Monday, February 01, 2010

GaGa Over Grammy

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 Portnoy Portnow, who bragged about the association's good deeds and solicited donations for Haitian earthquake relief before the screed turned into "Portnoy's Portnow's Complaint," where he scolded the listening public over illegal downloading and file sharing. It's fun to watch the "industry" so hapless and lost after their decades-long stranglehold on the entirety of the muzic bidness. It was also nice that Jim Dickinson and Willie Mitchell were recognized in memoriam.

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."


Anonymous said...

Randy, your ought to put your name in the hat for the inevitable opening at 60 Minutes when Mr. Rooney retires or is hauled off. You are as good (or better) and more relevant than anyone I can think of.

Anonymous said...

Didn't even watch it. They only good stuff is old stuff unless one of the old guys puts out an album like Levon. That's why I play in a band that does Beatles and Pink Floyd.

Willard Morgan said...

Thanks for your morning-after interpretation of last night's Grammys! Amusing and cogent as ever! I have to say, listening to Lady Gaga, she does have command of that instrument - her voice, that is. The Bon Jovi medley led me rushing to the mute button on the remote. As for Dave Mathews, I don't deny his musicianship but his sense of melody has always left me wondering what the appeal is. Lil Wayne's Pants down rap moment - definitely a subject long overdue for the astro-physics lab! How is that achieved exactly? Best to you from frigid Manhattan!
Come Nawth and see Saint Hollywood! Or just go to the web site and 'enjoy', as the waiter insists on saying!

Anonymous said...

Ahhh...the Grammys...
"performance art" for the masses.
Sorry, but I miss music. I would rather see John, Paul, George and Ringo at their statuesque best than Pink wrapped in ribbon spinning above the crowd like an escapee from cirque du soleil.

Anonymous said...

Randy, I was listening to one of your Soul Patrol CD's just yesterday while walking in the snow. Yes, Levi Stubbs is the greatest R&B singers of all time. Your Right. Most of the Grammys were atrocious.I have lived in Music City most of my life so excuse me for not buying in to the Music Row Glad handing and asskissing for Taylor Swift or any other flavor of the month they come up with. The only way we can console ourselves is to realize we grew up with the "Best if the Best".The Beatles, Motown etc.
As always thanks for your insight.


geno722 said...

Some of my "real musician" friends will cringe as I say this, but it's true that Lady GaGa is probably smarter than the rest of us for knowing how to create an image and convince. Sorry, I have to unapologetically say that a long-standing problem in Memphis music has been that musicians here are notoriously opposed to being image-conscious, unless you consider that slept-under-the-freeway style of Beale Street musicians to be an image. It's the ENTERTAINMENT business, folks. You can diss Lady GaGa and for that matter K. C. and the Sunshine Band all you want, but I'm here to tell you, those songs turn up on the "client request" list for every wedding gig I play. The Grammys have always been for reasons unknown almost anti-rock, and last night was no exception.

Anonymous said...

As far as I am concerned they quit making good music after the 80's. It seems that the youngsters are just too lazy to learn how to play like those artists from the 60's through the 80's. Beck is an example, but there are countless examples from the old days. The best writing and singing curently is being done in the folk genre, but folk music can only be found on internet radio stations. There is no demand for folk music, but I would love for it to be re-discovered by the masses.

Anonymous said...

Despite rumors to the contrary, the Grammy Awards is supposed to be the equivalent of the SAG awards show where the winners (unlike the Oscars crap) are voted on by their peers, not secret committees or (cringe) the public.

Having said that, the Grammy Awards process seems to be shifting away from it's asserted policy of artistic excellence, uninfluenced by popularity and (cringe again) the general public, and becoming just another "music spectacular," much like The American Music Awards, The MTV Awards, the CMA Awards, etc.

Having said THAT, the Grammys is and always has been the best and most important music awards show there is, and that little gold statuette is the most coveted item in the music business. Disagreements about what music and which artists deserve more (or less) attention are inevitable, and sometimes seem to be reflected in the Grammy show's next offering(s). The Grammy Awards stand at the very pinnacle of music industry awards, with the quality and long standing credibility to which all others aspire.

FYI Randy. I hate to blow smoke on your clever word play on the name of the Recording Academy's president, but his name is Neil Portnow, not Portnoy.

PS. Are you kidding?!! Lady GaGa sounds like a whining cat...and whining out of tune, at that. Mary J. Blige, much to my surprise, sang very well, even if she was overshadowed by the sheer vocal vituosity of Andrea Boccelli.


Sputnik57 said...

Thanks for the correction. "Portnow's Complaint" is funnier anyway.

Oh yeah, one more observation...
Why is there a red carpet in rock and roll?
The only person who can legitimately answer the question, "Who are you wearing," is that serial killer guy from "The Silence of the Lambs."

Anonymous said...

Someone told me back when the song 'American Pie' was popular that the song predicted the demise of rock 'n' roll. I thought that that was far-fetched. To my thinking there was no way that rock 'n' roll would ever die. So, I was wrong. Rock 'n' roll is dead as a doornail. It was supplanted at first by rap, and then by a procession of assorted vanilla, unimaginative ( relative to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and countless other bands from the Golden Age of rock that lasted from the 60's to the late 80's) pop music which is currently in vogue. Since the early 90's I have travelled far afield searching for some type of music to get into. I have delved into bluegrass, contemporary folk, and have recently found some solace in jazz. Joni Mitchell said that modern music sucks because 'the muse' has left us, and that is as good an explanation as I have heard. Think of the plethora of creativity and musicianship that occured from the 60's through the 80's. Every time you turned your stereo on there was some type of great music being played. Maybe the demise was due to the fact that everyone quit taking hallucinogens. Maybe the muse was a hit of ' California Sunshine', as Quicksilver Messenger Service might say. Or, maybe all the great music had something to do with the 'Boomers'. Now that they are old, great music is disappearing with them. Whatever happened, we are in a musical desert with no relief in sight. Younger folks may disagree with this, but they will never convince the 'Boomers' that today's music is the equal of that produced during the 'Golden Age'.

