An Ex-Pat’s Life Can Be Tricky: The South, Lucinda Williams & Ex-Patriotism

 

 

Over Christmas 2017 my friend Alan’s buddy, from the USA, visited South Australia for a few weeks. A few days before he left to go back to his home in Tennessee, a small group of us met in a little cafe/restaurant in the main street of Burra where we sat at a little table, got some coffee and talked.

Burra, not far from Clare and Mintaro, is an old copper mining town, an historic heritage site, north of Adelaide. It is a pretty country town with beautiful white cedar trees lining the wide main street & the narrower side streets running off at right angles mainly.  To be sure, the Burra State Heritage Area is on the National Heritage List.  The village of Burra is well worth a visit, even a stay, as accommodation, including various bed & breakfast spots, is easy to find.  But make sure you book ahead.

 

 

Alan’s friend lives in Tennessee & works over the state line in Kentucky. We were enjoying ourselves chatting about the South especially states like Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Texas in the South West, all places I know, some had been my home.  As time moved on I began to feel a sadness, a sort of melancholy which I kept to myself of course. The long journey to meet somebody on the other side of the world was nearly over.  Partings & departures can be so heartbreaking.  Don’t I know it.

But there was more to my melancholy than the impending departure. Meeting Alan’s friend triggered all sorts of memories & emotions. After the goodbyes, I left and quietly drove home. Partway home, unable to shrug off the nagging sense of melancholy, I pulled off the road and parked so I could listen to Lucinda, Lucinda Williams, the singer, the poet. She always gets me going, helps me reflect, remember, to be introspective. Her music is raw and rootsy. She is unsparing in saying so much by saying so little. She enlivens memories of my 17 years living and working in and around the South in the USA.

Why is an ex-pat’s life tricky at times? The sheer authenticity of another country comes from living there, enjoying time & place & immersing oneself in the daily life and culture. Holidays & vacations don’t cut the mustard. They give you little or no insight into how daily life is lived in a place.

 

 

The Southern states are a big part of me. The Deep South and broader regions of the USA where I lived, worked and played from Alabama & Tennessee to Florida, Georgia, Mississippi & Louisiana and out to big, beautiful Texas, occupy a big space in my head & my heart.

 

 

And, yes, it can be tough at times living back here in Australia, missing my American life, family & friends.  As an Aussie ex-pat living & working in the USA I invested a big part of my life there. When you have a permanent long term lease on a place you want to talk about it, share your stories. Talking with Alan’s friend meant chatting with somebody who knew & understood what I was on about.

And what a fabulously busy life I lived in the USA in those years, a big chunk of time in a life – almost a generation. Of course, there were times when I missed Australia, my family & friends, but it was never enough to make me want to leave. I was too busy for that. I was ensconced. Plus I enjoy the global view. The global mentality suits me. When you enjoy a heavy dose of Australian adaptability, you can live anywhere. I don’t get homesick in a way that makes me want to up & leave. I could move to a foreign country today & be very happy.

Sadly, my feelings about the USA have been tested in the last 4 years since Donald Trump emerged. I had organised to be in the USA from March 2017, a plan promptly cancelled in light of the turmoil and chaos following the 2016 election.  Sadly, almost 3 years later, at the end of 2019, with no apparent end to the unrest and lack of leadership, I abandoned plans to return to the USA. I did what I had always wanted to do:  look to Europe . . . and  France is now our destination once Covid is resolved.

I guess there’s no right way to describe the emotions that come with ex-patriotism. Ex-pats know what I’m on about. It’s personal, a sort of dull gnawing sensation I guess. Whether Australia or the USA the feelings & emotions are the same & equal.  You can’t be in one without the other. I make do with remembering. Thinking back. Talking about the other place. Sharing stories. Looking at photos.  Sometimes it feels like a secret, a knowing about the other, a love for the other place that co-exists with the life I live in, the place I’m at now, South Australia. Certainly, memories become less clear over the years but they never leave.

The hardest times are when something triggers certain thoughts & emotions.  Suddenly, I’m flooded with emotions, sad & happy.  Could be anything, a saying, a location, a picture, a book, an event, a conversation, TV, a movie, an advert or a song, even a news item. It could be a person. It doesn’t happen often but it happened that day in the little cafe at Burra.

