Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

What's better than a Grammy? Immortality

By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
updated 12:57 PM EST, Sun February 10, 2013
Rock 'n' roll legend Little Richard appears in costume at an empty Wembley Stadium in London during rehearsals for a concert in 1972. Little Richard (real name Richard Penniman) had his big hits, such as "Good Golly, Miss Molly," before the Grammy Awards were created in 1959. He was awarded a lifetime achievement Grammy in 1993. Rock 'n' roll legend Little Richard appears in costume at an empty Wembley Stadium in London during rehearsals for a concert in 1972. Little Richard (real name Richard Penniman) had his big hits, such as "Good Golly, Miss Molly," before the Grammy Awards were created in 1959. He was awarded a lifetime achievement Grammy in 1993.
HIDE CAPTION
Legends beyond their own time
Legends beyond their own time
Legends beyond their own time
Legends beyond their own time
Legends beyond their own time
Legends beyond their own time
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bob Greene: Grammy nominated acts should remember the real prize comes later in life
  • He says at a hotel he ran into a group of singing stars from an earlier era, in town for a show
  • He says the world of post-fame touring less glamorous for acts, but meaningful
  • Greene: Acts grow old, but their hits never will and to fans, the songs are time-machine

Editor's note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a best-selling author whose 25 books include "When We Get to Surf City: A Journey Through America in Pursuit of Rock and Roll, Friendship, and Dreams"; "Late Edition: A Love Story"; and "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen."

(CNN) -- Memo to Carly Rae Jepsen, Frank Ocean, Hunter Hayes, Mumford & Sons, Miguel, the Alabama Shakes and all the other young singers and bands who are nominated for Sunday night's Grammy Awards:

Your real prize -- the most valuable and sustaining award of all -- may not become evident to you until 30 or so years have passed.

You will be much older.

But -- if you are lucky -- you will still get to be out on the road making music.

Bob Greene
Bob Greene

Many of Sunday's Grammy nominees are enjoying the first wave of big success. It is understandable if they take for granted the packed concert venues and eye-popping paychecks.

Those may go away -- the newness of fame, the sold-out houses, the big money.

But the joy of being allowed to do what they do will go on.

I've been doing some work while staying at a small hotel off a highway in southwestern Florida. One winter day I was reading out on the pool deck, and there were some other people sitting around talking.

They weren't young, by anyone's definition. They did not seem like conventional businessmen or businesswomen on the road, or like retirees. There was a sense of nascent energy and contented anticipation in their bearing, of something good waiting for them straight ahead. A look completely devoid of grimness or fretfulness, an afternoon look that said the best part of the day was still to come.

I would almost have bet what line of work they were in. I'd seen that look before, many times.

I could hear them talking.

Yep.

The Tokens ("The Lion Sleeps Tonight," a No. 1 hit in 1961).

Alison Krauss: Sing what's true

Little Peggy March ("I Will Follow Him," a No. 1 hit in 1963).

Little Anthony and the Imperials ("Tears on My Pillow," a top 10 hit in 1958).

Major singing stars from an earlier era of popular music, in town for a multi-act show that evening.

It is the one sales job worth yearning for -- carrying that battered sample case of memorable music around the country, to unpack in front of a different appreciative audience every night.

It's quite a world. I was fortunate enough to learn its ins and outs during the 15 deliriously unlikely years I spent touring the United States singing backup with Jan and Dean ("Surf City," a No. 1 hit in 1963) and all the other great performers with whom we shared stages and dressing rooms and backstage buffets:

Chuck Berry, Martha and the Vandellas, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, the Everly Brothers, James Brown, Lesley Gore, Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon, the Kingsmen, the Drifters, Fabian, the Coasters, Little Eva, the Ventures, Sam the Sham. ...

Jukebox names whose fame was once as fresh and electric as that now being savored by Sunday's young Grammy nominees.

Decades after that fame is new, the road may not be quite as glamorous, the crowds may not be quite as large. The hours of killing time before riding over to the hall, the putrid vending-machine meals on the run, the way-too-early-in-the-morning vans to the airport -- the dreary parts all become more than worth it when, for an hour or so, the singers can once again personally deliver a bit of happiness to the audiences who still adore their music.

Greene: Super Bowl ad revives iconic voice

As the years go by, the whole thing may grow complicated -- band members come and go, they fight and feud, some quit, some die. There are times when it seems you can't tell the players without a scorecard -- the Tokens at the highway hotel were, technically and contractually, Jay Siegel's Tokens (you don't want to know the details). One of their singers (not Jay Siegel -- Jay Traynor) was once Jay of Jay and the Americans, a group that itself is still out on the road in a different configuration with a different Jay (you don't want to know).

But overriding all of this is a splendid truism:

Sometimes, if you have one big hit, it can take care of you for the rest of your life. It can be your life.

Sunday's young Grammy nominees may not imagine, 30 years down the line, still being on tour. But they -- the fortunate ones -- will come to learn something:

They will grow old, but their hits never will -- once people first fall in love with those songs, the songs will mean something powerful and evocative to them for the rest of their lives.

And as long as there are fairground grandstands on summer nights, as long as there are small-town ballparks with stages where the pitcher's mound should be, the singers will get to keep delivering the goods.

That is the hopeful news waiting, off in the distance, for those who will win Grammys Sunday, and for those who won't be chosen.

On the morning after that pool-deck encounter in Florida I headed out for a walk, and in the parking lot of the hotel I saw one of the Tokens loading his stage clothes into his car.

His license plate read:

SHE CRYD

I said to him:

"You sing lead on 'She Cried,' right?"

"Every night," he said, and drove off toward the next show.

The next show.

That's the prize.

That's the trophy, right there.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT