Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

Singer-Songwriter Lucinda Williams Plays Not My Job

Lucinda Williams i i
Danny Clinch/AP/Lost Highway Records
Lucinda Williams
Danny Clinch/AP/Lost Highway Records

Lucinda Williams sings country music — about loss and heartache and trouble — but unlike the latest kids Nashville has sent us, she sings like she really knows what she's talking about. Her latest album, Blessed, comes out in March.

We've invited Williams to play a game called "To get in, either be invited, or be the Salahis." On Wedneday, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama staged their third official state dinner, this one for President Hu Jintao of China. We'll test Williams on her knowledge of past state dinners.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

PETER SAGAL, host:

And now, the game where we invite on big names and ask them little questions. Lucinda Williams sings country music, songs about loss and heartache and trouble. But unlike the latest kids Nashville has sent us, she sings like she really knows what she's talking about. If Taylor Swift tried to sing one of her songs, she'd burst into flames.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: Lucinda Williams' new album, "Blessed," comes out soon. She's out on tour now. Lucinda Williams, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. LUCINDA WILLIAMS (Singer): Thank you.

SAGAL: Lucinda, how are you?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Good.

SAGAL: I'm glad to hear it. I'm glad to hear it. We want to start, really, just by playing a little music of yours, from one of your great records. This is a song called "Metal Firecracker."

(Soundbite of song, "Metal Firecracker")

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Singing) Once we rode together in a metal firecracker. You told me I was your queen, you told me I was your biker, you told me I was everything.

(Soundbite of applause)

SAGAL: That's "Metal Firecracker" from your great record, "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road." Did you always have that voice as long as you've been singing?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Not really. I mean, my voice has gotten better as I've gotten older, to be honest.

SAGAL: You did start relatively early in performing, right?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah, I moved to Austin in 1974.

SAGAL: Right.

Ms. WILLIAMS: When I was 21. And they used to have this little area that was kind of a little - sort of small, little flea market kind of a thing. I used to go down there and open up my guitar case, and play for tips.

SAGAL: Well, the talent was pretty thick on the ground in Austin. It was like oh, there's my street - oh darn, Lyle Lovett's on my corner this week, I got to move down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: No, he wasn't in Austin. He was still in College Station, Texas.

SAGAL: Oh, I see.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TOM BODETT (Author; Humorist): I listen to a lot of your music, Lucinda, and I'm a big fan. It's something that I wonder: Did you ever have a moment where you were just, you know, waking up in the back of some bar somewhere, or having some crazy experience, and you thought: This is terrible, but this is going to make an awesome song.

SAGAL: Yeah, because your songs sound like you lived those songs.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah.

SAGAL: Did you?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yes, I did. But I don't know if I was consciously thinking that at the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: You know, maybe somewhere in the back of my mind.

SAGAL: Oh here, I'll enter into this disastrous relationship. This will be good for my next record.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: We were reading a lot about your press. You have been beloved, but people have tried to describe you and they find it hard, so they reach for comparisons. So, for example, people have compared you to Elvis - Elvis Presley.

Ms. WILLIAMS: No.

SAGAL: No?

Ms. WILLIAMS: They have not.

SAGAL: They have. We have one musician saying of you, "She's our Elvis."

Ms. WILLIAMS: I think they mean Elvis Costello.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: Oh really? That's not bad, either. NPR, my own company, called you the "Billie Holiday of alternative country music," which is the kind of thing we would say.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROXANNE ROBERTS (Columnist, Washington Post): How does that even work?

SAGAL: I don't know. It sounds good. What do you think? Billie Holiday, will you take that?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah.

SAGAL: All right, so you go for Billie Holiday; not so much Elvis. How about this: The Wall Street Journal reviewed your record "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road." They said, quote: It seems she went away a country folk singer and reappeared in the guise of Keith Richards.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah.

SAGAL: You'd go for that?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah.

SAGAL: So you go for Billie Holiday, Keith Richards?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah.

SAGAL: And Vanity Fair threw Hank Williams in there.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah.

SAGAL: You'd take that, too?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Mm-hmm.

SAGAL: All right.

Mr. BODETT: You know some record label somewhere is going to pass on Lucinda going, we have too many Keith Richard/Billie Holidays.

SAGAL: Who needs that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: We understand now that you had a concert a couple years ago - 2009, opening show - and you got married.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yes.

SAGAL: Onstage?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah.

SAGAL: Was the show not going well? You're like, I got to do something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: I've got to get this audience back.

Ms. WILLIAMS: No, we planned it, you know.

SAGAL: Okay. What'd you do?

Ms. WILLIAMS: We just decided to get married, you know, combine it with having a gig. And Tom is from Minneapolis.

SAGAL: Tom is your manager and now, your husband?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yes.

SAGAL: Right.

SAGAL: And you had rented the hall so, you know.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah, we didn't - we just figured we wanted to invite everybody we knew, and we didn't want to have a limited guest list. So we played and then during the encore, we had a little ceremony onstage. My dad wrote the vows, the wedding vows.

SAGAL: Really? Your father wrote your wedding vows?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah.

SAGAL: Did you father write the vows for your husband? Like, I promise never to touch you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: It's like a weird role to put your father in. Well, Lucinda Williams, we are delighted to have you with us. And we have invited you here today to play a game we're calling...

