Song of the Day #2,360: ‘When I Look at the World’ – Lucinda Williams


Best Songs of 2014 – #16
‘When I Look at the World’ – Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams’ sprawling double album, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, is a lot to wrap my brain around.

It certainly contains some throwaway tracks — I can easily imagine this release pared down to a stellar single disc — but in its ambitious, oversized form it feels at times like a summation of her impressive career.

One thing I know is that I need to live with this album some more before I know where it stacks up against the rest of her output.

I also know that I love ‘When I Look at the World,’ a yearning ode to looking on the bright side.

Williams runs down a laundry list of all the ways she (and by extension all of us) has suffered in life, but in the chorus decides that it’s all worth it when she “looks at the world.”

That statement is evocative in its ambiguity. What is she seeing in the world? A kindness in people that she hasn’t hinted at in the verses? Or perhaps its the natural beauty of the world she’s clinging to, and not its inhabitants. Or maybe just the fact that we have a world, and a life, period.

I’ve been out of luck
I’ve been talked about
I’ve been locked up
I’ve been shut out
I’ve had some bad dreams
And then feel the regret
I’ve made a mess of things
And been a total wreck
I’ve been disrespected
and taken for a ride
I’ve been rejected
and had my patience tried

But then I look at the world
In all its glory
I look at the world
And it’s a different story
Each time I look at the world

I’ve been used and I’ve been blue
I’ve been abused and lied to
I’ve been left behind
I’ve been misunderstood
I’ve been out of my mind
And not feeling good
I’ve been lost
I’ve been turned away
I’ve paid the cost
And it’s been hell to pay

And then I look at the world
In all its glory
I look at the world
And it’s a different story
Each time I look at the world

I’ve been unforgiven
I’ve been let down
I’ve had the truth hurt
I’ve been kicked around
I’ve been wasted
I’ve been on the brink
I’ve had my faith tested and my spirits sink
I’ve been unwelcome
I’ve been unloved
I’ve been cheated on and made a fool of

But then I look at the world
in all its glory
I look at the world
And it’s a different story, each time
I look at the world
in all its glory
I look at the world
And it’s a different story each time I look at the world
Each time I look at the world
Each time I look at the world

11 thoughts on “Song of the Day #2,360: ‘When I Look at the World’ – Lucinda Williams

  1. Peter says:

    Before she played this song in Hamburg (more than a year before the album release) she told that it would be a reflection about “is the glass half-full or half-empty” and that it is your choice how you look at the world. I fell in love with it immediately and looked forward to the album like a little boy to Christmas. I’m bound to say that I’m glad that it became such an extended journey down to where the spirit meets the bone – and back.

    Off topic: You seem to like Andrew Bird and to be a big fan of Tift Merritt. We have this in common 🙂 Unfortunately you haven’t mentioned his album “Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…” up to this point. Maybe you haven’t listened to it yet? It’s a tribute to The Handsome Family and I am pretty sure that you would like it. Tift’s harmony vocals are wonderfully beautiful.

  2. Dana says:

    Lovely song, but this feels to me like an example of you wanting to shoehorn a favorite artist into a top 20 song list rather than this really being among your favorite songs of the year. Perhaps that’s a distinction without a difference in this case.

  3. Clay says:

    Peter, I haven’t heard that album (or even heard of it, until now) but based on your description it sounds like something I shoud definitely check out. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Dana, not sure why you get that impression. I loved this song from the start, even as I was unsure how I felt about the album as a whole.

    • Dana says:

      I’m not saying you don’t like or love the song, I just think that perhaps at least a part of what you do when you compile these lists is to include a favorite artist if that artist has released an album that year even if the album wasn’t a standout (as appears to be the case here) and even if the best song from that album doesn’t really grab you as much as a song from another artist who is not one of your otherwise favorites.

      • Clay says:

        But what is that based on? The fact that I have a great Lucinda Williams song at #16 on my year-end top 20 list?

        Are you saying that if I weren’t a Lucinda Williams fan this song wouldn’t be on my list? Yeah, you’re probably right. Just like non-Ben Folds fans won’t put his songs on their list but I will. I like the music and the artists I like, and their music is therefore more likely to show up on a list of songs I like. That’s the nature of fandom, and musical taste.

        Of the 15 songs I ranked higher than this one, all but one are by artists I don’t like as much as I like Lucinda Williams. And at least half are by artists I don’t follow very closely at all.

        • Dana says:

          No, I understand with all you said above as to why your list is what it is and should be. I was simply wondering if, as you went through the mental process of determining which songs of the presumably more than 20 you really liked/loved for last year, you had included as a factor, ether consciously or subconsciously, that your list must/should include one song (though not more than one per your rule) from your favorite artists if they had songs released last year.

          Now, I assume if one of your favorite artists completely stunk up an entire album (presumably unlikely at least to your ears), that you would say “Forget it, I love X, but that whole album was a disaster.” But, I’m talking about a more nuanced consideration,.

          Just for fun, let’s look at this a different way–is there any artist that you would consider a favorite (obviously Apple, Merritt, Costello, Dylan, B&S, Mann, and so on) who released an album this year but did not make your list? How about in past years? Just curious.

  4. Clay says:

    Shakira and Bob Dylan both released albums this year and didn’t make this list. But I see what you’re saying.

    I think it’s a matter of math. I rarely buy as many as 20 new albums in a year, including artists I already like and ones who are new to me.

    Throw in the worthy singles I hear through Billboard and other means, and you’re probably looking at a pool of 35-40 songs (at most) that I’m pulling from for this list. The odds of my favorite artists making the cut are pretty good given those numbers.

    • Dana says:

      I didn’t think you held Shakira up in as high regard as Dylan or the others I mentioned. Meanwhile, I’m curious why no Dylan song made the cut? Bad album? Just no standout song?

      • Clay says:

        We;;, Shakira is no Dylan or Lucinda Williams, but I do own all of her albums and like them all very much.

        Dylan’s new release was the latest installment of the Bootleg Series. This edition unearthed the raw material that became The Basement Tapes. Great stuff, but no huge discoveries for me that I didn’t already know from earlier releases.

        • Dana says:

          Well, then my observation and challenge (regarding this and other years) remains in tact. Shakira isn’t top tier and Dylan was a retread. Nice try!

  5. Clay says:

    That’s a very narrow set of criteria you’re establishing!

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