“Did you see that ridiculous thing last night?!?” The thundering voice on the phone was familiar, reminding me that I was long overdue to get caller ID installed. It was, of course, my old friend Grumpmeier, not even bothering to say hello, calling me the morning after the Grammy©®⁜ Awards telecast. “What a travesty!”
“Actually, I thought it was pretty good,” I replied meekly. “The production numbers were fun, and the costumes were unusual, like Sting in a dress and Prince in pants, and there were all those new and old artists performing together, and I got to see a lot of acts I wouldn’t know anything about otherwise. Boy, those White Stripes make a lot of noise for just two kids, don’t they?”
“The only good thing the whole night was that there wasn’t a single Jackson on the stage!” he snarled. “Where was all the music that I listen to? You know, the stuff that’s not just lame, but so unbelievably, fabulously lame that even the record companies won’t touch it. And how can they have a whole night dedicated to the record biz without honoring the real heroes, the folks none of us could do without — the executives and the accountants!?” By this point, I could tell he had gone over the wall, probably from the gallon or so of Starbucks triple espresso he had drunk to keep himself from crashing at his usual 9:30 p.m.
“Well, what are you going to do about it?” I asked, immediately regretting the question. “Hah!” he retorted. “I got my own awards. And I got my own ceremony and even my own TV network. You’ll see them tonight. Of course, the scaredy-cat mainstream media won’t cover it, but you can watch it if you’ve got a satellite dish. Check it out!”
Which I did. Thanks to the production and distribution services of Greater Northwest Podunkville (Idaho) Community Access Television, which lent my friend their camera and allowed him to take over their studio late one night after the chickens were asleep, Grumpmeier’s little foray into celebrity television made its way onto the world’s airwaves right on the heels of NARAS’ widely viewed fête. Over an incessantly repeating dramatic loop from Apple’s Soundtrack library, the opening credits read: “To honor the artists, producers, companies and institutions that embody not the finest ideals and the highest art, but the worst, the dumbest and the most ridiculous achievements of the previous year and of years past.” The trophies, made by the Stars & Stripes All-American USA Trophy Company (with manufacturing facilities in Bangladesh), depict a middle-age man (bearing a striking resemblance to Grumpmeier himself) with a microphone in one hand and a trash can in the other. He calls them, not surprisingly, “The Grumpy Awards.”
His show’s local ratings were phenomenal: The show rated a 100 share — that is, all three viewers who were still awake tuned into the broadcast, although when interviewed later, two of them thought they were watching Red Skelton reruns, and the third wanted to know where to send the $20 so that someone would pray to cure his herpes. Nationally, the show didn’t do quite so well, although the following week, several Southern congressmen declared their sponsorship of a bill banning future broadcasts of the program for being “Communist-inspired, anti-trade, terrorist-supporting and not enough commercials.”
Because few — make that no — readers of this column got to see the show, I thought I would do a public service by reporting on the awards and the winners. So here they are: the 2004 Grumpys.
Most Original Record: “I’m the Realest,” by Two Bit, was honored for its brilliant beats (originally recorded by Gene Krupa and Babatunde Olatunji), lush instrumentals (originally by Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass and Arturo Toscanini and The NBC Orchestra) and soaring vocals (originally by Roy Orbison, Yoko Ono, Wayne Newton, Nancy Sinatra, Minnie Riperton, Tiny Tim and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir). “I want to thank all the great artists, alive and dead, who contributed to this record, whether they knew it or not,” said Two Bit in his acceptance speech, which was delivered on a satellite hookup from an undisclosed upstate New York location where he is serving a 10-year-to-life sentence for file sharing. “And when I get out of here, I’m going to track every one of you down and make you pay…I mean, pay you.”