CARL KASELL, host:

"To Get In, Either Be Invited - Or Be The Salahis."

SAGAL: This week, the Obama White House staged its third official State Dinner for Prime Minister Hu Jintao of China, as we have said. Now, these State Dinners are solemn occasions. So we're going to ask you three questions about past State Dinners. Get two right, you will win our prize for our listener, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Carl, who is Lucinda Williams playing for?

KASELL: Lucinda is playing for Deb Saplis of Ham Lake, Minnesota.

SAGAL: All right. Ready to play, Lucinda?

Ms. WILLIAMS: OK.

SAGAL: All right. Here's your first question. One of the most famous State Dinner events happened not in Washington but in Tokyo, at a State Dinner thrown for President George H.W. Bush - who, as we all remember, vomited onto the Japanese prime minister and passed out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: What was one thing inspired by this momentous event? Was it A, for a while afterwards in Japan, Bushu-Suru meant to vomit unexpectedly?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: B, all Japanese State Dinners for a while thereafter featured air sickness bags put discreetly under the chairs; or C, a TV ad campaign was launched in Japan by a chain restaurant there. It featured Bush vomiting and the caption: He nust have eaten at some other noodle shop.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: That's a hard one.

SAGAL: It is.

Ms. WILLIAMS: A.

SAGAL: You're going to go for A, Bushu-suru?

Ms. WILLIAMS: That's not right.

SAGAL: It is right. No, it's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of bell)

Ms. WILLIAMS: Really?

SAGAL: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. WILLIAMS: Wow.

SAGAL: Bushu-suru literally means, in Japanese, to do the Bush thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: Right.

SAGAL: All right, very good. Here is your next question. State Dinners are always a mix of dignitaries and celebrities. It's often an interesting mix, such as in which of these cases? A, an awkward moment when Chinese President Deng Xiaopeng yelled at Shirley MacLaine; B, a very awkward moment in which Nicholas Cage told Mexican President Vicente Fox, quote: I loved you in "Moonraker."

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: Or C, a very, very, very awkward moment in which Silvio Berlusconi requested to borrow Jennifer Lopez?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: B.

SAGAL: You're going to go for B, Nicholas Cage mistaking Vicente Fox for a Bond villain?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: Or a Bond hero perhaps; I'm not quite sure what his mistake was. Is that your choice?

Ms. WILLIAMS: I think so.

SAGAL: Actually, it was A. Deng Xiaopeng got angry.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Damn it.

SAGAL: No, it's all right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BODETT: There's one more.

SAGAL: You do have a vivid emotional life, I can tell. Deng Xiaopeng was angry because Shirley MacLaine was going on about visiting China in the '70s and how lovely it was. And Deng, of course, at that time had been banished to the countryside by the Maoists and the Cultural Revolution. So he did not take that well.

All right, this is exciting, though. You can get this right and still win. The Salahis aside, the most mortifying breach of protocol in State Dinner history most likely was what happened in 1998, when what happened? A, in his toast to President Clinton, the South Korean president said: A pleasure to meet the most powerful person in the U.S. as well as her husband.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: B, while greeting the president, famed artist Nam June Paik's pants fell completely to the ground; or C, the band serenaded the president after the dinner, in the middle of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, with an instrumental version of "Raspberry Beret."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: A.

SAGAL: You're going to go for A?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah.

SAGAL: The South Korean president made a Hillary Clinton joke?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah.

SAGAL: You think?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: I'm just saying that doesn't sound very diplomatic.

Mr. BODETT: Trust your doubts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: OK, C.

SAGAL: C?

Mr. BODETT: Keep trusting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. WILLIAMS: You know, I don't want to cheat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

SAGAL: Well, I don't understand such...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Obviously, it's B.

SAGAL: It's B, yes.

(Soundbite of bell)

(Soundbite of cheering)

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. WILLIAMS: His pants fell down?

SAGAL: His pants fell down. This is what happened, the artist...

Ms. ROBERTS: Oh yes, they fell.

SAGAL: He had been sitting in a wheelchair, but he insisted on standing to meet the president, as a sign of respect.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Oh.

SAGAL: And unfortunately, his pants had other ideas.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Wow.

SAGAL: And more unfortunately, he was wearing no underwear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: Really?

SAGAL: There is video of this incident, and I want you to watch it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

SAGAL: And I want you to watch it. And I want you to note something - which is how amazingly good President Clinton is at never looking away from this man's face. face.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: Wow.

SAGAL: He is shaking his hand. He is thanking him for coming. His pants fall down to the ground, and Clinton never breaks eye contact.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: Carl, how did Lucinda Williams do on our quiz?

KASELL: Well, Lucinda had two correct answers, Peter, and that's enough to win...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: You bet.

KASELL: ...for Deb Saplis of Ham Lake, Minnesota.

(Soundbite of applause)

SAGAL: Well done.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yay.

SAGAL: Lucinda Williams, her new record is "Blessed." Go out and get it. Lucinda, we love your music. Thank you so much for making it, and make a lot more. Thank you so much for being with us.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Thank you.

Mr. BODETT: Thanks, Lucinda.

SAGAL: Bye-bye.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Bye.

(Soundbite of applause)

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