Song of the Day #1,375: ’2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten’ – Lucinda Williams

Best Albums of the 90s – #3
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road – Lucinda Williams (1998)

I’ve written so often about Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels On a Gravel Road that I feel like I should just post a collection of links to those other posts rather than rehash all of those points again. (I won’t, though) Put simply, this album is the best evocation of a time, place and mindset that I’ve ever heard.

I’ve long been a fan of movies that immerse me in a new place — whether it’s a Maori tribe in New Zealand or an inner city neighborhood in New York. When a movie can capture the sights, sounds and smells — the complete experience — of someplace new, it becomes something transcendent, a sort of teleportation device.

Car Wheels works in the same way, though it doesn’t transport the listener to a single time and place but rather a whole bunch of them. This is a record of and about the American South. That’s clear from the first lines of the title track, in which Williams beautifully describes a sense memory: “Sittin’ in the kitchen of a house in Macon / Loretta’s singing on the radio / Smell of coffee eggs and bacon / Car wheels on a gravel road.”

The child in that song who rides in the backseat of her parent’s car to visit “folks in Jackson” may or may not be a young Lucinda Williams, but she expertly puts the listener right there with her.

Williams name-drops southern cities throughout the record, including three (‘Jackson,’ ‘Lake Charles’ and ‘Greenville’) in song titles. But perhaps the most evocative scene she sets is the Rosedale, Mississippi, juke joint of today’s SOTD, ’2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten.’

The inspiration for this song came from a book of photographs (titled Juke Joint) by Birney Imes. Many of the lyrics in this song come from signs and graffiti on the walls of the juke joints he featured (a juke joint, for the uninitiated, is basically a saloon operated by southern Blacks).

On the right (click to enlarge) is the particular photo that inspired this song’s title as well as the evocative “Junebug vs. Hurricane” refrain (which I’ve seen described as a reference to alcoholic beverages as well as gang members — not sure which, if either, is right). You can also see “Is God the answer? YES” written on the non-facing wall. Other images provided the “house rules” described in a couple of verses (“no dope smoking” is my favorite).

As much as I love all that descriptive language, I’m even more intrigued by the surrounding verses. The religious fanatic who wants to “take up serpents” and the lover who wants to jump off of the Lake Charles bridge. Junebug vs. hurricane, indeed.

Williams has put out one amazing album after another, but Car Wheels on a Gravel Road remains her magnum opus, and one of the finest albums I own. It’s a collection of short stories, a series of short films. It’s one of my favorite places to visit, no matter how many times I go back.

You can’t depend on anything really
There’s no promises there’s no point
There’s no good there’s no bad
In this dirty little joint

No dope smoking, no beer sold after 12 o’clock
Rosedale Mississippi Magic City Juke Joint
Mr. Johnson sings over in a corner by the bar
Sold his soul to the devil so he can play guitar

2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
Hey hey 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten

Man running thru the grass outside
Says he wants to take up serpents
Says he will drink the deadly thing
And it will not hurt him

House rules no exceptions
No bad language no gambling no fighting
Sorry no credit don’t ask
Bathroom wall reads is God the answer? YES

2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
Hey hey 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
June bug vs hurricane
June bug vs hurricane
Hey hey

I had a lover
I thought he was mine
Thought I’d always be his valentine
Leaning against the railing of a Lake Charles bridge
Overlooking the river leaning over the edge
He asked me would you jump into the water with me
I told him no way baby that’s your own death you see

2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
Hey hey 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
June bug vs hurricane
June bug vs hurricane
Hey hey


2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,375: ’2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten’ – Lucinda Williams

  1. Dana says:

    What a fascinating background to today’s song. And a very good song it is as well.

    It’s hard for me to imagine this album beating out the likes of Crows’ debut, Lovett’s Ensenada, REM’s Automatic and Folds’ Amen. But, in fairness, I have never sat down and heard Williams’ album from beginning to end and, from what you describe, it sounds like a very rewarding experience.

  2. pegclifton says:

    Great commentary and song!

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