Waxing [Musically]: Lucinda Williams’ ‘Car Wheels On A Gravel Road’

It took me seventeen listens to realize that Car Wheels on a Gravel Road is the story of a breakup. It took my slightly fewer listens to realize the lyrical genius of Ms. Williams. See, when you start on the album, and you get that twang, but like a late-90s twang, that she sings with, and you see the lyrics as simple. Basic rhymes. Not realizing the story happening underneath. That couldn’t be less true — it just takes a few listens. 

I started on this album two years ago. That was ‘I Lost It’ and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It became one of those songs I couldn’t listen to twice in the same week, but if I came on randomly, I sang loud and rekindled a love for it. Same goes for seeing it covered.

The other songs came slowly in. First was ‘2 Kool 2 Be Forgotten’, the awkwardly named jam that comes right at that sweet spot in any relationship when you think someone is beyond god — can’t believe the whole world isn’t in on the secret of who this person is (and how happy they can make you). On ‘Metal Firecracker’ when she says “I used to think nothing could wrong,” it’s not hard to imagine the scenes painted in ‘Forgotten’. 

I found the title track soon after (“found” meaning it stuck with me and I listened to it on repeat for hours). Then ‘Greenville’ the slow, dripping, almost too-close-to-the-bone track that comes at the end of album (and the relationship). “Go back to Greenville” seems about as close to a bootkick in the ass as it comes in Lucinda Williams’ world. 

‘Right in Time’, ‘Lake Charles’, ‘Can’t Let Go’ all came in their own time. It’s such a great album, I’m almost astounded that I found so many tracks individually (listening through the album and finding one track has stayed with you after….or having to replay that track on a full album listen), and not the whole thing in one swoop. Instead of “wow there are MORE great songs on this,”…it was “well, this is my song for the week now” and isolated the others behind.

Ultimately, Car Wheels is one of the best form=function albums I’ve ever heard. For one, Williams voice sounds like the title track (let’s come back to that). So do the guitar tracks, which aren’t quite poppy, not quite full-country, not quite alternative. It’s all quite undefinable, until you hear that phrase. It’s the oh-so-distinct sound of car wheels bursting through a gravel road. Rough, kicking up rocks, but still getting there. That, too, a metaphor for any relationship. It’s perhaps the best named album of the 1990s. 

The idea of roads, curving into something (a mystery, a moment, a yellow el camino playing howlin’ wolf…) is depicted on the front cover and you wonder if the whole album might have been written just by staring at that picture (pre-album). It’s possible. Roads are so prevalent in the album’s songs, we’re never too far from that blue-skied scene. This idea that gravel roads exist at all moments in a relationship (getting back to Lake Charles on a getaway, on the way to eat some bacon in Macon, or going back to Greenville broken-hearted), stays with you. If it’s all the same road then the rest is just details. You can drive the same gravel county highway in love or out of it and it ain’t gonna make much difference. Same sound. Memories are a’coming.

Back to her voice. I didn’t know Lucinda Williams before this album. (And a thanks to Captains Dead and his albums list) I’ve tried to watch some of my favorite tracks live on Youtube. It’s not great. The voice carries so well on record, backed by that country ramble of guitar winding down the road with her. The voice itself is like that gravel road. Rough until your ears smooth it over. The simple songs (mostly same lyric progression, lots of choruses…) gives that simple Southern feel and probably some of the smoothness needed to take the edge out of the voice. One gets so trifled with Bob Dylan, perhaps, because of his insistence on complexity AND a rough voice to start with.

Needless to say, the voice is no longer an issue (if it once even was). It’s beautiful in its own skin and grit. Car Wheels has worked its way up in my book. Quite high, actually. It’s the perfect accompaniment when you need some attitude without the angst or snottiness. Williams is a straightshooter with a pistol of beauty on this one. Simple, country songs that escalate a mile (or, in this case, take you a mile down the road). I’ll be singing that ‘Metal Firecracker’ chorus for years to come. Don’t tell anyone my secrets might be the saddest declaration of a relationship burnt out, and she captured that on the same road as the man she sings ‘Right in Time’ about. That’s a journey.


Ranking If I HAD To Give One (RIHTGO) — 9.1/10



Waxing [Cinematically]: Dallas Buyers’ Club

I snuck in a watching of Dallas Buyers’ Club just hours before the 2014 Academy Awards and I’m glad I did. It was worth it to see what film carried both the years Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.

After the watch, it was apparent that Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto both put in performances worthy of the industry’s highest awards. It was also apparent that the movie itself was nowhere near that mark.

I was happy to see the actors’ take home dual Oscars. My belief is that the film really only deserved a Best Picture nomination because of those two’s work.

