A Reason to Smile
|DAN RATHER AND ELLIOT KIRSCHNER, FEB 4|
At Steady, you might have noticed that we have a thing for trees. And music.
Last week, in our “A Reason to Smile,” we brought the two together with performances of a favored hymn, “I Shall Not Be Moved,” and its central imagery of “a tree planted by the water.”
Today, we ask you indulge us once more. We have another tree song we found particularly inspiring, relevant, and yes, smile inducing. It is called “Crooked Tree,” courtesy of the fabulously talented Molly Tuttle — a sublime blend of music and message.
At the Grammy Awards on Sunday night, Tuttle is up for both best bluegrass album (“Crooked Tree,” her third studio LP) and best new artist. It’s quite the stage for the 30-year-old musician, but she’s already amassed some impressive accolades. In 2017, Tuttle became the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s prize for guitar player of the year. She won again in 2018. It says something that it took so long for a woman to win. And it says something that that woman was Tuttle.
The song “Crooked Tree” is about living a life being different. It tells of a forest being felled for timber, and what remained when the cutting was complete.
The crooked trees were left there
After all the work was done
Now they go for weeks
And never witness anyone
No one left to tell them if they’re
Growing right or wrong
But the whispering wind
Oh can’t you see?
A crooked tree won’t fit into the mill machine
They’re left to grow wild and free
I’d rather be a crooked tree
In addition to the evocative lyrics, the musicianship in the song is inspired. If you are a lover of bluegrass, or of American roots and folk music, or country music, or just music in general, we think you will be impressed.
The song comes from Tuttle’s life experience. As a young child, she was diagnosed with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that causes complete hair loss. “I was always nervous about it,” she said in a recent profile in the Los Angeles Times. “Other kids would be like, ‘What’s with your hair? Why do you always wear a hat?’ And I just wouldn’t know what to say.”
In an interview with NPR, Tuttle explained further:
“I always wore hats up until I went to high school. So I started wearing wigs in high school, and that was a huge relief. I felt just suddenly like I blended in for the first time, and I didn’t – it was like a weight off my shoulders. But then it started to eat away at me as well because I was keeping it a secret. And so it wasn’t until I went to college, so in my early 20s, that I started just practicing telling people about it, and it was really hard at first.”
She said “Crooked Tree” was about that experience.
“It’s all about embracing your differences. So that’s, for me, a moment in my shows where if I feel in the right mood, I can talk about it a little bit and even take off my wig and play that song – and so kind of slowly learning to express that side of who I am in my music as well, which has felt really good… I think we’re all crooked trees. Everyone has something that makes them feel unique and different from other people.”
Indeed. And a perfectly stated reason to smile.
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