I promised I'd tell you the story of How I Learned to Love Lyle Lovett. Here's most of it, to which I will add that after this show I hung around the stage door -- in waist-high snowfall, mind you -- to say hi to John Hiatt. But John had already left for his hotel; the only one of the four songwriters who came out for the meet and greet was Lyle Lovett, who stood chatting pleasantly -- snow soaking into his cowboy boots -- for at least half an hour. I was already smitten with him from the show; standing there in the snow that night, he completely melted my heart.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Growing up in Indianapolis, I was hard-wired to hate country music -- it seemed all HeeHaw and Midwestern Hayride to me, strictly Not The Thing My People Listen To. Between that, and his extra-terrestrial appearances in Robert Altman films (not to mention that inexplicable marriage to Julia Roberts), Lyle Lovett had no chance of getting onto my playlist. But then I saw him live, doing an accoustic songwriter show with John Hiatt and Guy Clark and Joe Ely, and whoo boy, the scales fell from my eyes.
For one thing, I realized Lyle Lovett is NOT a country artist. He is a Western singer, and unapologetically so. Sure, there's folk in there, and blues, and tent-revival gospel, and dance-hall swing -- all Good Stuff. What he doesn't have are those corny cliches, reactionary pieties, and trumped-up drawls that ruin country music for me; apparently he has spent his entire career, 20-some years now, tactfully bucking the country-music stereotype and inventing his own genre.
In this particular song, for example, as he spins a description of a lazy weekend morning -- "I like cream in my coffee, I like to sleep late on Sundays...I like eggs over easy, with a flour tortilla" -- I just have to picture it in Texas, from that acoustic guitar, the tinny piano, the wheeze underneath that could be a cello but could just as easily be a squeeze-box -- and yet the folky tenderness of it, the jazz-like counterpoint, you'd never expect on a country-music station. And of course I want to be waking up in that sun-drenched house, smelling that coffee, frying those eggs for this man.
Surprise No. 2: That unhurried, mellow voice of his is a much more marvelous instrument than I'd expected; as effortless as his singing seemed, he overpowered those other three guys on the stage that night. In this song, on the repeated line "Nobody knows me like my baby," I love the way his voice soars hopefully on the long o's of "nobody" and "knows", gives a protective flutter over "like my," then cracks wistfully on "my baby." I don't really care whether he's thought this all out or just intuited how to deliver the song; it's just about perfect.
Revelation Three: Lyle Lovett in person is one of the most magnetic individuals I've ever seen. His odd, off-kilter manner simply reads as shyness, reinforced by a refreshing politeness -- gentlemanly to a fault. The long square jaw, the deep grooves either side of his mouth, the taut watchful eyes, even that improbable mass of curly hair on top his head -- in a photo he looks straight out of one of those James Agee WPA photos, but in person he is dead sexy. Just take my word for it.
So this has become The Thing I Listen To now; I play these songs over and over again. I like having Lyle Lovett in my head...I like it A LOT.