Rickie Lee joneses for the road

Review of her new memoir Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles of an American Troubadour by Rickie Lee Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Yes, I am a longtime fan. I remember the SNL appearance and the beginning of her FM play with Chuck E; My friends and I (bc that was how you watched SNL then) were struck by the originality of the songs and of the singer herself. As suburban kids, we were a little awed but very charmed by her total commitment.
I carried her cassettes in my secondhand cars for decades, rewinding perfectly to replay and replay some of my favorite songs: The Horses, Company, Last Chance Texaco, Coolsville, Ghetto of My Mind… the list goes on too long to have it all here. Now it is digital and even longer.
But I think even if I wasn’t a fan of her music (and now someone who seems to frequent many of the same places and has a few people in common, neither of which is that unusual in New Orleans), I think I’d still have purchased this. I love memoirs. When done right, the well-told personal story is more fascinating to me than any tale.
The movement implied in one of her greatest songs had Rickie arranging her book in sections of “The Backseat, Riding Shotgun, The Driver’s Seat, and The Way Back Seat” showing how one’s journey/quest isn’t always led by its protagonist. Her story has elements that I and many other mid-20th century American kids recognize too well, full of broken homes, drugs and drink, friends and love dropping in and out, and violence out there on the road, which astonishingly, was often just a near-miss for Rickie and for so many of us. At least she had the job of a Troubadour to explain why she stayed (stays) out there for so long. Even with the romantic job description, she admits to the dead-ends she herself pursued, the people she may have moved on from maybe before their time in her life should have been completed. But that’s the deal isn’t it – if you keep moving forward, you’re gonna leave people behind. Leaving is the drug I think many of us can’t kick.
If you are looking for “famous people” stories, she throws in a few, but only because they are meaningful to her travels. This is an artist’s story, and so hers to decide what and who was important and life-changing and illustrative Her love and empathy for those who were a roadblock are extraordinary to me. I’m not as evolved & stay mostly pissed at everyone.
It’s extraordinary but not surprising, as her listeners and readers know, having felt the sweetness and tenderness in her work since the beginning.
In the song, it’s the last chance for love along a road that may not have options coming up again. In the memoir, there is hope and promise in Rickie’s story that she has come to see success is about choosing new happy over the old hurt, and always, the freedom to create over the pursuit of empty fame. She also accepts the importance of family, realizing that they always have the sign lit for each other.
And of course, her travel story is certainly not done yet. So, if you are out there and see a woman with a guitar, a smile, a sweet voice, and a lot of killer songs under her arm…



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Rain and Rickie Lee Jones

I had no idea we were in for this type of evening. Rumbling thunder, flashes of light, steady rain. I am glad to be surprised. I stood at the doorway for a bit and marveled at the complete cleanliness in every direction, and the quiet of my block, here adjacent to Jackson Square. Not one drunk. Not one unholy tourist whoo-hooing to hear the echo. There is another crash of thunder just now, forewarned by its sky flash. I had turned off my courtyard lights because of news of the termites swarming earlier this week (even though we don’t see much of that in the Quarter with our dedicated termite plans; those silver round covers drilled into the sidewalks are part of a massive termite mitigation strategy that started a few decades back which mostly worked here), but the reminders to shut all outside lights off sounded like a good idea on its own, so I did it. Since the courtyard is dark, I can count between the lightning and the thunder to know the storm is far from here so there is no danger, only comfort. And while the magic of our city is palpable during massive events where we all get the same energy at the same time from a stage, it also shows up on these nights when we are quietly home, apart from each other and the power comes from nature.
I turn on music to add a soundtrack to the patter outside. As is often the case now, it is my fellow New Orleanian, Rickie Lee Jones. Since the days of “Chuck E’s In Love,” her work has always been part of the my own eras but for the last decade, she and Marianne Faithfull have been the constant addition to any playlist. (I did just rediscover Marshall Crenshaw and Dwight Twilley too, but power pop is such a part of my own time that it isn’t an indicator of mood, more of a muscle memory of sweeter days). RLJ has 13 albums on my phone’s library and I get to selections from all of them in most months, finding songs for every mood. Interestingly, the random sample during this rain starts with her version of “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” which is a great song by any singer but with RLJ, it becomes a masterpiece of yearning and beseechment:
“…the nighttime shadows…disappear” (what a thoughtful note!)
“and with them go….all your teeaaaaaars…..
cuz the morning” (flattens, then a lilt) “will bring joy,
for every girl and boy”…(so tenderly sung)….
“so don’t let the sun catch you crying.”

