Nightly Song
Musings on Songs that Strike a Chord Tonight

Metal Firecracker by Lucinda Williams

Metal Firecracker

Written and performed by Lucinda Williams, originally released on the album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. You can listen to the song here.

“Metal Firecracker” is a grown up break-up song that shimmers with guitars, loss and vulnerability. The metal firecracker of the title is a tour bus and the song concerns a love gone bad. The song avoids the moaning and self-pity that saps too many break-up songs as it both recalls the passion of the affair and finds a way forward.  

Hinging on the duality of love, this track explores the strength and vulnerability that follows a break-up. The opening verse remembers the love:

You told me I was your queen
You told me I was your biker
You told me I was everything

Besides the nice play of Queen and bike, a twist on the hackneyed Madonna/whore combination, the opening verse captures the strength we can find in love, when someone recognizes us, sees who we are and who we can be. In a world where we can all get lost, having someone else love us gives us presence and meaning. Yet that very act portends the downfall after the love goes sour – without the love, without someone recognizing us, do we exist at all?

In the next verse, the singer recalls the passion of the affair with Lucinda’s voice smoldering:

Once I was in your blood, you were obsessed with me
You wanted to paint my picture
You wanted to undress me
You wanted to see me in your future

Listen to the lust and ache in how she sings the words “you wanted to undress me.”

The chorus makes plain the risk of love. In the throes of that passion, we let another see and touch us in ways that bind the relationship. When it’s over, the vulnerability and fear come rushing:

All I ask is don’t tell anybody the secrets
Don’t tell anybody the secrets I told you

In the second half of the song, we get a slight change in perspective. The lines now recall the promises made by her former lover:

Once you held me so tight
I thought I’d lose my mind
You said I rocked your world
You said it was for all time
You said that I’d always be your girl

Now she turns on her man, singing with special vehemence about playing ZZ Top, “turn it up real loud.” Her voice in that line takes on a special vehemence. She sees him and their affair differently. “I used to think you were strong/I used to think you were proud.” What they once had, she cannot have anymore and she’s moved. He is not the man she thought him to be. When the chorus comes back, she realizes the other side of her vulnerability, for when she asks him “don’t tell anybody the secrets I told you” she sings simultaneously from a position of vulnerability and strength. Yes, she is vulnerable to what he might say, what he could reveal, but he is vulnerable too, for she knows his secrets, his loneliness. The affair ends with a kind of mutual deterrence.

The Irish short story writer Frank O’Connor said that a wife knows her husband’s vulnerability because she understands his loneliness. This song realizes that together, a couple’s love depends on passion and heedless openness, and once separated that openness leaves them alone and equally vulnerable.

The song appears first on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road and on later live albums. To learn more about Lucinda Williams, you can check here.

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