Thursday, July 29, 2010

Warts And All

Last night I watched an awards show.  Not a glitzy Hollywood production (although there is a tragic connection to that fabled city of dreams), but a PBS presentation of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Songwriting.

Onstage, Sir Paul McCartney-son of a midwife and jazz musician-from humble beginnings in Liverpool, England became the third recipient of a prize named for the Brooklyn-born son of Russian -Jewish emigrants who fled pogroms in their homeland for the promise of a new chance in America.

George died tragically young-at the height of his compositional powers and popularity-from a brain tumor, in Hollywood at the Cedars-Sinai Hospital on Fountain Boulevard.  He was thirty seven years old.

Stevie Wonder-second winner of the prize last year-was born blind in Saginaw, Michigan-the product of a broken home in a racially charged era.  He performed 'Ebony & Ivory' with Sir Paul, who had written the song as a duet specifically for the two of them.

The evening was filled with high profile musicians performing McCartney's songs, him singing a few of his own, and even Jerry Seinfeld poking some gentle (and very funny) ribs.

All-in-all, it was very entertaining, and the sort of thing that makes me think about who we are and what we have become as Americans.  And how far we have yet to go to perfect this union.

Imagine, the first bi-racial President of the United States, presenting an Englishman with the most prestigious popular music award America has to offer.  An award named for a Russian Jew, George (and his lyricist brother, Ira) children of an immigrant family.    Onstage was the blind boy from Saginaw with family roots in slavery in Dixie.  

The first honoree was the Newark-born son of Hungarian immigrants.  His name is Paul Simon.

We have come so far, yet the road is longer still.  The immigration debate will go forward, let's hope the policies to come don't lead us to a darker past, best left to the dustbin of history.

Still though, last night I was reminded again just how great it is to be an American.  Warts and all.

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