As the camera pulled back to reveal the face behind the hand that played the strings, a huge smile cut across my face. Tracy Chapman was on the Grammy Stage. Playing a duet with Luke Combs who had covered her classic, “Fast Car”, the crowd echoed my reaction. Taylor Swift stood and sang along, others followed suit. It was a quintessential “Grammy Moment.”
Later in the same show, Joni Mitchell performed at the Grammy’s for the first time in her prodigious career. A beautiful arrangement of strings and harmonies accompanied her as she sang her classic song, “Both Sides Now.” Meryl Streep and her daughter cried in the audience. I may have been doing the same sitting on my couch, unbeknownst to my own daughter who was doing her homework several feet away.
I’m not exactly sure why I was moved by these two performances. Both came on the heels of a rough week. Both were among the songs from the soundtrack of my life. Both came as unexpected surprises.
It could be recency bias, but it reminded me that music may be the most transcendent of art forms. In this case, these songs transcended time, class, race and genre. It was interesting that some of the initial reactions to Comb’s cover were of mild outrage saying “How could a white country singer appropriate this song of a black women folk singer?” Chapman quickly tamped down that controversy by whole-heartedly backing Comb’s rendition – which in fact was a deeply felt homage to a musician he greatly admired.
Much has already been written about those Grammy moments, a sign perhaps of a yearning for more art – music or otherwise – that provides us with a moment to connect around something beautiful, poignant and sublime.
“One Song Glory” from the musical Rent is the plea of a musician to leave one song behind that rings true. Country music as a genre was once described by Harlan Howard as “three Chords and the truth.”
This truth comes in many forms. It’s the truth that makes us feel like we’re not alone. It is the truth that helps us make sense of our own lives. It’s the truth that makes us jump up and dance. It is the truth that motivates us on our runs. It is a knowing truth that we see in the eyes of another person at a concert or in the smiles of the person sitting beside us in a car as we belt along to the lyrics.
Songs while they enter our ears, change the way we see. It changes the way we see ourselves, each other and the world. As I’m writing this, I’ve been listening to a random playlist on Spotify and was forced to pause as, ironically, Tracy Chapman is singing Bob Dylan’s “The Times are a Changin’” – a cover I had never heard before.
Yes the times are changin’ but good songs are timeless as is their power to make us feel and be better – both to ourselves and towards others. Thanks to all the musicians who leave their truth behind for the rest of us to bask in.