February 11th, 2009

The Power of Song?

I just read, belatedly, my friend Ann Powers' piece in The Los Angeles Times about The Grammy Awards. As always, her prose is a model of clarity and cohesiveness. Ann always seems to develop a line of argument, which is what sets her apart from the majority of critics, especially in the area of popular music. I am especially impressed with this article, though, because it manages to report on musical matters, while also reminding us that music matters, even in a time of economic crisis when people are forced to cut corners:
Everyone seemed so delighted to be there. The musicians filling the Staples Center seats cheered just as heartily for the night's newcomers as for veterans like Neil Diamond and Duke Fakir, the last remaining member of the Four Tops. They gushed when they came up to accept awards, sometimes even deviating from the script to send special kudos to a favorite winner -- a healthy-looking if slightly loopy Whitney Houston singled out her mentor, Clive Davis, while Tre Cool of Green Day mentioned producer Rick Rubin. Not a joke was cracked nor a prayer sent up for Chris Brown, sorting out his legal troubles. Any breath of such disorder might have punctured the night's dream.

That dream, of a world where music still has significant cultural power, is one that everyone in attendance must believe in. And it's one that can still be proved true -- just not by the means to which the mainstream music industry is accustomed. This year's ceremony showed great effort by a community in peril to stay spiritually afloat.

Perhaps with the help of two-time spoken word Grammy winner Obama, this confused entertainment elite can find better routes to material survival too.
To be sure, that elite is not suffering the way that many ordinary citizens are. Yet I do think that it's aware that the non-elite people who depend on the industry for jobs, which are being cut left and right, are not substantially different from the people the industry depends on to buy its goods. If that reality check can bring a sense of collective purpose to the business, perhaps even promoting the idea that music can never be reduced to mere business, the benefit to fans could be substantial. I am skeptical, given the RIAA's recent history. But I am not without hope.

One on One

Aside from our recent trip to San Diego, it had been a long time since I tucked Skylar in by myself. So I was happy for the opportunity, even though it can still be a challenging task. Tonight she had a last-minute bout of sadness over the brutality of competition for customers in the make-believe world, "Smalltown," that she has built with many other children at her school. I think I'll write more about that complex mode of imagination play and what it tells me about our times in a later entry.

For now, I only want to note that it was gratifying to be able to overcome her resistance to my input and provide her some useful advice. I am beset with doubts these days, so it's good to be reminded that I still have the capacity to be of service in that role. The real pleasure came afterwards, though, when I decided that, instead of reading Lord of the Rings, as we have been for the past few months, I would instead pull some classics from her pre-school days off the shelf.

First was Fox in Sox, a book that holds special significance for me, since it was the book my father liked to read me best. Only this time Skylar read it to me, before asking that I repeat it with my traditional delivery. Then we read the classic picture book Herbert the Lion, which has some of the most darling depictions I've ever seen, including one in which the eponymous feline is sunning himself on the beach in a 30s-style one-piece swimsuit. When we finished, we looked at our favorite pages again. Then Skylar climbed on top of me, saying, "No offense, Dad, but you're really big," and gave me a huge hug before bed. Moments like that can buoy you through a lot of heavyness.