I'm not an optimist. I'm a prisoner of hope.
- Desmond Tutu
Sunday night’s 54th Annual Grammy Awards reminded me once again that I’m thankful for the gift of music.
Well, except that I didn’t get to see some of the show until this morning, having recorded it. Instead, I was at a local biweekly string jam, pretending to be a fraction as good on my guitar as those folks at the Grammys. Sunday night’s jam session offered up a mix of Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan, Green Day, John Prine, Curtis Mayfield and the Who. One of the organizers paused between songs and remarked, “You know, we’ve been doing this nonsense for 12 years.”
He’s right in a way. It does seem like nonsense. We’re all a bunch of amateurs, me more so than the others. And I’m grateful they include me in the group, no matter how much I flub the songs I bring to play. (Gosh, they sound so good when I’m home, playing for myself.)
But then there are those little moments when a thought in the song is expressed with such feeling and meaning, you wonder where it came from. It’s then you realize that the words without the music or the music without the words wouldn’t give you that. It’s like when you go to church and think you’re there to hear the message, but it’s sometimes the music that drives home what the pastor is trying to say.
The Grammys celebrate that. It’s not just a popularity contest, but recognition for artists who’ve communicated something significant.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band opened the evening with a performance of “We Take Care of Our Own,” a song from a forthcoming album. It doesn’t take a big step to realize, as host LL Cool J mentioned, that it’s a song which speaks to our time. Read the lyrics or, better yet, listen to the song itself.
As most good music does, a song like this goes beyond the trappings of great musicianship and commercial success. It says something meaningful, both to the world we live in and to our individual lives. Music is like that, and I’m thankful.