I wondered what the young people thought of Joni Mitchell, in her survivor’s voice, tapping her survivor’s cane, finding the gravelly notes that worked so well.
Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
Looked at clouds that way
Lyrics. Ideas. Imagination.
Joni once wrote a song about a party on a Grecian isle, another song about a roadhouse, dancing with a coyote. She was young, now she is old, having survived an aneurysm, Sunday night presiding on a throne, at the Grammys, accompanied by Brandi Carlisle.
And Stevie Wonder, singing a duet with the late Tony Bennett, who died this year at 96.
The music is part of our lives. I remember being 10 or so, hanging out with a couple of Italian cousins in Queens, and an older sister was raving about a concert she had attended, “by that crazy Tony Benedetto from Astoria.”
The necrology continued – performers who made us happy, or sad, or thoughtful, sometimes all at once. Gordon Lightfoot, whose “Early Morning Rain” made me homesick for New York while living in other people’s town. Andre Watts, so young, taking over Carnegie Hall on a Sunday afternoon, so long ago. Sinead O'Connor, one more reason to treasure the Irish passports we keep up to date.
Harry Belafonte – we saw him once on a hot, still summer night in Forest Hills in the 60s. Astrud Gilberto – we saw her in a club on the East Side of Manhattan. Robbie Robertson – I saw him with The Band, four or five places, and in the classic movie, “The Last Waltz.”
A recently svelte Oprah Winfrey orated an elegant tribute to Tina Turner, who died this past year, and Oprah praised her music, yes, and also her courage in getting free, and all that entailed. My pal Vic Ziegel and I saw Tina and Ike Turner in a club, I think on North Beach. She was on her way.
This night in LA in 2024 also belonged to the young female stars receiving their awards, wearing bits of costume here and there, as they danced up to the stage.
Then there was Taylor Swift, recently seen at a football playoff game, cheering her star boyfriend, throwing sour terror into paranoid MAGA types. She said she was going backstage to be photographed with her newest trophy, for her next album cover. You go girl.
An early live highlight was Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs, a generation or more apart, playing off each other on her hit song, “Fast Car.” She was so poised, and smiling, with her gray hair. He was gristly and respectful, injecting enough of his bio – Thomas Wolfe’s hilly North Carolina, Appalachian State University, (where he worked as a bouncer), then migrating, as pickers do, to Nashville. As Combs blended with Chapman, I could hear my friend Loretta Lynn nodding enthusiastically and pronouncing, “Now that’s country.” Her highest compliment.
As the evening went on, I felt respect for Trevor Noah for maintaining his poise, his intelligence, his sanity. Imagine this night with a lesser host
I willed myself to stay awake until the closing by Billy Joel, looking old, but rocking to his standard, “You May Be Right.” I can remember my brother-in-law telling tales of growing up in the same square mile of Long Island as Billy Joel, and how Brenda and Eddie were real people.
As the show ended, I was happy that Joni Mitchell….and Tracy Chapman….and Stevie Wonder….and Billy Joel were still making music. Now it was okay for this old guy to fall asleep.