On Sunday night (Feb. 5), Bonnie Raitt took home Grammy Awards for Best Americana Performance and Best American Roots Song. There was one award she did not expect to win – Song of the Year for her 2022 hit, “Just Like That.”
The track, the only one nominated in the category with a single songwriter, went head-to-head against some of the night’s biggest songs, including hits from Adele, Beyoncé, Harry Styles, Lizzo, and Taylor Swift.
Raitt’s self-penned “Just Like That,” tells a story, one born from selflessness and unconditional love.
In conversation with American Songwriter, Raitt explained the inspiration for “Just Like That” came from a human interest piece that had been broadcast on the news. The story was about a woman who had donated her son’s heart after his death and was about to meet the organ’s recipient for the first time.
“I just lost it,” Raitt said of the moment the man let the mother hear her late son’s heart in his chest. “It was the most moving and surprising thing. I wasn’t expecting it. I vowed right then that I wanted to write a song about what that would take.”
And so she set out to write the story song, “Just Like That,” and her subsequent album of the same name. In between her words of disbelief, she reiterated the story behind the song in her Grammy acceptance speech, citing the late great John Prine as instrumental inspiration as well.
Watch her acceptance below.
“Every time I hear about a family donating organs when their child has been killed, or there’s some sort of sudden death—as if you’re not in grief and shock enough—to have the view and the compassion and the love to be able to pay it forward like that is so incredible,” Raitt told American Songwriter.
“Just Like That” tells the story of the meeting of the mother and the recipient, depicting an interaction that is both heartwarming and gut-wrenching.
I watched him circle ’round the block / Finally stopped at mine / Took a while before he knocked / Like all he had was time, the song begins with curiosity and apprehension ahead of the bittersweet meeting. “Excuse me, ma’am, maybe you can help / The directions weren’t so clear / I’m looking for Olivia Zand / They said I might find her here.”
Well I looked real hard and asked him / “What she’s got he’s looking for?” the song’s narrator responds. Met with the reply Said “there’s somethin’ I think she’d want to know,” the tune takes off on a touching journey of loss and love.
And just like that your life can change / If I hadn’t looked away / My boy might still be with me now / He’d be 25 today, the chorus plays, No knife can carve away the stain / No drink can drown regret / They say Jesus brings you peace and grace / Well he ain’t found me yet.
The next verse reveals why this stranger has come and what it is he has to say. He sat down and took a deeper breath / Then looked right in my face / “I heard about the son you lost / How you left without a trace / I’ve spent years just trying to find you / So I could finally let you know / It was your son’s heart that saved me / And a life you gave us both.”
Just like the exposé that inspired “Just Like That,” the mother gets to be with her son one more time because of the kindness of a stranger, and because of the kindness she first showed him.
And just like that your life can change, the song comes to a close. Look what the angels send / I lay my head upon his chest / And I was with my boy again / Well I spent so long in darkness / I never thought the night would end / But somehow grace has found me / And I had to let him in.