Above all, one golden attribute renders our species worth saving: a capacity for compassion, to see the world through another’s eyes, and to feel it with a shared heart.
It’s the rare empathetic genius whose music can evoke, exalt and immortalize that capacity.
High atop that list would be Bonnie Raitt, whose transcendent Just Like That has soared to the top of the charts… and into the timeless repertoire.
Daughter of a concert pianist and a Broadway legend, Bonnie has climbed unique artistic, political and spiritual peaks.
Her lifetime in music slides from blues to folk, r&b, rock, reggae, pop, classical standards and more. A partial of list of artists with whom she’s performed tracks our musical heart-print, through the likes of John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, CSN, Jackson Browne, Sheryl Crow, John Prine, Nora Jones, Pete Seeger, Allen Toussant, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Ruth, Charles & James Brown, Peter Tosh Taj Mahal, Mavis Staples, and more. Her duet with her father, John Raitt, moves mountains:
At her recent packed concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, Bonnie made special mention of her long-time “dear friend” John Prine, who wrote Angel from Montgomery, now one of her signature songs. “His tragic loss to Covid in 2020,” she added, was “absolutely in my heart.”
Raised in Quaker traditions, Bonnie’s commitments to peace, human rights, ecological and other issues are legendary. Among the scores of benefits she’s headlined and helped organize are the watershed 1979 NO NUKES concerts and mass rally against atomic power. More recently she’s joined long-time cohort Jackson Browne in asking California Governor Gavin Newsom to shut the Diablo Canyon atomic reactors and fully move the state to green energy.
Bonnie’s decades of live performances attest to a relentless perfectionism married to a natural, unassuming humor that in concert are a joy to behold.
Born in 1949, Bonnie will sing live some 70 times this year.
In June, my daughters saw their “Auntie Bonnie” at New York’s Beacon Theater, and then in September at LA’s Greek…a full thirty years since two of them, as toddlers, first joined her on a stage in Dayton.
In that era, the pop repertoire has been filled with relational odes bouncing around from lust to love to sadness, breakups, forever joy, all those essential matters of the heart. From Runaway to Longing in our Hearts to Nick of Time to I Can’t Make You Love Me, Ms. Raitt’s portfolio has happily embraced the romantic landscape.
Much of her set list has come from other writers. She is a master of the memorable cover.
But lately she’s been composing more of her own. Her 2016 The Goin’ Round is Comin’ Through is, in her words, “an indictment of those perpetrating misuse of power and saying their days are numbered.”
In Just Like That she goes beyond.
With Bonnie’s ten Grammys and countless awards at its back, her latest album has sailed straight to the top. The collection is full of musical treasures.
But two of her lyrics have found the Slipstream.
Down the Hall flows through the soul of a convicted murderer consoling a fellow inmate about to pass from cancer. The offer to accompany him to hospice– and then to assume the amazing grace of comforting the many doomed– cuts to the human core.
And in the end, when I hold their hand, it’s both of us set free.
As for the breathtaking Just Like That , take a listen:
A woman has lost a son. She carries the ultimate cross.
I spent so long in darkness, I never thought the night would end.
They say Jesus brings you peace and grace, Well He ain’t found me yet.
But a stranger has brought an astounding message.
It was your son’s heart that saved me, and a life you gave us both….
The catharsis bursts with all that amazes us about the human spirit.
I lay my head upon his chest, I was with my boy again.
Against all odds, in a life otherwise so painfully unkind….
…Somehow grace has found me, and I had to let him in.
Be sure to see this magnificent woman in concert wherever you can.
Well just like that your life can change, look at what the angels sent.
Including Bonnie herself, whose gentle genius and transcendent soul still give us all reason to believe.
Harvey Wasserman is author of HARVEY WASSERMAN’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES; SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH and A GLIMPSE OF THE BIG LIGHT: LOSING PARENTS, FINDING SPIRIT. He writes regularly on politics and the environment at solartopia.org and freepress.org.