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Man Without A Soul: Lucinda gives the Trump era a fiery send-off

Ian Malin

Don’t worry it will soon be over. For those of us still standing anyway. The year the music, and pretty much all entertainment, died has only days to run and the hideous four years of Donald Trump will also soon be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Trump has used some of his remaining time in office to sanction the execution of prisoners, the tenth since July a man so intellectually disabled that he should be ineligible for the death penalty under federal law. Because Donald can and there’s nothing like a bit of sadism to fill in the time between those whining tweets.

The music hasn’t quite died in 2020. Two of America’s finest chroniclers of their times have released impressive albums that nail the worst president in history. Bruce Springsteen takes an oblique line on Letter To You, a record of many good, though not great, songs. Most of those songs deal with the 71-year-old’s own mortality. Rainmaker is something different. When you are desperate and gullible you look for a miracle-worker.

Rainmaker, a little faith for hire

Rainmaker the house is on fire

Rainmaker take everything that you have

Sometimes folks need to believe in something so bad, so bad, so bad

They’ll hire a rainmaker

You get the picture. Trump is the Rainmaker, the man with the firm handshake whose followers don’t care or understand what it really takes for the skies to open.

Lucinda Williams is four years younger than Springsteen and she too is trying to make sense of it all. One of Williams’ grandfathers was a fire and brimstone preacher in Louisiana. Her father, Miller Williams, was a poet. His daughter knows a lot about the power of words and on last April’s album, Good Souls Better Angels, she takes a more direct route in her criticism of the hollow men that lead us.

Man Without A Soul seems to fit Donald Trump perfectly but it could be an apt description of hypocrites and liars everywhere and of the charlatan pretending to lead the United Kingdom and resorting to gunboat diplomacy in his glorious quest for sovereignty.

There’s a darkness all around you

To cover all you’re hiding

There’s no light in your eyes

You’re a man without a soul

Good Souls Better Angels is a raw, bluesy album that has been compared to Neil Young’s Ragged Glory which 30 years ago was recorded against the backdrop of another deep recession and the ramping up of the Gulf War. Man Without A Soul is prescient too in predicting Trump’s demise. It is tempting to imagine Donald sitting alone in the dark of the White House, perhaps setting alight the remains of the furniture to keep warm after everyone has left to the soundtrack of Lucinda Williams drawling in the background.

How do you think this story ends?

It’s not a matter of how

It’s just a matter of when

’Cause it is coming down

Yeah, it’s coming down

Williams has had more than her fair share of troubles in a troubling 2020 for her country and the rest of the world. She and her husband and producer Tom Overby moved to Nashville earlier this year. Soon after they arrived a tornado hit the city, blowing off part of their roof. Two friends, country-folk songwriter John Prine and Hal Willner, who produced one of her best albums West, died from the virus that the president was still denying really existed.

No wonder then that her latest album deals with depression on songs such as Big Black Train, which could have been penned by The Boss himself, and Bad News Blues, a song that sums up this annus horribilis.

‘There’s always something going on in this country to rebel against and be pissed off about,’ Williams told The Guardian in an interview, describing Trump as ‘different than anything I’ve experienced in my entire lifetime’. Trump, she said, gave people ‘permission in a subliminal way to come on out of the closet. You can hate, you can get your guns and your anger’.

So it is Bruce Springsteen, staring out from a wintry scene on his latest album, and Lucinda Williams, with her fringed leather jacket and kohl-rimmed eyes, two artists who refuse to mellow with age and still give vent to their anger, who go to the deep, dark well and best express these bleak times. Miller Williams is best known for reading his poem Of History And Hope at Bill Clinton’s second inauguration. Joe Biden could do worse than to give his daughter a call.


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