Music professionals and fans alike were stunned earlier this month when 73-year-old Bonnie Raitt took home the GRAMMY Award for Song of The Year. Here are some lessons you can take to heart.
This year’s GRAMMY Awards nominee list was dominated by younger artists, as has been the case for many years. So it was a shocking moment at the awards ceremony when veteran singer and blues guitarist Bonnie Raitt was announced as the winner of Song of the Year for her song “Just Like That.” Social media lit up. Many younger music fans did not know who Raitt even was. Older fans were not familiar with the song or Raitt’s recent album of the same title. Others were simply disappointed fans of the other nominees, who included pop music superstars Beyoncé and Harry Styles.
Raitt herself seemed flabbergasted by her win. But I wasn’t. I listened to all kinds of new music last year, and I knew and liked all the nominated songs. I thought Raitt’s was the best. But the fact that so many were surprised got me thinking about what we could learn from her win.
1. Stories still matter. I knew “Just Like That” was a great song the first time I heard it a year ago. It tells a compelling story, based on a true story that Raitt had seen on a local news station while touring. It tells about a woman who is visited by a stranger, who tells her that many years earlier he received a heart transplant, and tracked her down because the heart was her son’s. He invites her to place her head on his chest so she can hear her son’s heart beating and be close to him again. Raitt tells this story beautifully and sets it to a stark but lovely melody.
The best songs are still those that tell stories – they may not always be as heavy as this one, they might even be funny or ironic or joyous, but they invite the listener to “see” the story and understand and feel empathy with the characters in the song or with the singer. When you listen to music, old or new, you will likely find that the songs that stick with you are the ones that tell interesting stories.
2. You’re never too old to do something new. We hear this maxim all the time, andmost of us believe it, at least on some level. But it’s great to be reminded! In addition to the 73-year-old Raitt, blues legend Buddy Guy was also nominated for a GRAMMY at 86, as was Elvis Costello who is 68. One of my favorite new albums and live shows last year was by 1980s chart toppers Tears For Fears. Bruce Springsteen just released a new album and is touring the world this year at 73. Welsh superstar Tom Jones, who is 82, released a fantastic new album in 2021 and is also touring this year, and slaying audiences as a coach on “The Voice UK.” These legends aren’t just resting on their laurels and cashing in on Boomers who want to hear “the old stuff” we grew up with. They’re staying relevant and gaining entire new generations of fans with brand new music. We can all strive to do new things, explore new hobbies or jobs, or hone our existing ones with new information and ideas to reach a new audience and keep ourselves fresh. We can travel to new places and meet new people. Nostalgia is fine, but don’t let it dominate your life.
3. Learn and grow from your reflections during the pandemic. Last year I listened to an interview of Bonnie Raitt on the public radio show World Café. She talked about how devastated she had been in 2020 when her tour had to be canceled due to the pandemic. She even admitted spending a lot of time in bed under the covers, depressed and not wanting to do anything. I could relate! But she eventually got out of bed and realized that while she could not do the live shows she loved, she could use the time off from touring to figure out what she wanted to say next. She could write new songs and find others that were meaningful to her. So she set about doing that, and ended up producing one of the best albums of her 50 year career – and won three GRAMMY awards! Her tour last year sold out all over the country. I think we can all take this as a lesson. If you’re like me, you probably spent a lot of time during the Covid lockdowns thinking about what meant the most to you and what you missed the most. Revisit those thoughts. Don’t be afraid to get back out there and do what you love! Realize that the time you spent reflecting can help you now to do your best work ever, try something you always wanted to do, or have the most joyous experiences of your life!
4. Keep up with artists you like and go see them. I’ve been surprised by how many of my now-retired friends have told me they loved Bonnie Raitt “back in the day,” but didn’t know she released a new album last year and did a nationwide tour. Many of them haven’t seen a live concert or bought new music in years. These are people who once had walls lined with records and went to every show imaginable! We are a generation whose lives revolved around music in our formative years and throughout much of our adulthood. There’s no reason to give that up now! My husband and I attended over 40 concerts last year, many by great younger artists but also some legends like Raitt and Buddy Guy. We even planned a vacation around a concert by one of our favorite bands. Live music is one of the best stress relievers and happiness producers in the world! And many of these artists you love are near the end of their touring days, so see them while you still can. Even if it’s just a Tom Petty tribute band playing in your local tavern, go see them. If you love Broadway shows but can’t get to New York, go see your local high school production. If all you can afford is a lawn spot for a concert, go anyway. You will be happier and make great memories.
If you still have a turntable or CD player, dust off those old albums and maybe buy some new ones. Find a used record shop and pick up the ones you may have missed or lost. Many of them can be had for just a dollar or two. Play them. A lot. Or consider subscribing to a digital music streaming service; you can set it up to get alerts for new music by your longtime favorites, and suggestions of new artists that you might also like and want to go see. You can make your own playlists of your favorite songs or artists, find “channels” that play the music genres you like, or just listen to your favorite classic albums while you’re on your daily walk. These are great ways to get music back into your life. And you won’t be surprised by the Grammy Awards again!