I was in Nashville last night for a speech today, and lucky for me it was a night that Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell and Vince Gill were playing a benefit concert for the Epilepsy Foundation. I took a cab to the Mercy Lounge, bought a ticket, and listened as America poured itself into our soul.
If Emily Dickinson could sing she would have become Emmylou Harris. If Marty Robbins had survived “El Paso” he would have become Rodney Crowell. Vince Gill is the Huck Finn of guitar. He plays from the territories.
Here were these three musical poets, sitting in their unassuming chairs on an unadorned stage singing and playing and giving what they have for others.
Meanwhile, in a country I wish was far far away, some idiots posing as candidates for president of the United States were once again on a stage debating one another in comic fashion. I really don’t think the nation has ever had a more ridiculous band of fools do the presidential primary pose.
This was a night of the sacred and the profane.
My neighbors sitting next to me at the concert – a songwriter and journalist – were full of questions once I confessed my little history in American politics. They were scared, hopeful, worried, wondering, full of questions and full of concerns about the future of the country.
What could I say?
Nothing I could say could top the poetry of the artists about to sing to us. Emmylou, Rodney and Vince probably wouldn’t want to hear that. Most of their songs and their performances come from a much more profound and private place. They are too smart to believe they can change the world.
This is something I think about often. This great river of American soulfulness, from Anne Hutchinson to Henry Thoreau to Sojourner Truth to Margaret Fuller to Fats Waller to Bob Dylan to William Carlos Williams to William Faulkner to Janis Joplin…why are our politicians so blind and deaf to the gifts these artists bring to us? Why do they want to reduce life some a kind of shadow life, a life in which everything but their own power or pursuit of power is without meaning?
Today I’m going to leave it at that question. I could go on, but I have a head full of Emmylou, Rodney and Vince, and I don’t even want my own thoughts to get in the way.