I recognized another certain sign of aging tonight; the Grammy Awards no longer piss me off. When I was a worshipper at the altar of pop music, the annual music awards show was always my opportunity to vent at the establishment. Every time they gave another award to Henry Mancini instead of, say, the Kinks, I had the chance to rage against the machine. But the machine has shifted gears and the world of popular music is in an upheaval for which the industry is still groping for answers. I stopped following the pop charts with the advent of the arena, hair-bands of the seventies who tarred and paved the road for corporate rock. Coincidentally, cassette tapes came on the market at the same time, so my soundtrack has pretty much remained unchanged for the past 30 years. But I still keep an eye on it, and this years' awards were perfectly satisfactory, some talented people won, and when the awards ended, my heart was filled with like.
I mean, how can you not like Lady GaGa? Not only is she outrageous and provocative, but she's also seriously good. She opened the show in a futuristic, tight-fitting costume that gave new meaning to the term "cleavage." Strutting in front of the now obligatory flying wedge of dancers that Michael Jackson hath wrought, GaGa was flung into a fiery kettle and emerged face to face with Elton John, with whom she performed a stunning duo on twin pianos covered in what appeared to be severed arms from the "Thriller" video. For some unknown reason, they were both covered in soot and wearing outlandish sunglasses. I don't know what the effect was supposed to be, but between Lady GaGa's outfit and Sir Elton's latest fright wig, they both looked like they just stepped out of the cast of "Cats." The performance set up the evening's theme of incongruous duets.
As scintillating as was the GaGa-John partnership, the pairing of America's Sweetheart, Taylor Swift, with America's ex-girlfriend, Stevie Nicks, was nearly excruciating, and that was just the singing. It looked like "take your daughter to work" day at the Grammys. The same disconnect occurred in the Leon Russell/Zac Brown Band collaboration, with the emphasis on "bore." Russell looked like he was auditioning for a role in the next Tarantino movie, and had his lips not been moving, someone would have covered him with a sheet. Wouldn't the logical production decision to have been for Leon Russell to sing with the Kings of Leon, or is that too much irony? Mary J. Blige, who has a nice voice, and Andrea Bocelli sang an operatic version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," for Haitian relief, which inspired me to write a short poem:
Mary J. Blige might be Queen of the Scene,
But she's no Mavis Staples, if you know what I mean.
And who is Silverberg? They kept singing, "Sail on Silverberg." I liked the Sugarland girl who sang with Bon Jovi, but I never got them either. Bon Jovi, not Sugarland. Just when my attention was beginning to lag, they gave the Song of the Year award to Beyonce and when she made her acceptance speech, I thought I was watching the Golden Globes. I was really hoping that Taylor Swift would storm the stage and grab the microphone, but that's so last year.
The tribute to Michael Jackson proves that you can grow tired of anything after a while. The 3-D video may have looked nice in the Staples Center, but in my living room it just caused retinal burn. And, the kids are adorable, but enough already. I'll still probably buy the damned film though. Also, I know Maxwell is supposed to be the next big thing, but singing "Where Is the Love" with Roberta Flack will invariably draw comparisons to Donnie Hathaway; not a great idea. Flack, who was either drunk or done, was just awful, which is heartbreaking to a man who once wept through an entire, early-seventies Roberta Flack concert at the Mid-South Coliseum. I understand how hard it is to sing live, but somebody ought to tell her.
The level of musicianship seems to have been raised among the performers, signalling the portent that punk is dead and professionalism has returned. Jeff Beck's tribute to Les Paul was an example of stellar artistry, but he played nothing from his own Grammy winning CD, "Live at Ronnie Scott's," which featured his electrifying young bassist, Tal Wilkenfeld, and, by the way, was the sole award winning album I purchased this year. Dave Matthews is another artist that can grow wearisome, but there's no arguing that he, also, is seriously good. The evening's longest performance belonged to Recording Academy president Neil
I don't care how many hit movies Quentin Tarantino makes, he's still a dork. During his introduction of the Rap portion of the show, he suddenly went all Ebonic on us and his fingers began twitching as if he were playing air-turntable. In the words of Speaker Harry Reid, he was using a "Negro dialect," unrecognizable this side of the 1950s. I never much cared for rap, mainly because I don't like people shouting at me, but I don't criticize it lest someone assume I'm a "hater." Every time Lil' Wayne opened his mouth, however, the network censors leaped to hit the "delete" button. In the process, they wiped out two-thirds of the song. They wouldn't let him curse, but he was allowed to show his ass above his droopy drawers. Eminem, however, looked like he got the message and discovered a new thing; the belt. Also, Eminem wasn't bleeped, and his rap sounded like a jazz, scat-singer. His creativity seemingly places him at a different level than the rest of his colleagues in the genre. Is that a racist thing to say?
Either CBS or WREG Channel 3 seriously screwed up the ending of the show. I suspect I know which. After showing a series of local commercials and no-snow closings, the station had a "Heidi" moment and blew the entire presentation for Album of the Year. They returned to Taylor Swift's thank yous already in progress and eliminated at least four minutes of network feed. It was like reading a mammoth novel and finding the final chapter had been torn out, or listening to a CD that's missing a few tracks. Do they get their engineers straight out of high school over there, or is there some remedial training required? Aside from the mutilated ending, this year's Grammys were, pleasant. It was justifiable that "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" won best song of the year for Beyonce, and Swift won Album of the Year. I'm concerned that if I hear that "You Belong With Me" song one more time, I will plunge a knitting needle into my ear canal. Also, after seeing Lil' Wayne's performance, it's obvious that the real song of the year was submitted far too late for consideration. But everyone knows it's got to be "Pants On the Ground."