Lake Charles: Town, Target and Tune
Have you ever had a song keep rerunning in your mind? That’s happened to me lately. The song is by Louisianian Lucinda Williams who sings a bluesy, gravelly, gutsy style of country music. The song, which was released in 1998, was named after her hometown, Lake Charles.
As happens with most songs named after places the story usually has to do with love, won or lost, but somewhere in the lyrics there is a passion for the title town. That is clear from the opening lines:
He had a reason to get back to Lake Charles
He used to talk about it, he’d just go on and on
He always said Louisiana was where he felt at home
This is not a happy story. Supposedly it is about a former boyfriend, a native of Nacogdoches, Texas who for reasons, never fully explained, really liked to visit the Southwest Louisiana city. Even as Lucinda and he would ride to other places in the state, all roads led back to Lake Charles.
A newspaper review of the song quoted a friend of Williams who explained that the singer regretted not being able to return from California in time when the “ex-“died. So, the song is a lament about his life.
Lake Charles, the city not the song, has been in the news too much lately because of it being a target for two hurricanes, the latter (“Delta”) added a layer of extra wind damage over the former, Hurricane Laura.
Culturally the city is a blender. It does not have a singular image as does its neighbor to the east, Lafayette, which is thought of as the hub of Cajun culture. Lake Charles, on the other hand, is a little too far west to be totally Cajun and a little too far east of the Texas border to be western. It is a mixture of both cultures, plus all other lifestyles passing through. The names of the college mascots are revealing: At the University of Louisiana Lafayette, the mascot is the “Ragin’ Cajun.” At McNeese in Lake Charles the mascot is the Cowboy, but the fight song is an upbeat version of the Cajun anthem, “Jolie Blanc.”
Slightly south of Lake Charles, in Cameron Parish, is what remains, after two hurricanes, of the town of Hackberry. In the 1930s a band originated from there called the Hackberry Ramblers. Their style fit their geography, a mixture of Country and Cajun. The Ramblers, in cowboy hats and boots would sing their version of Jolie Blanc while dressed as though they were waiting for the stagecoach to Austin.
Speaking of Texas, if ever you want to see a sea of Texas automobile license plates look in the parking area of the casinos that line the far side of the waterfront. Lake Charles subsists largely off of the oil-based industries down the road and the Texas dollar.
(Here we pause for a morality moment. Back in the days when there was debate about allowing casino gambling in Louisiana there were some who questioned the morality of the games of chance. My contention is anything is on its moral high plain when it sucks in money from Texas.)
Did you run about as far as you could go?
Down the Louisiana highway, across Lake Pontchartrain?
Now your soul is in Lake Charles, no matter what they say
One would hope that there is a universal law of averages on being a hurricane target in which case Lake Charles should be exempt for at least the next century. That way its people could enjoy each June through November without worrying about anything in the gulf other than the bounty of redfish.
Most notable about Williams’ song is the chorus which is repeated four times
Did an angel whisper in your ear?
And hold you close, and take away your fear?
In those long, last moments
That, along with first lyric, are the parts that keeps repeating in my mind.
At a recent lecture on the economic condition of the state, given prior to Hurricane Delta, by Loren Scott, LSU economics Professor Emeritus, he predicted that Lake Charles would have a strong recovery from Hurricane Laura. That was not just cheerleading but academic insight. Because the damage was by wind rather than flooding, insurance payments would come more easily. Money will be flowing. We hope Hurricane Delta enhances that observation.
I look forward to hearing more news about Lake Charles’ future. But please, not from the Weather Channel.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
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