And whenever my mind goes back to the South and I contemplate those years in the USA, I start thinking about Lucinda Williams.  More on her below . . .

Alan had visited and stayed in the USA before his buddy came to Australia.  He always talked about his trip to one of my fav cities, New Orleans.  Ah, yes, New Orleans, who doesn’t love this enigmatic and alluring city? Living & working in Tennessee & Alabama made it easy to get to New Orleans. If we went the Alabama way, we took Interstate 65 (I65) to Birmingham then I20 across to Tuscaloosa.  Oh for Tuscaloosa … in 1985 I lived in Tuscaloosa where I attended Law School at the University of Alabama. From Tuscaloosa, we would head across the state line into Mississippi then south on I59 to Meridian, to Hattiesburg & into Louisiana crossing Lake Pontchartrain to the city of New Orleans.

I love driving & it’s so easy on the interstates – the system of multi-lane highways criss-crossing the USA. Sometimes, from Fayetteville TN (where I lived and worked at the time), I headed directly west on I64 to Memphis then south on I55 to Mississippi, to Jackson and straight down to New Orleans.  Check out this map and you’ll see the routes.

Likewise, it was easy getting to Atlanta for weekends. We would drive to Atlanta via Chattanooga in 4 hours often leaving after work on a Friday to get there in time to go late night shopping and/or party! Because Georgia was an hour ahead of Tennessee, it was easy to come back Monday mornings in time for work.

I am so glad South Road in Adelaide now runs as a multi-lane highway from the city to the south. Waiting for some decent urban  engineering re Adelaide’s Northern arterial road. Expanding it to a multi-lane highway from the city to the north up to Elizabeth, even Gawler is long overdue.  One need only look across to Melbourne to see urban engineering and modernity in its roads.

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Anyway, there I was after the meeting at Burra in a Lucinda Williams fog. Lucinda is one of my all time favourite singers & song writers. When I was living in the USA in the 90s, Lucinda made some of her best music. In the evenings I would visit my local Borders book store in Orlando (Florida) to browse, to read & to listen to music including of course, Lucinda Williams. Stores were open every night.  Back then you could put on the head phones and listen. Nobody minded. Free listening as much as you wanted. And I listened.  Borders was like a library, armchairs scattered around calling, “take a book, sit, stay awhile.” You could stay as long as you liked. Didn’t have to buy. You could get coffee. A snack. Children could read, play with the toys.  Sometimes a musician would appear for an impromptu session.  Those were the days. And I knew Lucinda’s music.

 

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Lucinda Williams’ lyrics are quintessentially southern with albums featuring songs about her home state Louisiana or references to it as well as other regions. In my mind, one of her best albums is her 1998 Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Her album Essence is another fav. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road is bitter sweet and very personal to Lucinda. Check out the album reviews e.g. Rolling StoneClassic Rock Review & NY Times Magazine – Lucinda Williams.

When my son went back to live in the USA in 2003 (from Australia) I went into a deep sadness, a weird funk. Of course, he went South to his first home, Alabama, where he was born. Alabama was my home for years. I sobbed when I played “Lake Charles” the quintessential Lucinda Williams song and the place where she was born. It’s a song about Lucinda’s one time boyfriend and, I think, one of her greatest songs. It always takes me back to the South and broader southern regions of the USA where I lived & worked.

 

 

Living in Dallas meant I could hit the road south to Houston then head east across the Texas gulf country to Beaumont, to the state line, to Lake Charles in Louisiana. Easy drive to a region I loved. Lucinda’s music, her writing, her emotion, stays with me.

We used to drive through Lafayette and Baton Rouge 

in a  yellow El Camino Listening to Howling Wolf ….  ”

Across Lake Pontchartrain

Now your soul is in Lake Charles

This 1998 article by Margaret Moser, ‘Going Back to “Lake Charles” in the Weekly Wire ~ Austin Music  tells the real story behind Lucinda’s song. A sad one.  But listening to Lucinda sing ‘Lake Charles’ is sadder.

In the song, Lucinda talks about driving in a yellow El Camino. My first ever drive on an American highway, my first time driving on the right side in a vehicle with the steering wheel on the left was in Huntsville, Alabama in an old red El Camino not unlike in these 2 images. Alone, I maneuvred that heavy clunker of a beast, a classic American Chevrolet . . .  whew!  . . . but more on that first drive later.  Afterwards, I figured they gave me that clunker and not the good car and left me to drive alone just in case I had a mishap! 🙂 🙂  What we did all those years ago . . .

