Three years into recovery from a stroke that affected her fretting hand, singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams sits down with Bronwen Dickey to talk about the influence her poet father had on her writing, the feeling of not fitting in with those in the music business, and her driving need for creative control in the studio, even when the likes of Steve Earle helms the mixing board.
“What I learned was that every artist needs a mentor,” Lucinda Williams tells me. “Everyone needs someone that they feel like is a little bit better than they are—something to aspire to. For my dad, it was Flannery O’Connor. For me, it was my dad.” Even as a child, Williams paid close attention to the care and precision her father brought to his craft. He taught her about the importance of finding the right word for a poetic line, not just any word that will do. The difference between the two, as Mark Twain famously said, was the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
To a male-dominated, marketing-driven industry that fetishized youth, she didn’t belong—at least not in the way record executives wanted her to. There would be no spangles or shoulder pads; she wore dark eyeliner and leather jackets with her cowboy hats. Her songs blended folk and blues, rock and country, punk and zydeco, with an undercurrent of Southern gothic, as if Flannery O’Connor had joined Tom Petty for a late-night drive.
Williams hasn’t yet regained her ability to play guitar, but she is already thinking about songs for her next album and maybe even a second book. The questions she once had about who she is and what she stands for have faded—she knows the answers now. “I was stronger than I thought I was.”