Thursday, April 1, 2010

Lord Have Mercy

My Southern mother, rest her soul, would exclaim, sometimes whisper, "Lord have mercy" (all one phrase; no comma). I couldn't have predicted when I would hear it, but was never surprised when I did. It was an expression of amazement, of startled realization or awareness, that seemed to have little to do with the Lord or with mercy. Yet, to my Southern sensibility, it was the right thing to say when she said it. She meant no disrespect; no violation of the third commandment. Indeed, there was a note of reverence in her voice. To this day, I don't fully understand the tradition from whence the expression arose.

But arise it did, always on time. And it settled in my young acculturated conscience so that I find myself thinking it sometimes as an adult. I know the Lord, and I understand mercy, and the moments when "Lord have mercy" appears in my thoughts have, just like when Mama said it, nothing to do with either. Yet it appears, unbidden, at just the right occasional moment. Like tonight when I watched the videos of one Crystal Bowersox, the heir apparent to the next American Idol crown. I found myself shaking my head and thinking, "Lord have mercy." 

I have been a sometimes half-, sometimes whole-, hearted American Idol watcher in the past when the competition got down to the final dozen. This year, I haven't paid much attention given how underwhelmed I was with what I saw of the contestants. It's as if Idol has finally exhausted America's supply of young talent. (I say that with all due respect to those who are giving their all—far more than I could give.) I have a church commitment on Tuesday nights so have missed most of the live performances, but caught glimpses of Crystal Bowersox a couple of times—and my interest was piqued.

So I went to the Idol web site tonight and watched the replay of all her performances. And there it came: "Lord have mercy." I just shake my head at the raw talent of someone so young, from what I understand is a fairly challenging background. When she takes the stage with her guitar, she exudes a level of confidence and calm control that sets her apart from the other contestants. Listening to her version of "Me and Bobby McGhee" with eyes closed, one might wonder if Janis Joplin was back from the dead. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and "Give Me One Reason" were also amazing. Her vocalization and phrasing are a gift; her touch on the guitar so deft. 

She's not without weaknesses; when she tried singing without her guitar this past Tuesday night she wasn't quite sure what to do with her hands. But that's okay. She may become an artist like k.d. lange who does some of her best work with guitar in hand. I don't know if she'll win this year or not. But even if she doesn't, I can't believe she won't be snapped up by a label. Her kind of talent won't go unnoticed. Simon Cowell has as much as said that the competition is hers to lose. (One thing I do miss about this year's Idol is Paula—for one specific reason (and only this reason): Paula was the only judge who could not stay in her chair when a performer and his or her song called forth an energetic response. A former Laker's girl and choreographer, Paula's shameless solo dancing at the judges' table added energy to the scene and encouragement to the singer. And I feel sure she would have been on her feet for several of Crystal Bowersox's songs.)

If you want to play through the videos, go to this page. Wait patiently and the videos will cycle through the window one after another. It's a few minutes of slow headshaking, and for me, a few tears and a "Lord have mercy." 


  1. Wow, when you mentioned that phrase I could hear Grandmother's voice as if it were yesterday. Sweet, soft, and sure.

  2. Glad you have that memory -- amazing what children pick up and remember!