Stolen Moments



You know when it’s a Lucinda Williams song.

I got burned out on the podcasts. People pontificating about politics, business seers, it’s all contemporary, yet dated. There’s no soul. Nothing that touches me. But that’s the world we live in, where money is everything and you can make beaucoup bucks just talking about the commercial world. So I decided to listen to new music. A chore, a hill too steep to climb, I mean where do you start?

You can’t begin with the Spotify Top 50, you can read the list, but you don’t want to listen. It’s for a very definitive market, and I’m not a member, it’s a club, and you’re probably not in it either. You remember what once was, but you feel like you’re being ignored, no one cares about your tastes, and if it makes money it can’t be criticized.

I decided to start in country. I couldn’t believe how many playlists there were. And I could easily find one with ancient hits, but that was not what I was looking for, I wanted something contemporary. So I pulled up Hot Country, the hits of the format, what dreck, unlistenable, talk about commerce, no one is testing any limits, they’re just delivering what they think people want, and therefore it doesn’t truly resonate with anybody. Art comes from within, it’s not a marketing exercise. You need to bleed, get your message out, even if you’re limiting your market share with every word you write, with every note you play.

So maybe Americana was what I was looking for. But what exactly is that? It implies red, white and blue, but the best artists in the format are anything but the popular conception of America, yet are they the true heart of the country.

Think about it, the most revered artist in Nashville is Chris Stapleton. And he looks and sounds like nobody else. Like in that old Leonard Cohen song, everybody knows. But they are afraid, or not talented enough. So Chris stands exalted, above the rest.

Chris was in this Americana playlist. Which for some reason included Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan, as well as Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell. And I love an Americana that includes the Mac and the Dan, but that’s not what most people think of when they hear “Americana,” but I do love that they included “Midnite Cruiser,” an album track buried in the first side of “Can’t Buy a Thrill.” Then again, if you give it enough plays, and you should, nothing on “Can’t Buy a Thrill” is secondary.

And in truth, nothing new sounds good as you ascend the mountain, get the juices flowing on the steepest part of the path. But as I climbed further up the Backbone Trail, my legs were settled, in a groove, and my mind was finally relaxed, and when I got to a sub-peak, I turned around.

Now in truth everything sounds better on the way down. That’s the power of exercise, do it enough and it changes your mood.

But just because it sounds better, that does not mean it’s great. But I’m about a third of the way down and I hear this stinging guitar playing descending notes. It immediately reached me. I pulled my phone out of my pocket, I needed to know who this was. Lucinda Williams? And about forty seconds in Lu started to sing and it was clear.

“Driving down Sunset I’m stuck in traffic
With the sun coming in from the west”

It does, come in from the west. And as bad as traffic on Sunset can be, the Boulevard is always liberating, it’s the essence of L.A. Unlike an avenue in Manhattan, it’s not straight. And when you get to Beverly Hills it starts to twist and turn, go up and down, I’d love to see Lewis Hamilton test the limits on an open roadway. Sunset is where I learned the capabilities of my 2002, accelerating into the curves. And now with a four-wheel drive sports car and Michelin Pilots I have to be aware of the speed limit, otherwise I’m pulling around those corners, at one with my machine, not thinking, just feeling, and it feels so good.

There are a ton of songs about Sunset, but the one I thought of while listening to this track was by Bryan Ferry, “Can’t Let Go” from his second best solo album, “The Bride Stripped Bare.”

“It’s a winding road from Cuesta Way
Down Sunset to the beach”

Ferry is infatuated with Los Angeles, as the song says:

“They said ‘Go west young man, that’s best
It’s there you’ll feel no pain'”

But “Stolen Moments” sounds nothing like “Can’t Let Go.” Rather than a moonlight drive, “Stolen Moments” is late afternoon, with the heat and the pollution, contemplating your life as you inch along.

“So I cover my eyes
And I wait for the light to change
And I think about you
And it’s kinda strange, but I think about you”

Lucinda Williams has a strange writing style. In that a lot is left out. It’s sparse. In her tracks the music and the words blend to emit a feeling, the music speaks as much as the words.

So I can view it. I can put myself in the seat of that car. It’s a STOLEN MOMENT!

Wow, that’s exactly what it is! The song has set my mind free and I’m thinking, I’m having a stolen moment myself. When you break up with someone, you don’t talk to them, but in a stolen moment, when you least expect it, you think about them. It’s personal, and it’s eerie.

“Sitting in the back seat of a downtown taxi
Speeding across New York City
Somewhere between First Avenue and Second Street
I think about you
It’s like a heartbeat, I think about you”

Oh, I thought this was an L.A. song. But really the location is not as important as the thought. These people follow you from place to place, even if you were never there together, especially in those moments when you’re disengaged. And that’s an artist’s job, to be disengaged and let the feelings flow, to observe and distill. This is what the 9-5 crowd can’t understand. It’s not a job, it’s beyond a calling, you’ve got no choice. You can’t do what they do and they can’t do what you do. You can’t spend all day in the office playing politics or buried in irrelevancies, a cog in the system. It’s less of a judgment than it just doesn’t resonate, it doesn’t add up, what are you accomplishing? Getting paid is not enough. Even if it’s a ton. Because you’re somewhat different, you’re the other.