Father Farken said...

With out of town guests I wasn't able to catch the whole show but I appreciate the Sputnik analysis. About Roberta Flak she was about homeless for a little druggie...went back to teaching...not to sound cruel but probably shouldn't have gone back to singing. She sang the national anthem @ the ground breaking of the NJ Devils Arena in Newark a few years back and I wasn't sure what nation's anthem she was singing or what planet for that matter. She was killing us bluntly with that song. To her defence she will be 73 next week. And Leon! I think he should be in the rock & roll hall of fame...while he's still alive. He is alive isn't he? He's worked with the best & whether it was Shindig, Mad Dogs & Englishmen or Bangladesh he always had a way of stealing the show...but I think he was mugged before he got on with Zac. Talking about hair...shining, steaming, gleaming, flaxen, waxen... I mean that hair was biblical. Someone needs to take him over to the Shelter so Anon can give him a shave & a once over. Wasn't he on Shelter Records? I was tempted to say ...someone tell Leon the 60's are over...but since reading the BAH that dawg won't hunt! Then there was Lady Ga Ga at the Go Go, You could hear the collective jaws drop. I was so depressed after the Grammys I went for a walk on Music Row where I ran into a Hank Wilson wannabe who sold me a CD-"Randy -The Exile Years!" Now that is real music! The Peace of the Lord! FatherFarken

Anonymous said...

Please pardon this change of the subject, but I found something that may be of interest to Randy and perhaps some of the Jewish brethren who participate in this blog. It concerns a website called 'The Rainbow Swastika' that is produced by a Jewish lady named Hannah Newman. She is making a clarion call to all Jews concerning the dangers of the New Age movement to Jews. I really believe that she was inspired to do this by God. As she says in the intro, 'Welcome to one Jew's analysis of a kinder, gentler final solution'. It is very, very informative and quite a freak-out. Be sure to read the brief descriptions beneath the links she has provided. I think that this woman deserves some kind of an award, but you will have to decide about that for yourself. I think that Father Farken will find this site interesting also. Here is the link to the website: If the link doesn't work for some reason, just google 'The Rainbow Swastika'.

Anonymous said...

Many people are not aware that the UN is planning not only a global government, but also a global religion. This is where the New Age comes in. The power elites have adopted the New Age philosophy and are making it the core of a coming world religion (check out Parliament of World Religions). The essence of this belief system is that mankind is approaching a major planetary shift or quantum leap in consciousness (some have called this the Omega Point) that will in effect create a new species of man in a psycho-spiritual sense. They believe that all of humankind has been evolving for millenia toward this momentous occasion. This new man will be in posession of what many New Agers speak of as cosmic will transcend separatist, individualistic thinking. All will be unified and all thinking and planning will be in terms of the global collective rather than from the selfish, individualistic point of view that gives rise to nation-states and other evidences of separatism. This is seen by some as cosmic Marxism (actually closer to cosmic Nazism). Here is the danger for both Jews and Christians. The adherents to these religions are viewed as separatists, and the thinking is that this mass of separatist consciousness will hinder the realization of the quantum leap in consciousness that mankind is on the threshold of. Therefore, all separatists must be eliminated for the sake of the common good and mankind's upward evolution. The thinking is that though this may strike some as harsh, these separatist beings will be corrected in the spirit world after death, and then reincarnate in better shape to go along with the flow of the purge will be a win-win situation for all. This all amounts to Nazism with a New Age face. Christians and Jews are in grave danger. What Hitler started, the New Age moguls plan to complete. I guess you know that Hitler was going to eliminate Christians after eliminating the Jews. Satan won't rest till God's Chosen People and their spin-off brethren, the Christians are destroyed. In a nutshell, this is what Hannah Newman is trying to get across...only she documents everything. If you can't swallow all of this, at least keep it in the back of your mind as events unfold in the coming years.

SIREEN said...

Father Ferghus called me up at half time of the Super Bowl last night singing SEE ME! FEEL ME! TOUCH ME!SHOOT ME! He said he'd soon seen a tsunami of bake beans flood out of his television screen than be subjected to that British Invasion. Who Dat is right! Its a good thing that Paul Townsend is deaf so he didn't have to hear all that old*age*wasteland. Not that they didn't try hard - though I thought I was going to have to go out there and wind up Townsend's left arm for his guitar licks. You know they have rotary cup surgery to fix all dat! The Who need to learn from Leon! Sit on a piano stool and hide behind two feet of hair and sunglasses & mumble something about crackling or chicken fat or what ever the hell that song was at the Ga Ga Convention. Roger! We love you! We don't want to see Ali in the ring either. There I said it! Thank you Jesus! Yours Truly! SIREEN

SIREEN said...


Shecky Kierkegaard McGuirk said...

Hey Sireen! Who Dis and the Blowdatz are playing at Murphy's this weekend! Do you want to go?