Song of the Day #1,609: ‘Side of the Road (Live)’ – Lucinda Williams

My final song of this two-week series comes courtesy of the great Lucinda Williams. ‘Side of the Road’ covers some of the same territory as yesterday’s Miranda Lambert track — the idea of wondering what might have been.

But ‘Side of the Road’ — one of my very favorite songs by anybody — focuses less on those untaken paths and more on the need to sometimes step aside and find yourself.

This song has been embraced as a feminist anthem, rightly so, but it has an elemental appeal that transcends gender. At the same time, I believe it moves me so much primarily because it’s so freaking great. This is pure poetry set to a beautiful melody, and possibly the best thing Williams has ever written.

Now that I’ve reached the end of my two-week exploration of songs that have personal meaning to me, I’d love to hear some of your own examples in the comment section. Which songs feel like they were written expressly with you in mind?

You wait in the car on the side of the road
Lemme go and stand awhile
I wanna know you’re there but I wanna be alone
If only for a minute or two
I wanna see what it feels like to be without you
I wanna know the touch of my own skin
Against the sun, against the wind

I walked out in a field
The grass was high, it brushed against my legs
I just stood and looked out at the open space
And a farmhouse out a ways
And I wondered about the people who lived in it
And I wondered if they were happy and content
Were there children and a man and a wife?
Did she love him and take her hair down at night?

If I stray away too far from you
Don’t go and try to find me
It doesn’t mean I don’t love you
It doesn’t mean I won’t come back and
stay beside you
It only means I need a little time
To follow that unbroken line
To a place where the wild things grow
To a place where I used to always go

If only for a minute or two
I wanna see what it feels like to be without you
I wanna know the touch of my own skin
Against the sun, against the wind

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4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,609: ‘Side of the Road (Live)’ – Lucinda Williams

  1. Rob says:

    I’ll take that challenge Sir!

    Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road”. I was 18 the first time I heard it … actually, saw it. It was a video of his No Nukes performance. I was completely blown away. I know a lot of people say this about Springsteen, but it was like he opened up my head, saw what was rattling about, and wrote about it. Every word spoke to me … I truly felt that song was written about me and my girl, stuck in a dead end town and wanting to hit the road … together, with nothing but the clothes on our backs. After some 30+ years later I still think this is Springsteen’s best work (which says something considering his remarkable career) and I still get goosebumps every time I hear it. I’m no longer with this lady, but somewhere in my head, she is standing on the front porch.

    Another song that spoke to me was a song called “This Is Sara’s Song” by Glen Campbell, written by the great Jimmy Webb. Certainly not a hit, and perhaps overly “fluffy”, but the vocal delivery and the lyric stops me dead in my tracks. Describing a man’s love for his lady, that it is what he wants to live for, what he wants to give his life to. It caught me as a late teen, when I was pining for the same lady in the story above. It took me years to find the song in digital form, but when I did it was like I found a long lost friend.

    Thank you for letting me share. I don’t know where or who I would be without music in my life. There are simply no words to aptly describe how important music is to me …. and it’s wonderful to see that it affects so many others the same way. May there always be music to share.

  2. Rob says:

    I have one other song that means a great deal to me … “First of May” by the Bee Gees.
    1979 – I was 16, and living in a home where I felt I could not communicate with my father. I played “First of May” countless times that summer because the lyric struck home, or at least the way I interpreted the lyric. I felt that I wasn’t being heard, that at age 16 I was no longer the little boy my parents knew, and I wanted to be treated like an adult (like every 16 year old boy does).
    My father was a broadcaster at a Hamilton radio station, and every Sunday show he had to showcase a different pop band. One of the shows he was going to showcase the Bee Gees. As he knew I was a fan (and likely heard me play “First of May” countless times through the thin walls of our house), he asked me to write the show for him – select the songs and write the text. I was blown over. I dove into the task with vim and vigor, and on the Friday before the show I gave my father the song list and my text. He thanked me and said he’d get his producer to set up the music and double check my facts. On Sunday, he poked his head into my bedroom and said “Why don’t you come to the station and sit in on the show … you wrote it so come and see how we do it.” Awesome. We got to the radio station and Dad showed me around. We got to the studio and he sat me down in a chair opposite him. Over the course of the next 60 minutes I watched and listened as my Dad spun the music of one of my favorite bands, and I heard the words I wrote come from his mouth. I had listed “First of May” in my song list, hoping he’d play it. The hour came to a close, and Dad was wrapping up. While I loved the show, I was disappointed that he didn’t play my favorite Bee Gee song. At the end of the show he said” I’d like to thank my son Rob for choosing the music and writing the text of this show. He’s a big fan of the Bee Gees, so I enlisted his help, and he did a tremensdous job, I am proud of him.” Then he looked at his producer and said, “I think we have time for one more song, don’t we Tom?” Dad looked at me and winked as the opening piano strains of “First of May” drifted through the speakers.
    I would like to think that night my father recognized his little boy was no longer a little boy, that “now he is tall, and Christmas trees are small.”

