I don't really have a problem with the Grammy Awards
so much as the people behind them. To their credit, NARAS has turned around the ceremony from a joke (Jethro Tull as best metal band, Milli Vanilli's award) to something respectable in the pop world. Also, unless it's hidden it very well, you don't see any of the slimy campaigning to smear competitors like you do with the Oscars- i.e. A Beautiful Mind
(accusations of anti-semitism against the real life protagonist) and Million Dollar Baby
(euthanasia debate). But three and a half hours is too long for any show and there were inevitable dull spots.
Among the dozens of entertainment award shows out there now, the Grammy Awards does draw in some of the biggest stars in the industry and the winning artists find that they do get a sales boost. Also, unless I miss my guess, Queen Latifah was the first rapper to host the show- if she wasn't the first black woman to host the show, surely the list can't be that long either and it's about time.
Some of my favorite moments:
- Ellen DeGeneres' Iggy Pop T-shirt. If Madonna can get down with the Stooges, why not her?
- Lifetime Achievement Awards for Pinetop Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Art Blakey, Eddy Arnold, the Carter Family, Jelly Roll Morton and that English band that sang "Stairway To Heaven" (too bad Plant was on tour and couldn't join his mates). Ahmet Ertegen got a new award that even presenter Rob Thomas had trouble spitting out the name of. And in a truly surreal moment, Hoobastank gave it up for compser Morton Gould
- The Southern Rock Jam with Skynyrd (representing Red America) and Tim McGraw (represeting Blue America), Elvin Bishop and Dickie Betts without the band that tossed him out. Oh yeah, Gretchen Wilson and Keith Urban were there too.
- Jaime Foxx, Alicia Keys and Quincy Jones paying tribute to Brother Ray. I admit that when the word "Georgia.." came out of Foxx's mouth, I was tearing up even more so than when Bonnie Raitt and Norah Jones paid him tribute later though producer Phil Ramone's acceptance speech for Album of the Year came close. Foxx himself will be a recording artist in his own right one day, rest assured. And as much as a surprise as it was that Ray Charles trumped favorites Usher and Kanye West for awards, I still have to wonder how much of it was paying tribute to his passing as opposed to his music.
- Bono giving a choked up, sometime unintelligible tribute to his dad, the Edge saying hi to his daugher and Larry Mullen Jr. apologizing to their fans.
- During Green Day's acceptance for Best Rock album, Billy Joe saying "rock and roll can be dangerous and fun at the same time." Very naive but a very sweet thought nevertheless.
- Kanye West's choked up, carpe diem speech after winning for Best Rap Album, going from a whisper to a scream, grateful to proud. Too bad he didn't jam together with the Blind Boys of Alabama in the gospel segment though they each sounded fine there.
- The auctions and I-Tunes Grammy nominee album with money going to the Music Cares Foundation
- Loretta Lynn winning (I lost it again, I admit it) and Jack White reminding everyone that country radio wouldn't play her latest album.
- The tsunami benefit choir was definitely not a great musical moment but in terms of theatrics and symbolism, it was pretty moving, especially when Stevie broke into a harmonica solo. Also great to see him break into "Isn't She Lovely" later and try to read a winning envelope. But back to the choir, is anyone really going to want to download that for their I-Pod? (I'd advise making a donation instead) And why did they think Velvet Revolver would be the ideal backing band for this?
- Trustee awards to Hoagy Carmichael, Alfred Lion (Blue Note records), Billy Taylor and Soul Train's Don Cornelius (who was present).
- Lightning fast tributes to artists who died in '04 included Rick James (who got singled out for applause), DJ Scott Muni
, Artie Shaw, Traffic's Jim Capaldi, Johnny Ramone, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Skeeter Davis and producer Terry Melcher among others.
Lowpoints included the messy opener (I like Black Eyed Peas but how many times can they use them?), the way that the Trustee and Lifetime people weren't brought up on stage to speak, the small-type announcements flashed at the bottom of the screen for the pre-ceremony awards, the endless "ONLY ON THE GRAMMY'S" annoucements (OK, we get the idea), the endless movie tie-in's with a parade of awkward screen stars, the sub-Vegas stage sets for some of the songs and the Janis Joplin tribute without Big Brother (they're not only still around but also touring right now!) even though Melissa Etheridge rocked hard with her Sinead hair-do (she was reluctant to appear at first since she's going through chemotherapy for breast cancer).
Unless your squinted to see the parade of non-televised winners
flashed on the bottom of the screen, you might not have known that Britney Spears, Bruce Springsteen, Motorhead, Wilco, the Dixie Chicks, Bill Frisell, Randy Travis, Keb Mo, Etta James, Steve Earle, Toots and the Maytals, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bill Clinton (yep, the former prez), John Stewart (the Daily Show), Zach Braff and John Adams all won among others. You don't think NARAS shouldn't have squeezed a few of them into the show? Some of them were actually there. And shouldn't it have been notable that an online only album
took a Grammy?
I was also really disappointed to see no classical, jazz or blues musicians up there, unless I blinked. Previously, they'd at least trot out one of each just to remind people that the Grammy Awards celebrate music other than pop/rock/R&B/rap. Granted that NARAS is an American concern but isn't music supposed to be international? Again, I might have missed it but who was there outside of the States? I mean besides Franz Ferdinand.
And oh yes, there's the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences who put together the show. Usually, we have to sit through ponderous speeches from each figurehead over the last few years who tell us about the evils of illegal downloading. And there was the sneaky plugging of their What's the Download campaign, part of their education program. But no direct mention of their lawsuits. Strange, eh?
I actually received an unsolicited application from NARAS for membership a few years ago. Other than the fee, I wondered what it would really mean to be part of the organization. Membership doesn't mean that you get to vote for any Grammy category. What happens is that you pay the fee and fill out an application, THEN they decide if you're worthy to vote. Neat, huh?
Then they helped me make up my mind. Once their buddies at the RIAA
(sorry if I can't separate the two in my mind) started flooding the courtrooms with lawsuits against downloaders, there was no question any more what they all were about. And on and on it went. My money supporting these lawsuits? Like hell. If they could assure me that my membership would go to Music Cares and not a penny to the lawyers, maybe it would be worth it but I'm not hopeful that they'd consider that- NARAS isn't directly behind the lawsuits true but don't try to tell me that that they're not in cahoots with the RIAA on this. They all must know this is a losing battle and they can only try to squeeze a few thousand dollars each from a tiny percentage of users. The money won't pay the lawyer bills and that's not the point- the point is trying to scare the rest of the fans so that they won't want to get dragged into court.
On Grammy night, RIAA prez Neil Portnow started out praising the tsunami relief efforts and MusicCares program but then he had to remind everyone how the organization was fighting for artists' intellectual rights (even though they don't get a penny of the settlements) and the upcoming Supreme Court case again some of the P2p services (i.e. Kazaa)- you went two out of three there, Neil and we can't say that we didn't see it coming.
Since Neil and co. aren't far sighted enough, it took other organizations to step in to find more realistic solutions to the problem of 'fair use' of music. Creative Commons
and their notion of flexible music licensing will hopefully become the wave of the future and build a bridge between the music industry and the fans without the use of courtrooms. Even former RIAA head, the enfuriating apologist Hilary Rosen has expressed support of CC. It's a shame that the RIAA itself today doesn't embrace CC and try to promote the idea with record companies and artists. If they had enough brains and guts to do so, I might even reconsider my membership. NARAS, my check may be in the mail then and I might even respect you in the morning.