A Minute With: Lucinda Williams tackles aging, death

LOS ANGELES Wed Mar 16, 2011 12:01pm EDT

Musician and songwriter Lucinda Williams performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana, April 27, 2007. REUTERS/Lee Celano

Musician and songwriter Lucinda Williams performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana, April 27, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Lee Celano

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Age is more than a number to Lucinda Williams. It's also a song lyric.

The singer/songwriter confronts the sensitive subject in one of the first songs on her new album "Blessed."

In a lament to her late manager, she reveals her shock at hearing of his death. "I'm 57 but I could be seven years old," she sings in "Copenhagen."

Not many entertainers of a certain age, especially female rockers in an industry powered by fresh-faced sensations such as 17 year-old Justin Bieber, are so willing to acknowledge the passage of time.

But middle age is also a badge of honor, a sign of survival, especially when her sprightly peers include Steve Earle, Dave Alvin and Chrissie Hynde.

Others went before their time, though, including wheelchair-bound singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt, who committed suicide in 2009, aged 45. Williams, now 58, pays tribute to him in the song "Seeing Black."

Q. "Seeing Black" is one of a handful of melodically up-tempo songs, yet the subject is obviously dark. It seems you're more inquisitive about the subject. You're not condemning him, are you?

A. "No, not really. I've always tried to stay away from that -- whenever I'm writing, whoever the subject is in the song -- and try to be empathetic, even though I might be a little angry or whatever the word is. I'm still trying to be empathetic."

Q. Can you be angry at someone like Vic Chesnutt who spent the better part of his life in a wheelchair and was obviously in a lot of pain and frustrated by his situation?

A. "I didn't know the situation that well. I didn't know if he was in physical pain. I knew that he was in a wheelchair, but I didn't realize that he had mounting medical bills, that he also had a history of depression and apparently had attempted suicide before. So I didn't know that. You always want to think someone would have come to you for help before they made that kind of decision. The action inspired the song, but it certainly goes deeper than that."

Q. Are you inquisitive about the subject?

A. "Well, aren't we all?! What happens during those last final moments, and everything."

Q. The reference to your age, 57, most women in showbiz are pretty shy about being so upfront and honest about the passage of time. But you get straight to the point.

A. "I don't have to worry about that, really. What I do doesn't depend on that."

Q. Do you look out at the crowd, see all these young kids and you go, Jeez!

A. "Well, I mean, yeah. But you've just gotta get over it. You've just got to accept things, and that doesn't mean that I don't wanna look good and still look sexy and be sexy and all that. But I think I do a pretty good job of that."

Q. Do you work out?

A. "I'm trying to get back into working out. I drink red wine, yeah. I try to watch what I eat ... I used to work out with a trainer, and I haven't been able to afford it as of late so that's something I wanna get back into. But when I did work out, I worked out with weights, and we have a pool at the house here, so when it's warm enough we swim. I take vitamins and all."

Q. How else has your life changed with marriage (to music executive Tom Overby in 2009)? Do you have a sunnier outlook on things?

A. "Some days, y'know, and some days, I don't. It basically changes because I'm not running around worrying about some stupid guy, and waiting for the phone to ring. It's very liberating in that regard because I'm not wasting my time with all that stuff anymore. Just to get out of that scene and not have to deal with all that crap.

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Patricia Reaney)

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