We’ll hollla at ya later, Mac

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rickie Lee Jones’ tribute to Dr John:

 

Michael Tisserand,, the biographer of Krazy Kat’s creator, also got it so right:


 

The great Jon Cleary said many wonderful things in his post about Dr. John, but this one really got me:

I was standing next to Earl Palmer and Mac several years ago at Earl King’s funeral and I said something banal along the lines of ‘we lost a good one’ and Mac shook his head and said we ain’t lost him, he’s still here.
I’m glad he said that.

Rickie Lee Jones among us

One of the greatest and most consistently valiant musicians working today, Rickie Lee Jones, is living  in New Orleans and recording a new album. As the proud owner of 8 or 9 regularly played RLJ albums and a downtown resident, I am thrilled by this news. She funded it on PledgeMusic and so we have the extra advantage of her online updates which are a marvel of insight and clarity about navigating the complicated and modern world of performance and collaboration. I hope she doesn’t mind me posting one of her updates, but I think it is so very gentle and brave and illuminated by the light of our city, that I thought many of you would also be warmed by it too:
Her words:

Now we enter the last week of John Porter being here in New Orleans. He is a hard working man, and his knowledge and experience are, well, awesome. He’s also a gentleman, and he hugs me a lot.
We changed rooms yesterday and now are bearing down on some details of tracks we’ve chosen. He is a old school guy, that is, he does Everything by Himself, and you would not know what he did, only that things sound better. That has been a bit of a challenge for me, for I am used to, for so long, not only being a part of it, monitoring it, but being in charge of it. I am NOT in charge. I have some veto power, but even then it’s… more of a negotiation than an absolute. That has been a challenge for me as well. I cannot tell if it’s a girl thing, a Rickie thing, or just a wise thing. Or misguided, that I do not say, “hey wait a minute, slow down, let me see what’s going on!”

We are on a rollercoaster of events here and I’d just like to process it with my aesthetic. Slanted, not capital. But that’s not what’s going on this time. And it’s beyond me, why no matter what record I make there is a hurry up aspect to it. I realize now how very ‘princess’ I was making Pirates. My producers going where I wanted, when I wanted, waiting hours for me, working on passages with me, small groups of moments I wanted to get right. And they made sure I did what I envisioned.

Well, in 1982 that record cost $250,000. I don’t have that kind of money as a company or as a person to do that anymore. But I suspect if I did that again, spent that kind of money and time, I would make a very unusual event. And yet, reading about the creation of the universe this morning, I realize that no one can control the creative event. The event, the verb, is a form of I AM, it is a HERE, ICI, now, the manifestation. It moves at the pace it moves at, from one perspective perhaps it takes two years, from another two weeks. Great records have been made in a couple weeks. Those are about catching the spirit of the singer. And budget. Great records have been tedious and long in the waiting. Those are about the expression of the artist, like a flood, upon every aspect of the manifestation. There are places in our lives where our ego cannot only withstand that, but demands it. Other times we are just too humble or worn out to extend our self onto everyone we meet. Or…too wise.

At this point in my life, I know a couple things. And the things are always changing, because you wake up every day, and sometimes the universe is a bit different than the one you went to sleep in. Ever notice that? I do. The couple things I know are that I DO know what I am doing. I have doubt when I am with men who treat me like they are tolerating me, or like they really wish I would be quiet. I work almost exclusively with men, and musicians, and that’s a group that can be extremely critical, dismissive, whatever. For the most part, I have their respect, but add on now my ‘age’ and I get a kind of ‘old darlin’ attitude that’s hard to bare. And then again, I may totally be projecting my own self image onto the face of someone. Okay, that’s doubt, all that is doubt.

The other thing I know is that others have something to offer me. What makes life worthwhile is being in the world full of others, and I know this now. I want to listen more than I want to be listened to. This is my moment to sing, and I will sing to you all that I have heard. Here are my feelings carved through the images and sounds of trains and rivers, how they speak to one another all night long when we who live near them can hear them clearly. The crow and the mockingbird, hard to tell that mockingbird sounds like the crow, the light through my old windows, my determination, my despair, my love of humans.

What I most want is for this music to make people happy, to lift their hearts, and to make me lots and lots of dough, in that order. I believe it is going to be a record I am proud of. I hope that my tiny infrastructure of the four or five of us who work on my career can make it fly. It’s going to take a lot of good will and effort from fans, I think. That’s the kind of thing kids do automatically for their fav group. But we get older, we don’t do that anymore. This is a word-of-mouth kind of business now, and more than ever, fans are going to have to take a second to make sure someone else hears it. If they do, I bet they will like it a lot. One thing for certain, the New Orleans aspect has washed out any affectation. It’s streaming through my own filters, I am not dressing it in the style of. There is no pretense here in the Crescent City. People really are wearing animal masks and dancing with umbrellas. Like Tahiti! We ARE our Music.