Blair's Blog

Grammy Gratification? Impossible!

As I said when I wrote about the TEC Awards last fall, awards shows give me the willies. The nominations piss me off because they invariably leave off people I think are deserving of recognition, in favor of artists I sometimes think are really AWFUL. So it’s no surprise, then, that the list of winners usually throws me into a deep depression, too. It’s no fun being so sensitive. It hurts to actually care.

Truth be told, I rarely watched the Grammy Awards until a few years ago, even though I’ve been active in the music business for going on 30 year now. The reason? The awards were a joke. C’mon. Seeing the staid and conservative Grammy voters ignore the greatest rock artists year after year from the mid-‘60s through the ‘80s was a complete embarrassment. Instead the awards were routinely doled out to the most non-threatening middle-of-the-road groups and songwriters imaginable. Make me a list of the so-called Record of the Year candidates for any five-year period before the mid-’90s and I’ll show you the Hit Parade From Hell. Honest, I don’t want overstate things. I have nothing against Grammy darlings like Michael McDonald and Christopher Cross and Toto and all the mediocre by-the-numbers songwriters I won’t name whose combined output has less depth than any single line from Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home album. In fact, I salute their ability to connect with the mass public, which is not an easy thing to do! Me...I like life out on the fringes, creatively speaking, and for decades the Grammys really had zero interest in acknowledging the weird, the edgy, the controversial–you know, music that could actually change your life, instead of just being a soothing balm destined for immortality in dentists’ offices everywhere and in tortured renditions on American Idol.

Beyond the lame nominations, the Grammy television show was, until recently, a real snoozefest. Most of the hip bands that actually did earn nominations wouldn’t show up because they knew full well they had no chance of winning. And some artists rightly scorned the competitive aspect of the whole deal–picking winners and creating losers...what does that have to do with art? (On a personal note, when I interviewed Glenn Frey of The Eagles around the time of his first solo album, he joked that The Eagles weren’t going to show up at the Grammys until they changed it to the “Ounce-ys”! Sniff. I miss the record business of the 1980s.) The program was an endless parade of awards relieved occasionally by an act that may or may not be worth checking out. By the last hour, the token jazz and classical acts were playing to an ever-diminishing TV audience hanging on just hoping to make it to Johnny’s monologue at 11:30 p.m.

Ah, but things have changed...a bit, anyway. New “hip” categories have been added yearly, so the total now has skyrocketed to over 100. Far be it for me to suggest that when heavy metal and alternative and rap and reggae and all the other niche categories were stacked onto the list, that maybe it was time to say goodbye to, oh, polka...Hey, the more the merrier I say! And the Grammy telecast, while hardly lean and mean, now shows very few awards. Now we see those “Awards presented earlier this evening...” segments that scroll by on the way into a commercial break so fast even TiVo can’t slow ‘em down. The nominations have gotten much cooler in recent years and because the show now has at least the patina of hipness, better groups are turning up to play. Really, the music is why I watch the show now. It’s so rare to see a good, concentrated dose of live music on TV these days–that is to say live music that has not been completely edited and sweetened in post. I like the rawness of so many of the rock performances. Not everyone plays great there, and that’s as it should be. But the really powerful and unique performances can be mind-blowing... remember Prince and Beyonce last year, or Carlos Santana that year he won all 96 awards (or did it just seem that way)? The Black-Eyed Peas were so hot I went out and bought their album the next day. And I’m still scratchin’ my head over the weird performance by Dylan doing a punk version of “Masters of War” a few years back. What was that? This year I’m really looking forward to seeing how Green Day translates to live TV (and to find out what real American idiots think of them). I know U2 will be fantastic; they always are. Will the producers of the show continue the trend away from pure jazz and classical segments in favor of more palatable (to the masses) crossover performances? Usher plays Bach? Sure, why not? Ja Rule croaking under a Branford Marsalis sax solo? Fewer tune-outs than “real” jazz.

As for the awards...well, what the bleep do I know? But here are a few picks.

Record of the Year. Should win: “Heaven” by Los Lonely Boys. Will win: “Yeah” by Usher, featuring Ludacris and Lil Jon.
(Actually, “Let’s Get It Started” by the Black Eyed Peas is my favorite, but I have to deduct points from them for changing the original song–“Let’s Get Retarded”–for commercial reasons.)

Album of the Year. Should win: American Idiot by Green Day. Will win: Ray Charles’ Genius Loves Company. Yes, Brother Ray sounds terrible on most of this rather sad (if loving) album, but this is his year..and probably would have been even if he hadn’t died. Grammy loves this sort of disc!

(True confessions time...I’ve never heard ONE NOTE of Kanye West!)

Song of the Year. I have NO idea. I’ve never heard any of the five songs. Where do y’all here this stuff?

Best New Artist. Should win: Joss Stone (though she should have gotten it for her last album). Will win: Kanye West, of course!

OK, this is getting boring for all of us...let’s jump down 86 categories to the two Mix readers care most about...

Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. Should win: Brian Wilson Presents Smile (engineer Mark Linett). Will win: Brian Wilson Presents Smile. Surely Grammy voters will recognize this amazing achievement. Or does every album Diana Krall makes have to win a Grammy? (Love ya, Al, but let’s give someone else a shot this year.)

Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. A toughie. Should win: Rob Cavallo for Green Day’s American Idiot. Will win: Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Jam and Lewis do so much great stuff year-in and year-out it’s hard to deny them. But Green Day’s album is such a wonderfully put together opus, a true punk-pop masterpiece, I’d give them the nod.

Finally, kudos to the Grammys for adding a surround category. I’m not sure how many Grammy voters have good enough systems to vote reliably, but it’s nice to see some recognition for what is becoming an increasingly important art form. Really, though, is it fair to lump surround versions of classic pop albums (Nick of Time, Avalon) with new pop (Genius Loves Company), a world music title (Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Raise Your Spirit Higher) and a version of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony? Of course not. Which is why I hate the Grammys. It’s not apples and oranges. It’s apples and toasters and seeweed and cement.

But I’ll be watching.