Lucinda, the Chickadee, Margaret, and Lake Charles

In which I track down the sad story behind one of the chickadee’s favourite songs, reignite a love for South West Louisiana and Austin Texas, and learn about the very bad behavior of a respected journalist.

In one of the interesting asides that make the LC such entertaining company, she mentioned in KL last week that she had only recently realized what a  sad song ‘Lake Charles’ by Lucinda Williams actually was.  Chatting about driving ‘down the Louisiana highway, across Lake Pontchartrain‘, to Lake Charles, which I did myself many years ago, reminded me of two things – what a great, if sad singer Lucinda Williams is, and how we really have to get back down to Louisiana.

On that trip in the early nineties, I blagged a Mustang convertible, and have many  great memories, including blasting across the Cajun prairie to a radio show in Eunice, with the hood down, a blood red sky, and Van Morrison shouting out of the stereo.  I also got down to Lake Charles, Lucinda’s birthplace, which I have to say, is no great shakes, except possibly as the focus of a classically elegiac lyric.

Lucinda

I vaguely knew ‘Lake Charles’ was a sad song – a reasonably good guess as not much of Williams’ output is in the happy feet department.  Here’s a clip of her singing it – chosen as much for the interesting Herbert Hoover quotation at the top of the page as for the rendition itself.  But I didn’t know exactly what it was really about.  The lyrics clearly show a personal hook, ‘Now your soul is in Lake Charles, no matter what they say‘, but they are typically opaque.

I decided to follow up to find out what the real story of Lake Charles was.  And discovered this wonderful article by Margaret Moser, who was closely connected to the subject of the song, Clyde Woodward, a former boyfriend of Williams.  I really urge you to read this piece – it’s one of the finest, sweetest pieces about a song lyric and a certain time in US history that I have ever read.  And it certainly will make you listen to Lucinda singing it in a different way.

Lake Charles, more typical view

The funny thing about all this is that Clyde, Lucinda and Margaret all lived in Austin, not Louisiana, and the song is really about a wistful and romanticized yearning for a not particularly attractive place.  Austin is and was way more fun, despite it’s troubling alternate-reality politics.  I remember reading Margaret Moser in the Austin Chronicle in my many trips to Austin, and stimulated by that article, researched a little about her own career. Blimey – this is a woman who has lived, and she writes a lot better than you would imagine for someone who has messed around in such a spectacular manner.

Margaret and the Texas Blondes in 1980

The attached link is not for the elderly or prudish, and covers her life as a groupie – she seems to have had several other lives,  hopefully equally disreputable. Warning – it’s quite a long piece, as she has a great deal of bad behavior to write about.

So thanks to the Chickadee for putting me on to this.  It’s turned me back on to Lucinda, whom I went off somewhat after she did a loud, drunk and tuneless gig in London a few years ago.  Understandable really I guess, she has her demons – and whatever you might say about her – she’s not and will never be bland.

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