"I've decided to keep singing this song until it becomes true," Steve Earle told a crowd at Town Hall in New York a few nights ago at a solo show before launching into his song "Jerusalem". Earle's song is hopeful in the face of horrific events, imaging a time without war and conflict. Most realists will tell that you that human nature being what it is, that ain't gonna happen. And yet for someone as grizzled, angry and cantankerous as Earle, he still believes that it's possible and he won't give up wishing for it, singing that song again and again as a reminder to himself and to us about what's possible if we really put our minds and hearts to it.
Less than a week before that, Nick Lowe was also doing a solo show in New York, playing at World Trade Center Park, literally in the shadow of Ground Zero. After going through a set of songs from his new album (what he called "the difficult part of the show"), he regaled the crowd with some great oldies like "Heart of the City" and "Cruel to Be Kind". And then towards the end, he told the crowd "I look forward to a time that it's not necessary to sing this song" and then sang "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?". The tune's made its way into many places including Elvis Costello's powerfully disturbing album Armed Forces (where it ended the record), the Whitney Houston blockbuster movie soundtrack for The Bodyguard (where Lowe was pleasantly surprised to get a huge paycheck from it), the original done by Lowe's early '70s pub rock band Brinsley Schwarz and a recent cover by the wonderful down home group, the Holmes Brothers, who opened for Lowe at the show.
Like many others, I always assumed that Nick the Knife was making fun of hippies when he did that song. Judging by his intro though, he was dead serious about it. Like Earle, he sings his song as a reminder of what might be possible if we all did the impossible and embraced "sweet harmony". I honestly wish them both good luck and admire them both for dreaming as they do. I also hope that there does come a day when neither of them have to sing those great songs.