And the track is so damn good I’m wondering whether it can continue at this level. Kinda like the first time I saw “Hamilton,” can it really continue to be this great, can it sustain?

“In stolen moments you’re riding with me
You’re riding with me again
You’re riding with me in stolen moments
You’re riding with me again, in stolen moments”

I’d be lying if I said the chorus was musically as good as what came before, but it was good enough not to harm the track. Then again, instead of banging you over the head, the chorus has almost a repetitive feel, setting the mood, and then the guitar starts to wail again. And I’m reminded of a bygone era, when this was a feature of records, the guitar-playing, when style was more important than technique, not showing off, but channeling the song, in service to it.

“From an airplane window I look out in wonder
At a rainbow through the clouds
Thirty thousand feet up in the air
And I swear you’re with me there
Like a prayer, you’re with me there”

And this is when my adrenaline starts to flow. Man, this track is GREAT! This is exactly what I’m looking for, not that I could have described it before I heard it, which is the case with all the real stuff, it doesn’t deliver what you want, but what you need.

And I’m contemplating all those stolen moments. Live long enough and you’ve got plenty. The track is not in-your-face. Rather, it locks into a groove, just like “Midnight Rider” did on “Idlewild South,” not that the tracks are the same. But both lock you in right away and you’re removed from the everyday world, you’re now living in your brain, with this track and your thoughts alone.

Those stolen moments, I’m haunted by them. And so are you. You can fight them off, or you can embrace them. Then again, get old enough and if you embrace them you might become paralyzed. I was talking to an attractive sixty year old woman on the chairlift, talking about how Logan Ury taught my college buddy how to do online dating and how he was now in the depths of finding his person, what he was looking for with all of his heart and mind, because you get old enough and it’s all you want, someone to share it with. And then she said, “Who says I want a relationship?”

Hmm… Her life worked, why cock it up?

My life is all cocked up, and so is yours, it’s just a matter of whether you admit it or not. So many loose ends. Friends just fade away, what are they up to now? You were so close to the loves of your past, do they think about you the way you think about them? Is it all a fantasy, if you saw them would you lock right back in or..? Furthermore, when it comes to love relationships there’s a reason you broke up, hang with them for even a brief period at a later date and you’ll be reminded of it, the problem is still there. So, in truth are we all just living in a fantasy world? Then again, hard core reality is boring, unfulfilling, which is why people are watching television, listening to music, that’s what resonates, makes your life complete. We’re in the heyday of television, not that everything is good, but if you know where to look you’ll find programs that lock you in and set your mind free. Music used to own this sphere. And movies too. But they’ve abdicated this power in search of cash.

Which brings us back to the podcasts and the news.

And then you remember when you could be addicted to music instead of the news, when less was at stake. Talk to anybody in the music business and it won’t be long before they start talking politics, it’s more interesting and more vital than the music. As George Drakoulias told me, he used to fight about records. When was the last time you did this?

But it gets better. I’m looking at my phone. Lucinda has stopped singing, that guitar is wailing again, and then…it all goes quiet. But I can see there’s still thirty seconds left in the track. The drum starts to pound. The guitar starts playing that circular riff that’s the bedrock of the track and then it all slows down, comes together, twinkles, and it’s over. Whew! Someone was thinking about this. This is the way tracks used to end when artists wanted to get it right, make a statement. “Stolen Moments” is not made for the radio, but the listener, directly from the artist’s heart into yours, sans middleman/woman. You can feel it.

I was blown away. I had to listen to “Stolen Moments” again.

And then I had to do some research. Because there were some winners on this playlist that were a decade old. Maybe “Stolen Moments” is ancient and I was just out of the loop, I’d write about it and be excoriated. But research told me it was recent, and that it was about Tom Petty. TOM PETTY?

When I think of Lucinda Williams I don’t think of Tom Petty, I don’t classify them in the same oeuvre. And then I remembered, she opened during the final tour. I saw her in the fading daylight at the Hollywood Bowl preceding Petty just days before his death.

And the funny thing is despite being from Florida, Tom Petty was fully Californian. No, let’s check that, Tom Petty was an ANGELENO! You remember him singing about Reseda and Ventura Boulevard. Wanting to glide down over Mulholland, at the crest of the mountains, separating the Valley from the beach. From Malibu. Where Tom had a house.

Yes, I could see it. At first I was disappointed, I thought the track represented something more amorphous, thought it was mysterious like those Dylan numbers. Then again, at this late date we know those Dylan tracks were not as mysterious as they looked back then, they too were about real people and real situations, we just didn’t know them.

But even though Lucinda is thinking about Tom, inspired her to write the song, that does not excise my feelings, my thoughts of stolen moments, I can own the song for myself nonetheless. This is why Journey can go out and do boffo business without Steve Perry, because the band no longer owns those songs, the audience does.

Here’s where I give the caveat, that your mileage my vary, you may not like “Stolen Moments.” Then again, we can argue why. Assuming it’s important enough to you, it is to me.

How could this be hiding in plain sight? Just when you’re ready to give up, believing there’s no new music with the essence of the old, still testing limits…

And it all comes down to the song. But “Stolen Moments” is a record.

This has got nothing to do with Lucinda Williams the person. It’s all in the stream. You need no backstory. You can just go in fresh and get it.

You should.

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