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I’m a sucker for award shows. Last weekend it was the Grammys; this week it’s the Oscars. I can honestly say I watched most of it – from Taylor Swift’s over the top opening, to the return of Justin “Suit and Tie” Timberlake, to Jack White shredding on “Freedom at 21.” I find these shows enjoyable, revolting, and cringe worthy all wrapped into one. It’s painful to watch an artist implode, either by acting like a pompous ass while announcing the nominees, or by totally stinking up the joint trying to play their instruments. Or, when an artist wins and gives the old “I didn’t think I would win” or the “I want to thank my fellow nominees” routine, to which everyone watching gives a Liz Lemon “O brother!” eye roll. I find the Grammys to be a buffet of musical fun.
My favorite moments, however, are usually when some up-and-comer totally nails it. Last year is was Mumford and Sons, the opening act for the Avett Brothers and Bob Dylan, rocking a rendition of “The Cave.” This year it was The Lumineers who brought the house down. The beauty of their music is in its simplicity… just a few chords, a guy in suspenders beating a cymbal with a tambourine (he’s exactly how I picture Tom Bombadil), and a group of people yelling out “HO!” and “HEY!” every now and again. Their music evokes joyful reveling, like a party is about to break out right there on stage. My favorite part of the song is when the lead singer belts out the second verse in a higher register. Why? Not sure… it just is. There are plenty of artists who perform gaudy electronic numbers, but they don’t evoke the same aura or feeling. Nothing against hip hop or rap or synth pop sound, it just doesn’t compare with passionate artists, eyes closed, pounding a keyboard or old guitar.
I wonder if watching an artist at work is a bit like watching the Spirit give birth to creation “in the beginning.” (Can you tell I’ve been reading Tolkien?) To hear the passion in a singers voice, to watch them effortlessly bring forth harmony and rhythm, one can almost imagine the Spirit “hovering”, moving, sweeping, and soaring… bringing something totally new into existence. I’m always amazed at how musicians can make something so complex look so easy. Miraculous, really. I mean anyone, given enough time, can make computerized music sound halfway decent, but it takes creativity, passion, and attunement to make a violin or harmonica sing. So I’m thankful for music, for the Grammys, and for the artist I haven’t heard of yet that will rock the show next year.