Here’s a few reasons why

  1. Jennifer Garner certainly didn’t help any. She was unconvincing as a doctor. Unaware of a strange and wavering southern accent. And, worst of all, just unable to keep up with the strong acting happening around here. She nearly derailed some scenes with both actors, but the one on ones with McConaughey almost blew the raw intensity of his performance (mostly, his charm).
  2. The direction was incredibly sloppy. The movie dragged its feet in some places, while skipping forward to fast in others. Scenes simply existed that didn’t need to. An example: McConaughey’s character is, well, having some alone time with himself when he’s interfered with by some pictures that Leto’s character put up on the wall. McConaughey’s character at this point had started his progression toward a better understanding (his character’s personal growth and achievement), yet still he tore down the pictures, muttered a few curses and the scene cut. It was a scene that neither advanced the plot nor the characters, and we just simply don’t need those.
  3. There were just simply too many plotholes. One big one is that Ron keeps mentioning research he has and has been a part of, but the movie never really shows us this avenue. To contextualize, DBC is far, far more of an Erin Brokovich type vigiliante quest than a movie about equality (a la Milk for instance). This is incongruent with Woodruff’s move as a more enlightened man while the movie takes more on about bureaucratic threatening the FDA brings than the coming together of a society around an issue of life and death.

These movies exist everywhere and in fact are probably what makes great movies great movies. 12 Years A Slave both won Best Picture and had each of its main cast members nominated for their respective awards. DBC just simply wasn’t a movie that would stand without the performances of its two leading men.

It was worth watching. Leto’s performance in particular will be one I cannot shake from the radar of great acting and won’t be able to for years to come. The movie gave him the vehicle and that has to mean something, right?

The Benjamin Franklin Effect


A great article on cognitive dissonance, self-perception theory, and how one of the greatest thinkers changed an enemy’s opinion of him.

Originally posted on You Are Not So Smart:

The Misconception: You do nice things for the people you like and bad things to the people you hate.

The Truth: You grow to like people for whom you do nice things and hate people you harm.

Benjamin Franklin knew how to deal with haters.

Born in 1706 as the eighth of 17 children to a Massachusetts soap and candlestick maker, the chances Benjamin would go on to become a gentleman, scholar, scientist, statesman, musician, author, publisher and all-around general bad-ass were astronomically low, yet he did just that and more because he was a master of the game of personal politics.

Like many people full of drive and intelligence born into a low station, Franklin developed strong people skills and social powers. All else denied, the analytical mind will pick apart behavior, and Franklin became adroit at human relations. From an early age, he was a talker…

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When Traveling Kicks Your Ass

Depending on how you want to look at it, I’ve been traveling for over 3.5 years now.

In that time, I’ve traveled through Asia, North American, South America — and did several trips across Europe before that.

Travel gives me a rush and perspective that nothing else does. It’s a way of life as much as a passion, interest or hobby. I’m lucky enough to have a job that lets me travel the world — much like this guy.

In all of those years, my travel has mostly been seamless. Sure there’s been canceled trains, nights spend in dingy hotels, and dark roads I wished I had decided not to walk down.

Yet, I’ve never been mugged. Never been stuck in a place without a bed, or without money. Never been sick abroad (well once in Rome — but I recovered with some over the counter meds).

(There’s no wood around me in this Colombian hotel, but I’ll knock on the wicker chair I’m sitting in.)

One of the biggest things too — I’d never lost my passport before.

Until this week. Let me go into my Wednesday a bit.

I woke in the morning in the beautiful Tayrona Park. I had slept in a hammock there since that’s one of your few options. To get back to Santa Marta in time for my flight, I had to leave at 6:30am (and drag my fellow travelers with me, thankfully they were willing…).

We trekked for 2 hours. We were supposed to find a bus there but didn’t. We trekked for 45 more minutes until we flagged down a pick-up that drove us 10 minutes to the park exit.

Wolfed down some breakfast. Caught a bus. It’s 95 degres in humidity in Santa Marta.

Get back to Taganga (after taking a cab) where my friend lived and go to pick up the laundry I dropped off before I left. The guy is hanging it up outside to dry. He just finished the wash.

SO, wet laundry. I have no other clothes except the rotten and sweaty ones on my back. (The back mind you that’s aching from two straight nights sleeping in a hammock). Ass-kicking #1.

Oh, and I have 132 unread work messages to catch up on.

Take that same cab to the airport in Santa Marta. Airport is beautiful. It’s ON the beach. I try to read my emails on the cab ride there but get carsick from that.

Go to check in. Passport isn’t in usual spot. Hmm.

Go through computer bag. No passport here. Rip out everything. Coins from nine countries. Cell phone from Costa Rica. Kindle. Plugs. Tickets from Pearl Jam show in Oakland in November. Crap. Papers. Pens. Lots of Pens. No passport still.

My big bag. Rife through it. Take out everything. Wet laundry. Smells horrible. I have a corner of the airport to myself and my disorganization. No passport.

Did I mention it’s 95 degrees with humidity. Sweating already. Sweating more now.

Nothing. Shit.

Go through stuff again.

Where is it?

Shit. Nothing.

