Bob Dylan dissed Lucinda Williams. Or so says her sister.
Williams admits she doesn't remember herself, but says the sight of her signing autographs after a recent Indianapolis gig caused her sister to flash back to when the siblings were 12 and nine and Lucinda insisted her younger sister accompany her to Dylan.
"We stood in line forever and ever to try to get his autograph," the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter says from her tour bus near Bloomington, Indiana. "I don't have any recollection of this, but she said, 'We finally got at the front of the line and you handed him a piece of paper to sign. He said something like, 'Are you kidding me? There's the merch booth over there. Buy something over there, and then I'll sign it.'"
The reason all this came up is that we asked Williams if she had ever considered writing a memoir like fellow former Houstonian Rodney Crowell's Chinaberry Sidewalks. She said she has, and even has a literary agent in New York, and then started talking about how sometimes people can remember things about you that you may have forgotten yourself.
Williams's songs already read like little memoirs, full of literary detail and personal loss and longing that cuts to the quick. Although critical reaction to 2008's Little Honey was mixed (this one liked it), her new Lost Highway album Blessed has reaped the same kind of hosannas as 1992's Sweet Old World, 1998's Car Wheels On a Gravel Road and 2003's World Without Tears.
Produced by Don Was and mixed by Bob Clearmountain, two of the surest hands in the music business, Blessed has been No. 1 on the Americana Music Association's airplay chart since its release in March. But if so many other people think it's her best album in years, what about the woman who made it?
"I think it is, definitely," says Williams, who was playing Anderson Fair when Lyle Lovett was "just a little kid from College Station."
"It's certainly the best-sounding album I've ever done," she adds. "Period. Hands down."
Houston Press: As an artist, when do you know it's time to make another album?
Lucinda Williams: That's a good question. Part of that is the management, in this case being Tom [Overby], my husband. We talk about it. I've been so much more prolific than I have in the past lately, and I've been on a roll. I've been writing some new songs lately, and I had some songs that were almost finished when we were in the studio doing Blessed, so I've already got a head start for the next album.
At one point before we left out on this run, Tom said, "I don't want to stay out too long, because I want to get you back in the studio while you're on a roll. Your singing is better than ever."
HP: "Awakening" on the new album is especially stirring. Where did that song come from?
LW: Oh, God. I don't know. The depths of my subconscious. It's really one of those stream-of-consciousness-type things. I was influenced a lot by Jim Morrison, and it kind of reminds me of his song "This is the end, my only friend, the end..." and that other one, the music's...
HP: "When the Music's Over."
LW: "When the Music's Over." It's not about saying this is the end. The awakening for me is just when everybody wakes up and snaps out of it — finds that place we're all trying to get to that we don't even know where it is or what it is.
HP: There's a song about Vic Chesnutt on the record. ("Seeing Black," featuring Elvis Costello on guitar)
LW: It's inspired by his suicide. Then I realized it's not really about him, necessarily, but just that act. When that happened, it sparked a song. And then a few weeks later Mark Linkous [of Sparklehorse] killed himself, and he and Vic were really close. Apparently they both struggled with depression, and Vic had become a mentor for Mark.
HP: Were you very close to either one of those guys?
No. I never met Mark, but I had met Vic a few times and did some shows with him. He lived in Athens, so we were never really able to hang out that much. We had some mutual friends. I know the story through this guy Dewitt Burton, who lives in Athens and does guitar-tech work for R.E.M.
He also went out with us, so Dewitt and I got to be good friends. Dewitt was actually in the studio working with Mark Linkous when Mark went outside the studio and shot himself one afternoon. That's how I heard. There's probably a whole 'nother song in there now. God.
HP: What's the first thing you do when you get an idea for a new song?
LW: Grab a pen and whatever paper I can find and write it down immediately. Put it in a folder with all the other ideas I have, and pieces of things. Then when I'm in the mood and have some time, I sit down with my trusty Martin guitar and a little tape recorder, and sit there and see what comes out.
HP: Are you a very musical person — can you hear a melody in your head and play it out on guitar or piano?
LW: Sometimes I can hear a melody in my head, but I can't write music. I have to get a tape recorder and sing into it. Sometimes I'll think of a melody with a few little words and I'll grab the tape recorder — I always have that around — and I'll sing into it, just to get it down so I won't forget it.
HP: Have any of your songs become too personal for you to perform live anymore?
LW (thinking): No...no...no...no. The way I write, I don't say anybody's name in the song. The majority of people don't know who the songs are written about, most of them. I just let the listener interpret however he or she wants to.
HP: What do you remember about your days in Houston?
I moved to Austin in '74, and I think I moved to Houston in '75. I was going back and forth a lot, and I finally just ended up moving to Houston because at the time there were more singer-songwriter places to play in Houston. Austin at that time was going through that whole cosmic-cowboy thing, and the bars wanted more of the bands like Gary P. Nunn and Rusty Weir.
So that whole scene in Houston popped up, with of course Anderson Fair being at the helm. Prufrock's I remember, and Houlihan's. Theodore's. There was another place later called The Green Room. You could just rotate all those places. I lived in Montrose, so there was that whole little community thing. It was like a little village, kind of, and it was great.
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