Crying Over Lucinda Williams
“Motherless children have a hard time when their mother’s dead,” drawls a surprisingly chipper Lucinda Williams tonight at the Park West Theater. The venue is a bit of change for me and I almost miss the throng of drunken haircut hipsters and the bruises from their ill-placed Blackberries. A couple of Baby Boomers sway to the music as the woman of the pair sips daintily on a Heineken. Her first and last of the evening.
In this world of six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon, I am proud to say that I am exactly one degree away from this amazing woman strutting the stage in purple leopard-print jeans. Picture it, Michigan, 1995. An angry young girl with an acoustic guitar and a dream meets a handsome older guitarist and producer with a past. I was that girl and the guitarist was Bernie Larsen. The name may not sound familiar, but any Melissa Etheridge fan worth her salt will remember his raging solo from “Royal Station 4/16,” the last track off the Brave and Crazy album.
We worked together for three records and then he ditched me for Lucinda Williams. It’s okay. She and Melissa have a bunch of Grammy Awards and I have this blog.
Not that Williams always had it easy. “They sent me a one page contract and $250,” she laughs of her first record with Folkways. “That Delta Blues thing is a difficult thing.”
But it’s been a road worth traveling and after a few Robert Johnson songs, she strums the familiar opening chords to “Passionate Kisses.” I remember the tune from its stint on country radio, but Mary Chapin Carpenter never made me cry when she sang it. Williams’ original take is a frustrated plea for a kinder life, devoid of Nashville fluff and canned harmonies. When the lights come back on for the intermission, I look down and work out a text message so that nobody sees my mascara run.
From folk to country to rock, Williams doesn’t seem to miss a genre in the two-hour set.
“Don’t say she’s one of the best female rockabilly guitar players,” she warns, during the encore. “She’s one of the best rockabilly guitar players around.” Rosie Flores picks up a silver Stratocaster and slings it around her tiny neck to join the band for the rollicking 1998 anthem, “Joy”. To see these two women onstage together is a testament to the new longevity of a career in rock. Grace Slick famously carped that she didn’t like “old people on a rock and roll stage,” but I hope she too reconsiders. I’d max out a couple of credit cards to see Gracie sing “Somebody to Love,” and I’m sure I’m not the only one. There are a lot of things that the young women in indie bands today can learn from the seasoned divas who have persevered. They must have a secret they can share with the rest of us.
“You took my joy. I want it back,” Williams growls into the microphone. But she’s got a smile on her face and so does everybody else in the room. Maybe that’s it.