Musical Map Of The USA: Louisiana—Lucinda Williams

So many gorgeous songs have been written about Louisiana over the years, it’s sort of paralyzing trying to choose just one that best represents the state, but for me I think “Lafayette” by Lucinda Williams–the first track off her 1980 Happy Woman Blues album–is the song that does that more perfectly than any other.

In the song, Williams, a Louisiana native, pines for Lafayette, a town of around 125,000 in the southwest part of the state that many recognize as the unofficial capital of Cajun Country. It’s a town surrounded by a slew of other small towns that all come together to form a swampy, bayou-country region known locally as “Acadiana,” a place where the pace of life is slower than a sugar cane truck slogging down a country road in August, a place where the main priorities in life are eating, drinking, dancing, and loving. Just having a good ole time in general. Then getting up and doing it all over again the next day.
It’s the part of the state whose haunting beauty was captured so well–arguably better than any other depiction of South Louisiana in modern pop culture–in the first season of HBO’s True Detective. Though New Orleans is renowned as one of the world’s great food cities, many of the rich culinary delights that people associate with it actually originated in the Acadiana area. It’s there where things like jambalaya, etouffee, gumbo, and crawfish boils were birthed for the world’s gluttonous pleasure.
Point being, Lafayette, and the area that surrounds it, is an under-appreciated gem, and Williams’ country/zydeco ode to the town feels like a letter someone who left home would write to sweetheart they left behind, one that the letter-writer didn’t fully appreciate when he or she had him or her, a letter overflowing with longing, and sprinkled with regret. It’s almost like Lucinda’s saying, “I didn’t fully appreciate you when I had you and I realize that now and I can’t wait to see you again so I can just drown myself in you.”
Take me back Lafayette, way down on the bayou
I’m your girl, Lafayette, I’m gonna hang around you
Eat that gumbo and rollin’ and tumble
And do crazy things every night, soon I’ll be feelin’ alright
When I get back to my sweet Lafayette
After growing up in a little bayou town and attending college in Lafayette at the university there–the mascot of which is the Ragin’ Cajuns, BTW–I moved away from Louisiana in the early 2000s. More than any other, this song made me long for home most when I heard it. It spoke to me, as they say, touched me in places deep within my soul.
And damn if I don’t suddenly feel overcome by the urge to jump in a car and drive to Lafayette right now just talking about it.
This is one of more than 50 posts that make up our musical map of the United States, published by region—the West, Midwest, South, and Northeast—by writers who have strongly associated a song with a state.

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