Jackson Browne – Taking It Easy for the Planet

by Bill Chameides | February 26th, 2010
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

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Jackson Browne
Jackson Browne performs at Duke University’s Nicholas School.

Some of them were angry/At the way the earth was abused/
By the men who learned how to forge her beauty into power.

Since 1972, singer-songwriter Jackson Browne has been singing about life, love, and natural beauty, acknowledging the fragility of it all and mixing the highly personal with the political. In April Duke University will honor Browne for his honoring of the environment throughout his career.

The Role of the Artist When It Comes to Communicating About the Environment

You might say when it comes to the environment, I’m of two minds.

As a scientist, I realize the importance of discussing environmental issues with the left brain — the rational, analytic half of the dichotomous brain discovered by the Nobel Prize-winning biologist Roger Sperry. But much of our connections to the environment as human beings must assuredly be grounded in the right brain, where we think intuitively and holistically.

In addition to having an intellectual understanding of the environment, we also need to be reminded, on an emotional and visceral level, of the role the environment plays in our lives and our profound connections to the rest of humanity and the Earth. Establishing this type of connection is the purview of the artist.

LEAF Award Recipients
2013: Author Alexander McCall Smith
2012: Writer/filmmaker John Sayles
2011: Writer Barbara Kingsolver
2010: Singer-songwriter Jackson Browne
2009: Filmmaker Robert Redford
More on the LEAF

In recognition of the important role of the artist in furthering our connection to and understanding of our planet, we at the Nicholas School of the Environment established the Duke LEAF award for Lifetime Environmental Achievement in the Fine Arts. The award is given annually to “an artist whose work has lifted the human spirit by conveying our profound spiritual and material connection to the Earth and thereby inspiring others to help forge a more sustainable future for all.”

Jackson Browne to Be Recognized for His Advocacy for the Planet

Last year’s inaugural LEAF award went to Robert Redford, whose many credits include environmentally themed features (A River Runs Through It [1992], A Civil Action [1998], The Milagro Beanfield War [1988]) and documentaries (The Solar Film [1975], The Unforeseen [2007]). This year we are recognizing the social and environmental import of singer/songwriter Jackson Browne.

Browne was selected by the executive committee of the school’s Board of Visitors for “his extraordinary body of work as a songwriter and musician that reminds us of the magical and redemptive connection that exists between all peoples and the natural world, and of the mysteries of time and distance that constrain our lives.”

In recognition of this, as well as his early, strong and untiring advocacy for the planet, Browne will be presented with the LEAF award in a public ceremony at Page Auditorium on April 17, 2010, during Duke Alumni Reunion Weekend. (His significant other, Dianna Cohen, an artist and environmental activist in her own right, will also be here to open an exhibition of her work.)

Browne Widely Recognized for Musical and Lyrical Gifts

Browne is without question one of the 20th century’s great pop musicians. Rolling Stone magazine lists him as one of the most influential singer/songwriters of his generation, and his inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2004) and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame (2007) speak for themselves.

Browne’s legacy for social and environmental justice is almost as influential and long-lasting as his music. He received the NARM Harry Chapin Humanitarian Award in 2008, and was presented an honorary Doctorate of Music in 2004 by Occidental College in Los Angeles for “a remarkable musical career that has successfully combined an intensely personal artistry with a broader vision of social justice.” In 2002, he was the fourth recipient of the John Steinbeck Award, given to artists whose works exemplify the environmental and social values that were essential to the California-born author.

Browne might be best known by some for his chart-topping hits like “Take It Easy,” “On the Boulevard,” and “Somebody’s Baby.” But for me what really sets Browne apart from most of his contemporaries are the songs that poignantly interweave the personal and the political, songs which feature the natural world as a constant presence — sometimes benevolent and sometimes not, sometimes an observer, sometimes the object of observation, and sometimes an active participant. Songs that move me include “Before the Deluge” (quoted above), “Lives in the Balance,” “For Everyman,” “The Pretender,” and “Doctor My Eyes.”

Here’s another slice of what Rolling Stone called Browne’s “lyric genius” from his “Sing My Songs to Me,” which invokes Mother Nature herself.

Sing my songs to me
Sing them to me softly
Sing me sunlight and shadows
Orange groves and meadows

Let your voice ring back my memories
Sing my songs to me

Bring my dreams to me
Bring them from the darkness
Let the minutes and hours
Show my mind strange new flowers

If you are in the Durham area on April 17, I invite you to the LEAF award ceremony. Get details on ticketing or how to watch online here.

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