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 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 5:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 6:21 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 10:17 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 8:15 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT