A Tale of Two Venues

Last night in Los Angeles, the Grammy awards were distributed at Staples Center, the basketball/hockey arena downtown. The vital business of marketing jesters ennobled by the moniker “musical artist” went smoothly from what I gather; the festivities were broadcast all over the world, and demure statuettes were disbursed to those who played along with the charade. American popular culture chugged on, unperturbed by those who would nervily aim for someplace higher than the comforting middle.

Meanwhile, in Santa Monica, in a small, living-room of a music club called The Vic, an old (60-something — ancient by music industry standards), unglamorous woman named Rhiannon reached for the heavens, creating extemporaneous poetry and crazy melodies, while a band of men with giant listening capabilities escorted her to transcendent places.

At the Grammy telecast, in between the cell phone commercials and promos for the network’s new “reality” show, the selling machine did its inexorable job. And those who helped deliver the gruel were rewarded handsomely. At the jazz club, a wise woman showed the couple dozen in the audience that if one always inhabits the same safe cocoon, one will never see the world beyond constricting borders, and life will always look more or less the same.

At the Grammys, people were happy or sad about the result, depending on whose team they toiled. At The Vic, people were transported to a realm beyond competition, where “best” is irrelevant and communing with the truly universal language of rhythm and harmonics includes everyone, refusing to discern between winners and losers.

Rhiannon and her band of brothers made musical poetry last night in Santa Monica. Their creation felt all the more profound considering the cynical proceedings being conducted just a few miles away.

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