Of all the emotions our species finds in desperately short supply, compassion and empathy top the list.
That’s among the reasons why Bonnie Raitt’s Grammy-nominated “Just Like That” is a Song for the Ages.
Ms. Raitt has already won ten Grammys. This year (the show is Sunday night) she’s nominated for four. The “Song of the Year” nomination is her first in that category as a writer. Her “Down the Hall” is nominated in the “American Roots” column.
A pillar of popular music since the 1970s, Bonnie is among the precious few who can memorably perform rock, folk, blues and traditional popular music. She’s made classics of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” and Del Shannon’s “Runaway.”
The list of modern masters with whom she’s done duets is a Who’s Who of our very greatest musical artists….including her own father, John Raitt, long a mainstay of such Broadway standards as “Oklahoma” and “Carousel.”
Long a campaigner for human and environmental rights, Bonnie makes clear in a bellwether feature on the front page of the New York Times that she rarely does overtly political songs.
She’s made exceptions of her own hard-hitting “The Comin’ Round is Goin’ Through” and “Hell to Pay.”
But “Just Like That” and “Down the Hall” are hauntingly understated odes to the core of what makes us human. They are welcome antidotes to an era in which our human connections have become dangerously frayed.
In “Just Like That,” Bonnie takes the role of a mother trapped in mourning for a child who has died….a death for which she takes personal responsibility.
But with amazing grace, his heart was donated. Now she’s visited by the recipient, who wants to thank her…and to let her heal by hearing its life-giving beat.
In less skilled hands, the pathos of such an elegy could easily sail off the tracks. But Bonnie somehow balances cosmic sentiment with musical mastery. This is a perfect song with the ultimate message: do the right thing, however deep it may cut, and the universe will take notice.
Likewise, “Down the Hall” takes us to the deepest depths of the human condition—-a prison hospice. A volunteer has stepped forward to help those about to die.
There are misgivings to start. But…
I don’t know ‘bout religion
I only know what I see
And in the end when I hold their hand
It’s both of us set free.
No mere Grammy can do justice to such spiritual realization.
Amidst the alienated madness that threatens our existence, a surrender to generosity seems the only hope for our endangered species…which needs to be reminded that the payback can transcend all else.
Thanks, Bonnie, for putting this most vital lesson to such gorgeous music. It does make a difference.
Harvey Wasserman’s People’s Spiral of US History is available via email@example.com. Most Mondays at 2pm PT he co-convenes the Green Grassroots Emergency Election Protection zoom via www.grassrootsep.org.