Monday, June 16, 2014

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 16: A Song That Holds A Lot Of Meaning For You

A few years ago, I had the very good fortune to see Lucinda Williams play a show at the New Daisy Theater here in Memphis.  She was on tour for her album Blessed and I had for the first (and only) time in my life actually won tickets to the show.  (I was Caller #10 in one of our local radio station contests!)  The New Daisy is a small-ish, intimate venue with a large open space in front of the stage, so I got to see the whole concert literally feet from Lucinda herself.  This was also near the beginning of the Occupy Movement-- no one really knew what it was or what it would become in the coming months-- but Lucinda gave a shout-out to all the OWS folks during one of the breaks in her set, making me love her even more than I already did.  It was a spectacular show and a spectacular night and when she finished her finale encore, I was starstruck.

But the story doesn't end there.

As it turns out, this was also around the time that I was working on my American Values Project, an experiment in documentary photography.  I had been collecting photographs of people holding signs naming something that they value for AVP and, before leaving for the concert that night, I noticed that the album cover for Williams' Blessed looked a lot like the sorts of pictures I had been collecting. So, I devised a plan to wait near the stage after the show and see if I could get someone to ask Lucinda Williams if she'd be willing to contribute a photograph for my project.  I expected that the chances of this plan being successful were slim to none, but I was determined to ask anyway.  As my grandfather used to tell me, the worst that can happen is that someone says no.

After the show was over and Williams' band was packing up their gear, I inched my way up to the stage and asked some guy who looked like his job was to keep people from going backstage if I could, well, go backstage.   Of course, he said no.  So I immediately started in with the whole story of my American Values Project and its connection to Williams' album cover and basically just refused to stop talking until he relented.  After several minutes, he said "wait here, let me see what I can do."  He disappeared for a while and then, unbelievably, came back and said, "ok follow me."

He took me back behind the stage and I waited outside of her tour bus for what seemed like forever.  Just as I was about to give up, some guy stuck his head out of the tour bus door and waved me on. Yes, that's right, I was ON LUCINDA WILLIAMS' TOUR BUS.  I met and hung out with Williams and her whole band, and it was all so casual and cool that I thought I was dreaming.  I told Williams' about my American Value Project and she loved the idea of it.  Not only did she agree to take a photo to add to the collection, but she insisted that all her bandmates on the bus do the same!  Having not really expected that my plan for the night would be successful, I was grossly under-prepared-- no camera, no paper or pens, no permission forms.  Lucinda shrugged all of that off and said we'd find a way to make do. As it turned out, the only thing we could find in the tour bus to write on was a stack of paper plates-- Williams' and the band just had pizza delivered-- so everyone took a picture with his or her value scrawled on those paper plates.  I also got a photo with Lucinda and myself, (pictured above), and her contribution to the American Values Project is to your left.  Williams' paper plate reads: "Peace, Love & Revolution."  (I decided to just let my "choose one value only" rule slide that night.)  She was funny and friendly and unpretentious and just exactly like what you'd expect someone who writes songs like hers to be.

Anyway, my pick for today is Lucinda Williams' "Concrete and Barbed Wire," from one of her earlier albums Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.  Here's a live version:

It's strange how the simplest songs can hold a lot of meaning for you, and this is definitely an example of one that does for me.  This wall divides us / We're on two different sides / But this wall is not real / How can it be real? / It's only made of concrete and barbed wire.  It's a good reminder that the things we take to be impregnable or insurmountable barriers can be looked at another way, as "only" a combination of material, just like us.  I suppose one could hear that "only" as more than little Pollyanna-ish, but I've never heard it that way.  Rather, I like to think that Williams is trying to say that it's not concrete and barbed wire that make walls that divide, we do.  We make the walls and we make them divisive.

As Williams sings in the last verse: There's a wall between us, but it's not what it seems / It's only made of concrete and barbed wire.  If walls aren't what they seem, aren't impregnable or insurmountable, if they're "only" made of materials that could be transformed, refashioned and repurposed-- materials that will, like all material things, deteriorate-- then perhaps there is much more we can do to diminish the divides between us than we thought.

Here's your quick-access link to the entire 30 Day Song Challenge 2014 prompt-list and my picks for each day.

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