Blue Jean Queen Explodes Our Hearts With “Wild Wild Woman”
By Jay Armstrong
We already know how easy it is to fall in love with Rockyanne Bullwinkel. From what she offered to the dynamic of The Bad Lovers, to how she developed enormously in presence and confidence through The Reputations, she has grown from a piece of the puzzle dazzling us in doses into a force so powerful that on stage, even when she is not singing, the entire crowd she plays in front of seems awed just to witness the sweat falling from her forehead. By the time The Reputations put out Electric Power, standing around after their sets, shook by the experience, the running theme of conversation sounded like we were talking about one of those live performances of Trio where Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt manage to be marginalized by Dolly Parton; whether Parton is singing harmony or taking the lead makes no difference, you cannot escape being floored by her ability to outshine two of the greatest of the greats while conscious effort seems made by her to humbly avoid doing so. Is Rockyanne Bullwinkel the next Dolly Parton? Hell no. It is like all those lame comparisons about who might become the next Elvis Presley. Why waste the breath. Ain’t no one ever been close enough to step on those toes, better yet stand beside them. But have you ever heard anything as great as “Wild Wild Woman?” I mean this completely; between Stevie Nicks on “Edge of Seventeen” and Deana Carter with “Strawberry Wine,” now there is an equal which somehow manages to draw comparisons to both at the same time. “Wild Wild Woman” is powerful, perfect, and rises into the realm of greatness by transcending forever beyond the person who created it to represent a moment forever speaking to whoever hears it as one of the great beacons of the realized rare potential music has the heights of reaching.
Have you ever tried understanding why the greatest songs remain the way they are? It’s damn near impossible. “Jump Into the Fire” by Nilsson, Gerry and the Peacemakers “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” Sam Cook “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Ace Frehley “New York Groove,” Olivia Newton-John “Don’t Stop Believin,” anyone who ever touched “Teenager in Love;” all speak timelessly to a human condition that goes beyond us as the individual absorbed and strengthened by them, so absorbing in fact that it is not until the last note rings out do we find as an afterthought our thankful reborn spirits considering the artist who created it. Understanding the experience behind the creation can often add to our fulfillment but certainly is not a prerequisite in the slightest to feeling the strength brought to us through it. The greatest of all seems to be “Stand By Me,” which need not be known that it was passed up by The Drifters or that it was a last minute run through for Ben E. King, coming together during some leftover time he had sitting around a recording session. What matters is when it comes on, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you feel as though you are on a long drive in the midst of a heavy period in life looking up at a full moon and somehow it is as though everyone who ever heard the song was looking at that same moon, suspended outside of time in the same moment, and the world no longer feels so big. The pain, loss, struggle, all briefly wrapped in peaceful mutual understanding and that even with the weight of life upon us somehow for three minutes we just KNOW it will all be alright. Together. A few months back I was lucky to be at the right place, with the right people, and someone asked if I wanted to listen through an early version of “Wild Wild Woman.” I nearly cried as it played. This is one of those songs. You and I and everyone else will all but be forgotten, this song though will forever live on to speak motivating understanding to whoever hears it.
What “Wild Wild Woman” represents for Blue Jean Queen is where a change in focus for Bullwinkle met the moment everyone to listen, write about, or watch her perform has been blubbering over saying she was on the path to becoming. For me, it goes back to hearing her play “Laredo” and instantly knowing, without doubt, she was bigger than all of us. Sure, this song seemed inevitable, yet I do not believe a single one of us was prepared for what it would feel like to experience. It breaks our hearts hearing, “days are getting darker now, the nights ain’t what they used to be, and if you have to change your heart don’t lose that girl you used to be. Like it or not you bare the people that you used to be. Don’t you turn your back on them, don’t give them no reply.” We forget those we look up to, those inspiring us to be better, those who hold the light guiding us to live honest, better, lives; life too for them is heavy and just like the rest of us, who they are now is a response to a past they work to acknowledge and accept. We take for granted how the vicarious experience we relate with is a tangible consuming period of someone’s life. When Patrick Fugit asks Billy Crudup in Almost Famous, “Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?” We know the answer would be invalid either way he went with it. The response by the creator of something could never be sufficient, believing we inherently can tell the truth from the faux; even when the blemishes and artistic freedoms of adjusting the mirror of reflection may obscure their reality, the underlying truth is what kicks us in the chest. We can hear Johnny Paycheck sing “(Stay Away From) The Cocaine Train” and Glenn Campbell talk of leaving a sleeping bag behind the couch and know in the greatest songs, the bravery to speak of what they know about themselves, what they are still learning along the way, may have a creative shine, but it is the words unsaid subtly guiding us to feel positive about the negatives. After all, to be an artist is to be a poet, and to be a poet is to honestly show us the experience of our lives we look over everyday beyond the just-gotta-get-to-tomorrow to see in it the majestic wonder our untrained eyes could never have noticed without them. Unless an artist strictly thinks of themselves as an entertainer, all who make music try their best to create something bigger than their small place in life with the hope others will hear it, finding meaning in the experience. It is incredibly rare for those ambitions to be met. “Wild Wild Woman,” sets a precedent for everyone else making noise right now, a clear reminder that ambitions sure are nice, but there are giants among us who make amateurs of them all. Doing it with such seemingly careless ease that the struggles she experiences cannot weigh her down any longer than the song took to make. Because when this song is over, all of that future Blue Jean Queen is motivating us to square up with, we believe she has already faced and came out on the other side with a triumphant song to show for it; a song for all of us to off-key scream along with when alone in our car needing something real to hold onto. More wild than “Wild Wild Woman” is realizing how early on her path of creativity it has been formed. Could we ever be prepared for what comes next? I excitedly have my doubts.
As far as the nuts and bolts go; this song was co-produced by Caleb Dawson, with Jimmy Wildcat, Ryan Lee, Sam Bryant, and Walker Lukens lending their substantial talents to the project. Even if “the nights ain’t what they used to be,” they sure as hell paved the way to the relationships which were formed that led to this song. From where I’m sitting, it makes all the good and the bad totally worth it.