This is What I Mean!

Look. Here is a perfectly good review of Lucinda Williams’ new album. It lets you know what kinds of songs are on it, what they’re about, and whether it’s a good and interesting listen (apparently so). But you know how I was talking about how strange it is in Jewly Hight’s book that there’s nothing about spouses or lovers or kids unless those spouses, lovers, or kids are the musical collaborators of said women, because the “here’s something about this female artist’s spouse/lover/kids” is so ubiquitous that it’s nearly invisible. It just doesn’t seem strange when a discussion of a female artist’s art is put in the context of her relationships.

And I’m not trying to dog on Blake Boldt in the slightest. I’m just curious, now that the absence of it has brought my attention to its presence, how often I’ll notice.

Boldt says

Listen to songs like “Kiss Like Your Kiss,” a sultry duet with Elvis Costello, and the accordian-kissed “Sweet Love,” and you can see how romantic contentment (Williams married in 2009) has smoothed off some of her rough edges.

Or maybe she smokes a lot of pot now. Or maybe the “I got married and it mellowed me” is a good narrative because people are willing to sympathize with it. But I’m going to keep an eye out for it from here on out–the mention of a female artist’s relationships as being central to her art.

Trope, I have my eye on you.

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12 thoughts on “This is What I Mean!

  1. Interesting point. Though I don’t think this album is a direct 180 from the rest of her catalog, it does seem like the love songs are a direct reflection of her “new” relationship. If all the focus is put on this trope (Lucinda’s married and now she sounds happy), then that’s when it’s a problem. Some of these songs are just as dark as her earlier work, and I’d hate for reviewers to miss the point.

    I wrote about Keith Urban’s new love song a few weeks ago and mentioned how his performance would likely have been inspired by his marriage to Nicole Kidman. It would seem silly to tie in every artist’s work to their personal lives, but I think it’s fitting in some cases.

    Thanks for reading. :)

  2. Hell, it was a nice piece of writing. I’m always happy to read a nice piece of writing.

    And i don’t think you did anything wrong, in the least. I honestly wonder how often we (and I completely include myself) use what’s going on in people’s personal lives, especially women, to illuminate what’s going on in their artistic lives and whether we’re careful enough about whether that’s what’s really happening or if it’s just an easy observation.

    In this case, knowing how personal Williams’ songs are, I think it’s a spot-on observation. But it is something I’m going to mull, too.

    Thanks for coming by.

  3. Of course. I enjoy reading your blog when I get a chance. I typically don’t read other reviews before completing my own, but that little note about her marriage has been tossed around quite a bit. Yes, there are some obviously romantic songs on here, but reviewers and listeners shouldn’t ignore stuff like “Born to Be Loved,” “Buttercup,” “Seeing Black” and others.

  4. Also, in this case, in interviews she’s done with me, for instance, and others over the last few years, she’s noted the difference her happy marriage has made in her life and routines herself. Reporters tend to go to questions about the personal lives of artists whose l lives have either been their own explicit subject matter–or news. (So, Lyle, what as that Julia Roberts headline marriage experience like, huh?)

    On the other hand, they absolutely do talk about, or obsess about, the looks of women artists more…

  5. It’s weird because this seems to come up in music writing a lot, but seldom appears in reviews of literary works–when I think it has as much or more of a bearing on an author’s work.

    I’ve read books by authors who are friends and whose lives I know well. It’s very easy for me to see how personal events shape and are reflected by their writing. Yet when reviewers or critics consider literary work it seldom comes up.

    Poets, yes. (Poor Eliot.) Novelists, not so much.

    I wonder why? Is it because we naturally find music more emotionally accessible?

  6. Kat, I think a big part of it is that songs and poems are so much more concise. A well-crafted novel has more points of entry and focus and, well, just more words. That may sound flippant, but I don’t think it is, really.

  7. So many women in the music business are married to their collaborators that I think there’s a bit of bleed between the categories of musical influence and personal life. Ya know, talking about an artist’s relationship to a producer is one thing, and talking about an artist’s relationship to a SO is another thing, but when the producer is the SO, what do you do?

    But I have seen many, many a good review ruined (IMO) by gratuitous references to a female artist’s looks.

  8. I wonder how much of that has to do with Lucinda Williams’ “lone wolf” image up until now? I’m trying to think of a male artist whose home life has been noted as affecting or changing his music in some way. Paul Westerberg post-Replacements, sober and settling into domestic life? Both were married later in life, too, so I’m sure that has a lot to do with it.

  9. I’m trying to think of a male artist whose home life has been noted as affecting or changing his music in some way.

    Dylan.

  10. In country music, the male home life/work connection is often made, in fact. Hank Williams anyone? George Jones?

    Again–if there’s content in the songs that raises this stuff consistently, it inevitably becomes a subject that gets raised.

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