Saturday, July 24, 2010

The one in which I recast Lucinda Williams as a riot grrrrl (or something)

Okay, Car Wheels, wasn't life-changing, per se, but it was a permanent fixture in my stereo for most of the late-90s. Most of the "pro-woman" rock of the decade I either didn't like, or I didn't know it existed. The lone, cool radio station stuck with the trifecta of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Stone Temple Pilots (with a little Alice In Chains thrown in for good measure) long after those bands ceased to be relevant. The overtly political feminst punk wasn't for me, as in, I probably wouldn't be cool or smart enough to sit at Kathleen Hanna's lunch table. It may have been my own perception of what was "cool,"but if the Lizes, Courtneys, and Kathleens weren't singing for me, or for someone like me, I wasn't going to listen. I did listen to Lucinda Williams.

The thing is the songs on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road  don't even come close to sending a positive message. She makes mistakes, falls in with the wrong crowd, falls in love with the wrong guy, drinks too much... she's deeply flawed.  And for all her tough cooke posturing, I get the feeling she would leave it all if a "good man" came around. These were not the values I was supposed to be learning, but it felt real. I know that sounds cliche: "It's so real," Or "it's so raw." I have to roll my eyes when rock fans describe their favorites as "raw," but it is. Like, open up a wound, raw. But it doesn't sound out of place next to those other iconic female artists of the 90s. Lucinda never compromised her artistic integrity either.

Something else I find exasperating? When albums are held up as "universal." This is the real issue I have with the rash of 90s nostalgia. A lot of those "universally" love albums and the culture surrounding them smacked too much of elitism: grass roots punk movements that started and ended on college campuses. Oddly enough, Lucinda Williams came from an academic background. Her father was a poet and professor, but her music  was neither "painfully intellectual" nor inaccessible.

One of the best reviews I read of a (now forgotten) album went something like, "I judge an album by how it makes me feel. If it makes me feel good, then it is good." Car Wheels on a Gravel Road makes me feel good -- and I'm okay with that cliche.

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