It was three minutes into the 48th Annual Grammy Awards when the cynicism kicked in. Stevie Wonder was on stage with Alicia Keys, leading the crowd of industry bigwigs and big-time entertainers in a singalong rendition of "Higher Ground," to lift up all our world-weary souls. The problem was that no one was singing along, despite the request of the blind elder statesman. From Paul McCartney to Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, they all sat with tight lips. How depressing. This is the point during the awards show that I would usually turn to my twentysomething compatriots bellied up to the bar and say something like, "I bet he wishes he was deaf too right now." But I can't, because this year I'm sitting with nine women who were alive when Bob Hope was hot. So I drink my orange juice and swallow my cynicism.
At one point in my life the Grammys felt like they were made for me. But the annual music pageant has become more and more of a, well, joke. At the end of the day, cynicism is as depressing as a hall full of silent musicians—and I'm sick of it. That is why I am spending my Wednesday night with the ladies of Southeast Portland's Cornerstone Residential Option, perhaps the least jaded bunch of Grammy viewers in the city.
"I don't listen to music much," says Joan, as she watches Kelly Clarkson tearfully accept the award for Best Pop Vocal Album. "But I like watching this. They're all just so alive. They know what's going on."
After Joan's comment, the room is silent, except for the young man peppering the viewers with questions. I'm thinking that I might be freaking them out, but soon I accept the fact that, when the TV is on, women in their 80s watch it. So I sit back and join the pack as the performance-award-advertisement cycle begins to wheel its way through the night.
Then, at the presentation of the first Lifetime Achievement Grammy of the night, the silence is broken. The recipient is Merle Haggard and, while he didn't take the stage, the ladies react with a collective, knowing "ahhhhh." They know and like Merle Haggard. So do I, and I take this opportunity to engage.
I zoom in on Agnes, who tells me about how, as a young girl in Virginia, she met a hillbilly boy because of country music and had a baby by him. Then she turns to me and asks, "So how do you like the Hollywood lifestyle?"
Not quite knowing what she was talking about, I say that no, I don't like it. "Neither do I, but that's an age thing I guess," she says, before asking the caregiver if she can go to bed.
Most of the ladies follow her lead, and, by the time Kelly Clarkson is accepting her second award of the night, only Rosanna and Theresa are left.
The two of them watch in silence as Mariah Carey takes the stage. She sings her hit "We Belong Together"—a song I once referred to in this paper as "the most popular bland ballad about fake love in the world"—tossing her head of long curly hair as a gospel choir belts the chorus. Theresa sits, eyes forward, eyebrows slightly raised and says, "Her voice is so beautiful. I like her." Then she turns to me, her pink, weathered lips curling into a smile, and she says, "I like all of them." And I can't disagree. Even if I wanted to.