Suddenly a very good idea
Aching bones take focus away from slight case of hypochondria
Every soft surface feels 300 percent more plush and comfy to lie on
typos: "Random" becomes "Radon."
reactions to simple questions:
More perceived slow motion than in a John Woo movie
All food, regardless of nutritional value, tastes the same
Outpouring of sympathy for narcoleptics
I'm venturing dangerously close to Allison territory here, because she's a huge fan, but I have to tell you about Lucinda.
Monday night I went to Antone's, a very famous Austin live music venue that's basically just a big rectangular room with a bar that runs the length of the place. At this club I'd seen Maceo Parker perform once, and watched David Gray do a showcase for South by Southwest there before I even knew who he was.
It's one of those great small venues that big-name artists don't mind playing because it has such a storied history. And then you have guys like Dennis Quaid, who played there with his band a few weeks ago. I didn't say all the acts that play Antone's are stellar. But it is a great place to check some music out.
I managed to get Lucinda Williams tickets for a small show she was doing there from some co-workers who had a few extras to sell after the show was sold out. That night, at about 10 p.m., the opening band (they were good, but I didn't catch the name) was finishing up. We waited for Lucinda to come on.
An endless string of bluesy female vocalists played over the sound system. The lights adjusted. Stagehands tuned guitars, tested microphones and at one point turned on a small book light on a stand with sheet music for Lucinda.
An hour later, and still nothing. Every time a song would end on the sound system, people would start to cheer because surely this was when she was going to start. But then another song would start, and the cheering would turn to a collective moan. By 11:20, people were getting angry, yelling for her to come out. It was a lot of standing and a lot of waiting.
But when she did come out, wearing an improbably bent up cowboy hat over stringy dirty blonde hair, a black top and dark eye makeup, the audience went completely buck wild. Their frustration turned instantly to adulation. And it was deserved.
Lucinda is someone I started listening to about a year or two ago when her album "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road," was starting to top all the critics "Best of 1998 and 1999" lists. I bought the album and was completely sold. The songs were folksy but not too country (I'm not good with country music). The lyrics were personal, but totally accessible. Her voice was piercing, the music was perfect to the last note and the mood of the album would go from jubilant to beaten down to pissed off and back to swoonily in love.
At the concert, Lucinda started right in with "Metal Firecracker," one of my favorite songs, and chugged right through about four songs from that album. Then she shifted gears and did several songs from her upcoming "Essence" album.
Let me say this right away: I've heard the first single, the title track, from that album played on the radio locally on KGSR. And that song is incredible. Sexy and dark and swoony. She did what she called "the unedited version" which didn't sound all that different from the radio version except it had the phrase "fucked up" at the end. But man, what an amazing song. It sounded perfect live, as did all the songs. Go up to that link and listen to the audio clip. Fantastic.
The audience was with her at every moment, from her old favorites to new songs nobody had heard like the evocative "Bus to Baton Rouge." The song is about her grandma, and I dare you to listen to it and not remember your own grand-mama.
Her new songs are generally slower, moodier and not always as catchy as the ones on "Car Wheels." But Lucinda's voice is still fractured and gorgeous. The arrangements run from delicate to harsh.
Through several incidents that seem to happen at every concert I go to (The Tallest Man In The World ended up in front of us, swaying to the first few songs; one lady pushed her way just to stand right in front of us. Then her drunk husband joined her.), I wondered what Lucinda's appeal is (besides sheer talent, which as nice it is to have, is never a guarantee for success). I don't know a single person who dislikes her music: At least people who've given "Car Wheels" a chance. It seems to transcend music lines. It's folksy, but it isn't folk music. It rocks, but it's not a rock album. It sounds like it could come from the planet country, but it doesn't sound like any country album I've ever been exposed to.
We were about 15 to 20 feet from the stage. Antone's is intimate like that. At one point, Lucinda, who mostly stared at the back wall or closed her eyes while singing, looked toward the center, right near me. Her heavily made-up raccoon eyes were sad and wise, pained and filled with ecstasy at the same time. The crowd sang along to "2 Cool 2 Be 4-Gotten." They danced to "Joy." They bobbed heads to "Out of Touch" and got misty in their beers over "Reason to Cry." And everyone got riled up over the fantastic "Changed the Locks."
I wondered, at that moment when her gaze turned my way, what her appeal is. Why we (not just Austinites, but seemingly everyone exposed to her) loves Lucinda. I think it's because she's tough and tender. She sings about dirt roads, dirty children, lost love and bayous.
She sketches out the plaintive drama of trailers. She reminds you about your grandma's house, up on cinder blocks to keep it from the dirt when it rains. She tells you she needs to get right with God, when really her eyes tell you she's more interested in passionate kisses and going to Slidell to look for her joy.
And when she sings a love song, a real one without pixie dust, sappy strings or even a hint of schmaltz, the reality of it hits you in the heart until it breaks.
I think we love her because if we were an older white blues-singing lady from Lake Charles who'd been through as much love, loss, pain and beer, we'd all like to think that we'd be able to write and sing songs the way she does.
There's a little Lousiana Lucinda with a the gravelly voice and the sad eyes in all of us. And if there isn't there certainly should be.
"Look, I may be a parasite, but I ain't eatin' no Taco Bell."