The Music Club

Radiohead, Anohni, Margo Price, and the power of tenderness.

Troubling times call for more than angry protest anthems. There’s also power in tenderness.

Thom Yorke of Radiohead
Radiohead’s Thom Yorke performs during the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Oct. 7 in Austin, Texas.

Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images

Shoutout to the greatest,

There’s so much that remains to be said, but it’s the waning of the day here in the Music Club. I’m sitting on a bed in a Marriott Residence Inn, my suddenly teenage daughter (she turned 13 earlier this month) asleep nearby on the foldout couch. The Arctic blast that followed us from Nashville to Seattle feels like it might hang around until 2017. Nobody really knows what this coming year will bring, for the nation or for each of us. Julianne, I’m hearing your call to look to the light, even if sometimes it feels like it’s the tiniest sliver shining through a keyhole. It can be hard to remember the blessings that came down in the midst of all the blues that we endured. But the people I admire the most are staying courageous, even finding ways to laugh sometimes as they take the treacherous corners of existence. (One is Jessi Zazu from the great, late Nashville band Those Darlins who has been facing down cancer for much of the past year but who’s still doing powerful social justice work and making incredible art and writing new songs I hope we’ll all get to hear real soon. Personal holiday request: Send her some love.)

For myself, one powerful way to stay brave is to take time for reflection. I hope we hear many anthems in the coming year, many more spirited protests and confessions of hope in the midst of the challenges we all face. But I’ll also be listening for the quiet—for those songs and sounds that create space to contemplate, to shore up energy and consider realities beyond the tense present. In 2016, I appreciated some of these more ruminative moments, which could also be passionate and very beautiful: Nashville roots music heroine Margo Price singing the truth of her sorrow and resilience in the stunning ballad “Hands of Time”; Radiohead recording a longtime live favorite “True Love Waits” in a setting that maximizes the song’s reckless tenderness; James Blake and Bon Iver exploring surrender together in “I Need a Forest Fire”; Anohni, on fire for so much of her amazing album Hopelessness, finding equilibrium in the art of lament in “Why Did You Separate Me From the Earth?” I also welcomed some hopeful expressions of quietude; Corinne Bailey Rae’s wonderful The Heart Speaks in Whispers was full of them, a testament to the power of love to heal even after thorough heartbreak.

I keep thinking of an evening in September, during the distracting excitement of Nashville’s annual AmericanaFest, when the Scandinavian duo My Bubba took the stage in the Blue Room at Third Man Records for a brief set. These two women, who began their collaboration at a kitchen table, aim to fulfill what they call “the fragile challenge”: to make room within music (and in our very lives) to be delicate, to let breath form between the notes, where questions and even mysteries can arise. At Third Man, My Bubba held rapt the kind of audience that normally would have filled the room with boozing and schmoozing. We all stood so still as they told of dreams and memories, loss and questioning, love and the thought process. It was like a dream; it was like life. In what may certainly be a tumultuous near future, I am looking forward to more of these kinds of moments, too.

Thanks for letting me write you these letters,