I’d heard rumors of the awesomeness of Mary J. Blige’s rendition of “One,” but I still sat here awe-struck to see it last night on the Grammys.

It was amazing, like there was no one else on stage you wanted to watch or hear from, and she was up there with U2. But sweet Jesus, she owned that song like she heard it straight from God’s mouth.

Mariah Carey can talk about faith being important to her singing, Blige got up there and proved it.

That’s what I really love about when you get a great artist who can take a song you so closely associate with another great artist and show you something about that song you didn’t even know.

I love U2’s version of “One.” I love Johnny Cash’s version of “One.” I’ve listened to them both over and over because I think each of them gets at the song in different ways that are enlightening to me. But to hear Blige do it?

That’s a revelation.

And I can’t even put into words what I learned. I heard her do that song and I knew something different about it. She sings that song like she’s begging that this cup might pass from her lips.


The other day, I was just about half way through the Elvis Costello CD that Sarcastro gave me and this beautiful song came on. Beautiful in that way that kind of brings you up short, where you put down the laundry, and stand there to hear every word.

And I remember thinking, this is the most amazing song I’ve ever heard. I am about to cry right here, it’s breaking my heart so bad. How did I live my whole life without ever hearing this on the radio?

And then he gets to the chorus and it’s “Good Year for the Roses,” which, of course, I have heard on the radio and on the classic country channel and liked just fine. But I never thought of it as a great song.

Hearing Costello do it?

I realized it’s a great song.

Which reminds me of an accident I almost had on my way to Illinois to see the folks. I was listening to one of the older Oxford American CDs back when it was new and on came Dean Martin doing “He’s Got You,” his version of the Patsy Cline song.

Cline owns this song, as far as I’m concerned.

But Martin’s voice, so smooth and wistful, it sneaks up on you and his voice singing those words become the only thing in the world.

Not something you want to discover at 75 miles an hour on I-57.

But something worth discovering, if you can.

Which brings me to my favorite song to hear great artists do–“(Would you) Lay With Me (in a Field of Stone)”. You’ve got David Allen Coe’s version, which does sound exactly like the purpose he intended it for–wedding vows. A man asks his woman if she’s ready for what life with him will be like, opens himself up to her in a way that just brings me to tears.

Then there’s Tanya Tucker’s version, which was so controversial when it came out, because everyone thought it was about sex and a girl wanting some assurances that, if she gave it up to her guy, that he’d be willing to make similar sacrifices for her. Also, amazing.

And then there’s Johnny Cash’s version. Would you lay with me in a field of stone? What can you say about a song that sounds like a man standing at his fresh-dug grave, hoping one person will keep him company, even through death? It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and hard to hear.

Same song, three different artists, three different worlds of possibility evoked by their performances.

6 thoughts on “Revelations

  1. I have been to many a redneck funeral where Johnny Cash’s version of Field of Stone functions as a form of Appalachian sati. He interprets it as a new set of wedding vows — this time insisting that death will not part us.

  2. Wow. That would be amazing to see.

    David Allen Coe’s a weird-ass fucker, but he’s really written the perfect country and western song.

  3. Elvis Costello will be performing at the Opry this weekend with Emmylou Harris. You can probably find him hanging out around the Ryman all weekend too. Could be an opportunity? Just thought you should know.

  4. If I was in town, I’d be there. Emmy likes to go to Tootsies between sets and hoist a few. Last time I saw her, she may have had one too many.

  5. B,
    You haven’t really heard that perfect country and western song until you’ve heard it on a Waffle House jukebox at 2am, with everybody in the place singing,

    Well, I was drunk the day my Mom got outta prison.
    And I went to pick her up in the rain.
    But, before I could get to the station in my pickup truck
    She got runned over by a damned old train.

    But I’m sentimental – I met my husband at that damned old Waffle House.

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