What to do? Is there anything worse than Airport Panic?

Go to the airport’s information stand. Guy pays no attention. No tengo mi passaporte, I say. Perdido!

He doesn’t move. He starts speaking. Not just quick Spanish but under his heavy breath. All I hear is Policia Nacional and he points to the end of the wall.

I go there.

Open the door. Four Colombia policemen sitting in an office watching the Disney Channel.

I repeat my Spanish sentences. Perdí mi documento, I say again.

They start going off in Spanish. I give them my driver’s license. I give them my passport #.

This goes on for an hour. They ask my questions and I don’t understand. They draw pictures on their police notepads. Finally, they print out a document with my name and some info on it.

I ask, “puedo viajar con esto?”

Yes, they say.

I email my mom with the cafeteria wi-fi. My flight boards in 8 minutes. I buy a muffin.

They let me on the plane.

But, my passport is gone. No idea where it could be. I have my IL drivers license which Colombians can make much sense of and a printou from the police that I can’t read. Ass-kicking #2.

Make it to Medellin on the flight. Grab my bag. Grab a cab. Supposed to meet a friend at 4:15pm. Cab driver tries to rip me off. Does actually but for not as much as he asked for. We wait in 30 minutes of dead-stop traffic because of road construction. I;m late to meet my friend. I start to panic on what to do.  I’ve already had a day of it. I hope this doesn’t make things worse.

Do meet my friend, thank god. Hotel has wi-fi but doesn’t work in my room. I stay up working in the lobby of a Colombia love motel until 2am.

Wednesday is over and it kicked my ass.

On Thursday, the full effect of a lost passport took place.

Find an assistant at Zirtual that speaks fluent Spanish to call a bunch of places that my passport might be. Have to find flight numbers, have to remember cab companies that I took but can’t. Have her call the hostel I got dropped off at but didn’t stay at to see if somehow they have it.

No one does. Find out that US passports can go for $10k on the black market. Find out I 100% need a passport to fly to the US.

The only US embassy in Colombia is in Bogota. Have to go there. Have to hope they’ll give me a temp. passport or else I’m staying in Colombia past my flight back to the US. Have to get my documents in order.

Have to fill out the forms. Get pictures. Prove my identity with 2 forms of identification. Stay in Bogota for the day. Not that big of a deal but these are never easy things when traveling and living out of a bag.

What’s more. The AirBnB that my travelers and I (who already in Medellin) had booked cancelled on us. Just like that. We have nowhere to stay.

We try to find different places in Medellin for 3 people wiht good internet. Easier said than done. Every AirBnb listing is really just lead generation for apartment renters who have other sites and other emails and want to work something else on the side. Nothing seems to be working out.

Among all of this, the housing situation in Medellin cancelled. It’s not easy to find accommodations for our group on short notice. Ass-kicking #3.

I’m not even sure I’m going to be in Medellin that long. So that adds confusion to our booking. If I can’t get the temp passport I’ll be in Bogota for the 10 business days it takes to get new passport. I’ll miss my planned weekend in NYC and most of the conference I’m attending in Boston.

That, all of that, is how traveling can absolutely just kick your ass sometimes. 

And that brings me to now. Sitting in that Colombian hotel.

We found housing in Medellin. I’m going tomorrow morning.

The hotel saw all my wet clothes on the floor and offered to dry them for free. They smell great and the hotel folded them all so nicely.

I have a flight to Bogota on Tuesday and the embassy says as long as I have all the right documentation I can get that temp. passport. My awesome ZA Jillian is on top of the documentation I need so I should be good. Have to find a place in Medellin to take my picture and print some documents, but that’s easy.

The lost passport will probably end up costing me about $400-500 but that’s okay. It’s just money. I’m safe. I get to see Bogota. I should get home on time.

I got to see friends in Colombia. Got to see Tayrona. The beautiful little hillside town of El Carmen de Viboral. I’ll see Medellin tomorrow and meet my friends again there.

While walking around the beautiful junglebeach mix of Tayrona, I had a conversation with two fellow travelers about what traveling does for you.

It’s a favorite conversation among jetsetters and backpackers alike. We do this because it brings something beyond so much — words, currency, pictures. It brings the wonder of experience.

This all, too, is an experience. And one that challenged me. At home, the days when I feel dejected and beat down are days with traffic jams or broken phones or arguments. These are small things.

My story isn’t huge. Again I wasn’t mugged or beaten. I didn’t get sick. All will be good. But it just shows that with traveling the stakes are higher. The highs are high, the lows can be really low. But we thrive on that; the adrenaline runs through our bodies as they ache for a shower or a good bed or warm laundry.

And even on the low days, the rewards are so grand. So wondrous. So available only to the brave that wander with their legs and minds. The world isn’t open for anyone, and sometimes to see it all you gotta get your ass kicked from time to time. It’s what keeps out anyone without the courage to take the ass-kicking.

tayrona beach