February 28, 2004



Those who know me best know that I carry an unnatural affection for the music of Lyle Lovett. Enough so that when I was in Nashville in January, I considered it an omen from the gods of the Grand Ole Opry that my hotel was bordered on one side by the street named above. I felt it thus was my duty and obligation to buy his latest album My Baby Don't Tolerate at the Ernest Tubb Record Store at the airport concourse on the way out of town. I played it for my 8-year-old boy one day and he immediately fell in love with the lyrics of his first track, Cute As A Bug. The refrain goes:

She's as cute as a Bug
Short as a minute
She's a pretty little package with
Everything in it
I've said enough
To praise God above
I'm crazy in love
She's as cute as a Bug

He insists on playing it in the car now on the way to school. That's how he starts his day, singing clever lyrics matched to bouncy, happy music from my favorite artist. I couldn't be happier or more proud.

I got to meet Lyle a couple years back after a concert in Clearwater. It was the one and only time I've ever gone backstage to meet a performer who I wasn't interviewing for a story. My wife and I found him on his way to the tour bus with his girlfriend and a few assistants. He graciously autographed my ticket stub, shook hands with Grace and I and said kind pleasantries after I thanked him for introducing me to the music of Guy Clark.

I like Lyle not only because of his journalism background, but because his lyrics are so well tailored to his style, which is to say highly versatileand understated, considering he vascilates from gospel to Texas swing to blues and jazz.

Unfortunately most of the media coverage of him tends to focus on either his looks or his brief marriage to Julia Roberts or his hair.

That all changed this month with this outstanding profile in New Yorker magazine.

I encourage you to read the entire story. This passage alone makes it worthwhile. It's the best description of him I've read:

Lovett is tall and thin. His shoulders are narrow. He has long, ropy arms and broad hands. There are pleats in his cheeks, and wavy lines across his forehead. His eyes are pale blue. Their expression is intelligent and measuring to the point of guardedness. His ears are large and his nose is large and his eyes are small and close together, but they are arranged in such a fashion that his face has the solemn and handsome dignity of a workingman of the thirties, a farmer who hears the sound of your tractor stalling in the field and shows up to help you get it started.

For most of his career, his persona has been ambiguous. Billy Williams, his producer, says, “Lyle mistakenly sees himself as an ordinary human being.” Bonnie Raitt, with whom he made his first big tour, in 1986, following her bus in his pickup, regarded the way he looked—the skinny-legged suits, the hair rising like a bloom—as exotic. “He was always very sartorially astute,” she says. A Texas musician in Nashville who met Lovett before he was famous once told a reporter, “I took one look at him and pegged him for a French blues singer.” Lovett is not a demonstrative person. Raitt describes his temperament admiringly as “a banked fire.” Many women find him deeply attractive. Raitt also told me that sometimes when she and Lovett perform together and he looks over at her, she feels her “knees buckle.”

Lovett is smarter than most people he meets, but he conceals it. He has something of the typical country musician’s attitude that one must never affect to have risen above one’s beginnings. He is very polite, but his manners can conceal disdain. His habits of mind are meticulous, and he says he has difficulty doing anything casually. His sympathies are mostly charitable—he says that when he writes a song he imagines that he wouldn’t mind meeting anyone who liked it—but he is also prone to judging people harshly on little evidence and holding his opinions steadfastly.

Posted by Jeff at February 28, 2004 11:11 PM | TrackBack