  3. Dana says:

    Beautiful song, Clay, but, again, I don’t see your personal connection to it. It seems you are choosing songs that personally move you, rather than those with which you identify, at least with some of the songs you have featured.

    Rob–incredibly moving stories and good song picks. I’m not familiar with “First of May,” but feel I must check that out. And I can certainly appreciate how Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” spoke to you and so many teenagers in a similar context.

    As for me, there are a few songs that immediately come to mind. One is COunting Crows’ ” A Long December,” which I have always assocated with the passing of my mother. Hard to get through these lyrics without choking up:

    And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
    Maybe this year will be better than the last
    I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
    To hold on to these moments as they pass

    Another one that takes me immediately back to the last months of mom’s life is Norah Jones’ “Come Away with Me.” It was often playing in mom’s hospital room the last few months of her life. And though the song is admittedly a love song, not about death, it’s mellow/somber tone and these lyrics get to me every time:

    And I want to walk with you
    On a cloudy day
    In fields where the yellow grass grows knee-high
    So won’t you try to come?

    On a brighter note, I have always identified with Billy Joel’s “Baby Grand,” as it captures the feeling I had, particularly as a teenager, when I would lose myself in the world of my music playing piano:

    Late at night
    When it’s dark and cold
    I reach out
    For someone to hold
    When I’m blue
    When I’m lonely
    She comes through
    She’s the only one who can
    My baby grand Is all I need

    Turning to love songs, as was noted earlier, it’s hard to personally identify with many as the lyrics can be so general. However, back when I was courting my later-to-be wife, I made a mix tape of love songs that seemed to speak to me and our new relationship at the time. One that sticks out is Joe Jackson’s “Be My NumberTwo.” It’s a bit of a jaded, weary, maybe even cynical love song, but some of those qualities seemed to define me (and maybe us) at that time:

    Won’t you be my number two
    Me and number one are through
    There won’t be too much to do
    Just smile when I feel blue

    And there’s not much left of me
    What you get is what you see
    Is it worth the energy
    I leave it up to you

    And if you got something to say to me
    Don’t try to play your funny games on me
    I know that it’s really not fair of me
    But my heart’s seen too much action

    And every time I look at you
    You’ll be who I want you to
    And I’ll do what I can do
    To make a dream or two come true
    If you’ll be my
    If you be my number two

    So, there, I have accepted your challenge Clay!:)

  4. Peter says:

    What a funny coincidence: Looking for a quotation of Tift Merritt about The One and Only, I stumbled over the name of this blog because it brought the Montauk-scenes of “Eternal Sunshine…” to my mind immediately. So I had a look, read some posts and found out that there are many analogies to my own preferences.

    The best example is your text about THE song. It fulfills my criterion of what makes a song a special one whenever I listen to it: does it create goosebumps and/or a smile in my face and/or tears? Obviously she has written this song only for me :-)
    Being a longtime-fan of her I could mention nearly 80 % of her songs here, but that would be too much. It’s a long way from “Ramblin’ in my Mind” to “I Look at the World” (which will appear on her next album).

    A very special song is “Sweet Old World”. I listen to it whenever someone I knew passed away (ok, it’s about a suicide, but it tells about “what you lost when you left this world”). It’s my ritual of “saying goodbye”.

    By the way: She’s working on a re-release of the self-titled album, can’t wait to get the de luxe-edition (it’s announced for November).

    Finally, here’s the quotation: “Yeah, the first time I heard Lucinda, I was just knocked out, and I’ve spent a lot of time listening to her records”. This is exactly what happened when I first listened to Tift’s “Stray Paper”. It was one of these rare and magic moments when you know within seconds that THIS will be good company for a long time. Referring to another post: Watching the first scenes of “The Sopranos” and “Braking Bad” had a similar effect.

    Best wishes from Germany!

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