These pics show you what that ol’ El Camino looked like.  It was likely a ’70s model as I moved to the USA in the 80s.  Ronald Reagan was President at the time followed by George H W Bush and  Bill Clinton.

 

Just one more story from the road . . .  this time I drove with my son and our cat from Orlando to Dallas. We headed north from Orlando to Interstate 10 then west across the Florida panhandle to Pensacola and to Mobile on the Alabama coastline where we stayed the night in a cheap motel. The next morning we headed west  down to Biloxi in Mississippi where, still on I10, we crossed Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans then on to Baton Rouge to Lafayette & onto Lake Charles where we got off I10 to State Highway 171 heading north to Shreveport then west into Texas, to Longview and on to Dallas. How I loved that trip. I’ve always loved driving, the long haul, the further the better. I wanted to go that way not only to see the south west part of Louisiana but because of Lucinda Williams’ stories. The only way to see the USA is by road.

It’s all about memories, thoughts, pangs, loss, love, friendship, family, knowing, missing  . . .

As I say, an ex-pat’s life can be tricky . . .

 

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And have you listened to Lucinda’s latest album Good Souls Better Angels released in 2020?  It met with a critical reception:
Good Souls Better Angels was met with positive reviews from critics noted at review aggregator Metacritic. This release received a weighted average score of 84 out of 100, based on 17 reviews.[4] AnyDecentMusic? sums up critical consensus as an 8.1 out of 10, with 18 reviews.[3] Jon Breen of The Irish Times gave the release five out of five stars, writing that it “punch[es] with a dark, almost biblical vengeance but also, importantly, balance vitriol with solace, hellfire with a hand in need” and praising its timely lyrics.[8] In American Songwriter, Hal Horowitz gave the release 4.5 out of five stars, writing that it is arguably her most intense album, ending his review: “By the end of the hour, you’ll be wiped out. This is a devastatingly in your face, take no prisoners presentation from Williams and her band that will leave most serious listeners shattered and perhaps shaking. Few albums connect with this much pure emotional fury, let alone those from artists well into their 60s.”[6] Dan Nailen of Inlander writes that this album has Williams’ most direct lyrics but suffers from several songs having the same tempo.[15]
And have you listened to her first track on the album, “Man Without a Soul“? The Rolling Stone magazine writes,Songwriter emasculates Trump in the first track off her upcoming album ‘Good Souls Better Angels’.  
“Man Without a Soul” announces Williams’ latest album, Good Souls Better Angels. Due April 24th via Highway 20/Thirty Tigers, the LP is the follow-up to 2017’s This Sweet Old World (a re-recorded version of Williams’ 1992 album Sweet Old World) and finds the Americana songwriter addressing an array of cultural and political issues, from social media persecution to a nonviable leader.

Lucinda Williams Delivers Good Souls Better Angels to World in Chaos  Is Good Souls Better Angels her best album yet?

Lyrics – Man Without A Soul

You are a man without truth
A man of greed, a man of hate
A man of envy and doubt
You’re a man without a soul
*
All the money in the world
Will never fill that hole
You’re a man bought and sold
You’re a man without a soul
*
You bring nothing good to this world
Beyond a web of cheating and stealing
You hide behind your wall of lies
But it’s coming down, yeah, it’s coming down
*
You’re a man without shame
Without dignity and grace
No way to save face
You’re a man without a soul
*
How do you think this story ends
It’s not a matter of how
It’s just a matter of when
Cause it’s coming down, yeah it’s coming down
*
There’s a darkness all around you
To cover all you’re hiding
There’s no light in your eyes
You’re a man without a soul
*
Now the exits will be closing
A sad life will be exposed
No dealer and no deals
Cause you’re a man without a soul
*
How do you think this story ends
It’s not a matter of how
It’s just a matter of when
Cause it’s coming down, yeah it’s coming down
*
Yeah, it’s coming down
Yeah, it’s coming down
Yeah, it’s coming down
Yeah, it’s coming down
Yeah, it’s coming down
Yeah, it’s coming down
Yeah, it’s coming down

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