The Grammys and Us

Sunday night was Grammy night on CBS. I watched most of it, and of course watching and listening to the performers made me think about writing and music, and what we are tasked with as writers.

First of all, writing can be a lonely job. We, for the most part, write alone. Occasionally we bring in a co-writer, but most often it is just us, sitting in a room somewhere, sweating over a keyboard or a pencil and paper, hoping to fill the page with words that matter.

Songwriters do the same. They most often write alone. Sometimes the professional songwriters set up writing appointments and write with others. But, however they do it, here's the important part: They write EVERY DAY. That regular exercise is the only way to hone your writing gift to a fine edge. I had a songwriter friend say one time to me, "I write every day, and that's what writers do. They write."

Yes, indeed they do. And, just spend a little time with great writers and you'll see that they are different. Their "chisel" is sharper than most, and they can sculpt unforgettable artistic beauty from the seemingly simplest blocks of "granite."

Just think about this: Musical standards like "Stardust" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" were created in a writing room somewhere a long time ago, and we have never gotten over them. We continue to sing them, and even when we're not sure of the words, we still walk around humming them. That's why they're called "standards." We have classic music radio stations that play them somewhere and some time every day. In fact, this year's Grammys show was evidence that we have not gotten over The Beatles, Chicago, and others who graced that stage the other evening.

And, it's no secret that popular music can be a very accurate mirror of where we are as a society and what we are going through at the time. Think of the sixties and how many musical heroes were launched in the midst of turmoil and upheaval. At least as of last Sunday night, many of those stars who spoke for all of us continue to orbit with no sign of landing anytime soon.

That's important work, and quite a heavy mantle to wear that comes with a lot of responsibility. And, so, with that I'll offer an unsolicited observation that actually came from a young lady, the daughter of a good friend.

Every year, 20 or so old friends of mine gather around a bonfire on New Year's Eve and ring in the New Year with our families. Last year, I sat and visited with a 20-something year old young lady, who- though I did not know it at the time- is a very fine songwriter and singer. We discussed music for an hour or so, and then I asked her this:

"Who will your generation be listening to 30 or 40 years from now? Because we're still listening to Paul Simon, and Sting, and Sam Cooke."

Her startling reply came quickly: "No one."

I was shocked by her response. But before I could comment, she went on: "Because your generation's songs were about others. Ours are about ourselves. And, you can't make a long term connection with people, something truly unforgettable, unless you write with others in mind, and say for them what they cannot say for themselves."

I don't know if her assessment of the current state of popular music is entirely true or not, but her observation certainly gave me pause. And, I think as we launch the next crop of songwriters and authors that will surely shape their generation, it's something to consider.