Several of the musical performances at the Lincoln Memorial Inaugural event yesterday were quite good, some of them astonishingly so (not least of all given the weather). If you didn’t see the whole thing, HBO has a free rebroadcast up online (which means you can skip the celebrity blather and the musical misfires like John
Cougar Mellencamp and Garth Brooks).
Bettye LaVette brought Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” back to vivid life, delivering it so that the song’s evocation of American racism resounds as not only a lamet for our imperfections but also as the promise of a more perfect future (alas, you have to deal with BonJovi too). James Taylor and friends (including John Legend and JT’s astounding bgvs) resurrected “You’ve Got a Friend” from ubiquity and restored to it some of the original force it has lost from being played to death. Mary J. Blige transformed “Lean on Me” into something like an anthem of unforced social solidarity (I don’t think I’d ever heard the second verse, or if I had, I hadn’t really listened to - really heard - it before). And speaking of second verses, Heather Headley’s second verse of “My Country Tis of Thee” … well, you’ll just have to hear that. It beggars all description. Sometimes, the second verse is NOT same as the first, which - come to think of it - is one of the main points of all this, I gather.
But my point here is not political, believe it or not. Rather, I was struck by how the majestic setting of the Lincoln Memorial and the world-historical context of the moment elevated many of the songs out of their ordinariness, transforming them into something very close to a kind of secular American gospel music, if we understand the heart of good gospel to be found in the expression of abiding truths that are both deeply indwelling and so much bigger than us.Email this Post