Lilly Hiatt (Photo by Glenn Cook)
The other day I was walking down the hall of the non-profit I work at when I ran into one of our senior leaders. “Hi, how are you,” I started to say as she smiled and covered up her face and mumbled how I caught her eating lunch, a mouthful of a big chocolate chip cookie.
She didn’t have to explain. In an instant life imitates art moment, I immediately heard Lilly Hiatt’s new song that had been playing in my head for the past week. Well, I thought to myself, that’s just what empowered, fearless women do. Sometimes, as Hiatt observes, that means wanting candy for lunch.
“Candy Lunch” is the third song Lily Hiatt has dropped in the last few weeks from her highly anticipated new album Walking Proof. A year ago to this March I first heard it played at Pearl Street Warehouse in Washington DC. When she first introduced the song it felt like a rebuke to conformity and something more than a kiss-off to male possessiveness. It just felt liberating.
And now that we have it, it’s even better than I thought it would turn out. Hiatt has created a gem that, in all of its subtlety, sounds like an emboldened declaration that transcends its jangly melancholy and pop perfection.
As she revealed upon the official video release of the song, she wrote it in a pensive mood upon coming home from seeing a live show.
Hiatt’s voice drifts into a dreamy reverie wondering about her life where she confesses to “hoping i’m gonna be something” and repeating the greater question she’s posed to herself—“I think about what I want, what I want.” Driving down Broadway, she is listening to “I’d Rather Go Blind” on the car radio and imagining her life on the big screen. And then comes the pivotal verse with its larger life musings and affirmation:
“Why does every boy I meet
Try to tell me how to live and what to eat I’ve always had a grip on it
I’ve always done my own weird thing Sometimes that means I want candy for my lunch”
Hiatt dashes off the last line like it’s a notation and entry in her journal. The song is called “Candy Lunch” but it’s all the more powerful considering the words are not part of the chorus and mentioned only once.
“Nothin seems to go better when I
Grab onto anything too tight
I can’t count all the times I said I’d never show my cards
But here you are”
It has been a wonderful few weeks as artists like Hiatt and her friend Amanda Shires drop new songs like we were living in the good old days. Or to quote Tillbrook and Difford, “Singles remind me of kisses, albums remind me of plans.” Shires released the effervescent “Deciphering Dreams’ and turned it into a whole tour. And now as she plays shows opening for Todd Snider, Hiatt is ecstatic that she has new CDs and vinyl to sell at her shows weeks ahead of the official release date.
When I saw Amanda Shires recently play at Sixth and I in Washington DC, she recalled how she was stuck in her touring van without Internet access and forced to listen to male-dominated country radio. It was somewhere on that tour that the idea for the all-female Highwomen was conceived. She sang “My Piece of Land” and her friend Lilly Hiatt who opened the shows sang about her piece of land, telling us for the first time what it was like living on “Trinity Lane.” By show’s end the two were singing “Jolene” holding sheets with printed lyrics like they were at a karaoke sing-along.
On her current tour Shires pulled women from the audience who knew all the words about the call to arms in the anthemic “Crowded Table.” She came on stage championing her advocacy like it was performance art, the blue blazer of her self-described “half pant suit” emblazoned with the big block letters that said MY BODY MY CHOICE. Shires’ advocacy mirrors that of others we’ve heard from in recent years like Margo Price, who boldly wrote of inequality in the workforce in the song “Pay Gap.” And speaking of sexism, Minnesota singer songwriter Kari Arnett, frustrated by the atttitudes of male band counterparts and struggling to get equal billing on music festivals, wrote the scathing “Only a Woman” with its wry line that asks: “What do I know, I’m only a woman.” Now comes Hiatt, who may have unsuspectingly written her own anthem.
Upon its final verse, Hiatt comes home. She wants to be alone but her “roomie” is there. He never closes cabinets, we learn, another random detail, for which she thinks that’s sweet.
What makes the song so compelling is the duality as she returns to the chorus. We already know that the narrator never shows her cards but once again that’s changed in a moment; “And here you are.” Who is it—the narrator or the other character? It’s that tension from the ambiguity that brings us to the song’s end. For all of its seeming resolution, it creates its own kind of cliffhanger and we just repeat the song to find more clues.
What the world needs now is “Candy Lunch.” In its three minutes of bliss, “Candy Lunch” is a respite from the contentious headlines of the day and a worthy antidote for a jittery public in the age of Coronavirus. As a husband and father who is inspired by strong women around me and still has hope I will live to see the first woman president, I count the several minutes we get in “Candy Lunch” as a small victory. It’s a song that we wish we could turn up on the car radio if the system ever allowed it.
I don’t know if we will ever have a “Candy Lunch” day but just maybe these are the seeds of a movement. I’ll be the first to start waving the flag. In the meantime, let’s be thankful for and praise all of those who were born to do their own weird things.