Punk rock, Lucinda Williams, and my evolving relationship with music

When I was younger, I listened to punk rock. I wasn’t the kid with the purple mohawk but I was pretty close. I wore it, I wrote it, and I spoke it. As much as you can do those things with a genre of music.

In high school, I often cordoned myself off with it. It gave me protection, comfort, purpose. 

I still have a fondness for that kind of music and especially its energy.

As I get older, my taste has evolved, which is, I suppose, to be expected. I still marvel though. My young self would have snickered at what I listen to presently. I like to think I’ve aged gracefully though in the listening department. These days I am listening to all sorts of sounds, but I have a keen interest in country music of all stripes.

To give you an idea: My wife and I went to a music festival called Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco recently, and I was very much in my element. I loved looking at all of the weathered guitars the artists brought on stage, and the music wasn’t bad too. 

Lately, I have been digging Lucinda Williams. In the past, though she just never did it for me. I tried one or two times in my life.

For many years, I listened to the music of the lead singer of a glam punk band (and later a solo musician) named Jesse Malin, and he had it bad for Lucinda, and said so. So of course, I gave it my best shot, but when I put on a track like “Right In Time,” I’d find myself reaching for the skip button on my CD player. I wasn’t interested in the everyday poetry of a Lucinda song. I wanted drama, angst, and fireworks, and a healthy dose of skepticism. In short, she was boring to me: the way that all of her songs moved at the same middling pace, and the unwavering tone of her voice. You had to really listen to a song to discover what she was singing about. She has a very unfussy delivery and tone and aura that I don’t think I was ready for at the time.

But these days, that’s one of the reasons I love her. On a song like “Right in Time,” I’m not entirely sure what she’s singing about; it’s something to do with a past or a present lover, and it’s not necessarily about the couple’s swell rhythm, but it’s poetic, sunny with perhaps a glare, and kind of dirty (especially in the end). On “Something About What Happens When We Talk,” she’s slowing the tempo down, and this time she’s singing about the pleasure she gets from conversing with a particular gentleman.

Similarly, “I just Wanted to See You So Bad” is filled with the same straightfoward poetics. Every other line is “I just want to see you so bad” and very slowly as the song progresses, she paints in details. She doesn’t give us too much or too little, but just enough. 

And when she wants to, she can rock out (see “Real Love,” which is Lucinda channeling the Ramones).

I no longer live in music; it’s moved more to the background of my life. I hear it in cars, and coffee shops, and sometimes I like it better that way. It’s so lovely to discover a Springsteen pearl or Lauryn Hill’s “That Thing You Do” (which is such a rad song) by accident.

I do still get the same joy from hearing it live.

The other day my wife and I were at a music festival listening to the wonderful folk singer Patty Griffin in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. We had fled the sea of humanity that had assembled to see her on the lawn, opting instead to recline against a tree somewhere a quarter of a mile away or so (I’m exaggerating but not by much). But it didn’t matter how close or how far to the stage we were — and that’s really the difference these days. I cling to music less than I once did. I’m happy to just close my eyes now, rest my head in a warm lap, and let it cast its spell.

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4 thoughts on “Punk rock, Lucinda Williams, and my evolving relationship with music

  1. Brieuse Bernhard Piers-Gûdmönd says:

    Wait till you get older and find yourself saying to the younger generation, “Turn that rubbish down”.

  2. Miranda Stone says:

    This post made me realize that my musical tastes haven’t changed much at all over the last 20 years since I was in high school. Back then, I preferred 80’s music, but I also adored folk singers such as Gordon Lightfoot and Jim Croce. Still do.

    • Yeah, I think a lot of people are the same way. My parents certainly are. They grew up listening to Neil Young, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin — and the rest of the sixties pack. And they still do.

      I’ve heard both those names, but not their music. Have to check them out.

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