Most Obnoxious Crossover Record: “Glassrap,” which fused the orchestral stylings of Philip Glass’ interminable “Music in 12 Parts” — or Is It 120? — and Who Cares Anyway?” with a Roland TR-808 drum machine with leaky power supply capacitors and lyrics culled randomly from the speeches of Dick Cheney to create what Rolling Stone critic Frink Lavorish Mothdung praised as, “Two uninspired hours of mindless droning, almost buried under 60Hz hum, which finally, mercifully, leads to virtual brain death.” Its success was assured by Vivendi/Seagram/Philip Morris Classics’ $13 million “Classical Music Could Make You Less of an Idiot” campaign, the cost of which, unfortunately, precluded the labels’ releasing anything else this year.
Most Misanthropic New Artist: Canadian thrash-metal-rapper Pe-en-pee (real name: Percival X. Pepperthwaite IV, of the Calgary Pepperthwaites), whose “I Hate My Mother, I Hate My Wife, I Hate My Kids and Now You’re Getting to Be a Pain in the [Bleep]” b/w Why the [Bleep] Don’t I Have Any Friends? featuring Charles Manson and the Helter Skelter Krew, topped the “R&B With Parental Warning Stickers” chart for 46 weeks.
The Why Do We Even Bother to Announce This? Award went to polka king Jimmy Sturr, who the night before had won his 537th consecutive Grammy, thereby earning more of those than Mickey Mantle had career home runs.
The award for Highest-Charting Album With the Smallest Budget: Li’l Wanker’s Nobody’s Home So I Can Make All the Noyz I Wanna was recorded entirely in his parents’ bathroom, using a microphone borrowed from a neighbor’s old Dictaphone machine, a computer that he found in a dumpster behind a defunct Web marketing company, a “really, it’s legal!” copy of Sound Forge he bought on the Internet for $6.95 complete with Chinese manual and a stack of CD-Rs his dad picked up at ‘Lectronics Land during a Christmas promotion featuring a 100-percent rebate. Because the ceremony began long after Li’l Wanker’s (real name: Melvin Schwartz) bedtime, he couldn’t attend, but the award was accepted by the chairman of Humungus Records (The Entertainment Division of Engulf+Devour Inc.), who announced that in honor of the quadruple-Platinum status of the record, George Massenburg had been hired to mix the 5.1 version, which will be issued on both DVD-A and SACD.
Then came several awards in the business category. Coincidentally, the first of these, the Most Creative and Artful Accounting Award, went to Humungus Records (The Entertainment Division of Engulf+Devour Inc.) for the artist’s royalty statement that they sent to Li’l Wanker declaring zero income for the year ending December 31, 2003, with the notation, “Significant outstanding production costs have yet to be recouped. Check back with us next year. Maybe.”
The award for Best Behind-the-Scenes Screwup went to the all-powerful, but little-known Harry Fox Agency, the licensing and collection arm of the National Music Publishers Association. As the millennium turned, the agency put an all-new much-heralded computer system online, which they’d spent several years and many millions of dollars developing that was designed to streamline the process of registering new works and collecting royalties. Within weeks, the system had shown itself to be utterly inadequate for the job, and the agency was forced to revert to its older, antiquated system, thereby causing a clogging of the works that has yet to be resolved. As of this date, licenses and royalty collections for new recordings (particularly, those for which fewer than a million units are being pressed; you can be sure the hot-sellers are sliding right through) are backed up three years and counting.
The Best New Scam Award was given to the company that, according to presenter Bill Gates (not the real one, but his second cousin once removed), “most convincingly pretended to be a revolutionary new way to distribute music while actually ripping off independent artists.” Representatives of the winner, Amazon.com, couldn’t be persuaded to attend, so the award was accepted by singer Anne Feeney, who explained why the retailing behemoth so deserved the award: “With Amazon, you’ve got to create the page yourself, uploading your own MP3 files and art. When an order comes in to them, they e-mail me to send a copy to them, at my expense, and they won’t tell me who has ordered the CD, so I can’t add them to my mailing list. Then they take 55 percent of the sale price; so for each Amazon sale, they send me $8.10 — once the amount is over $50, of course. I’m out the $1.35 postage and the $0.85 mailer, so that brings the ‘gross’ to under $6, which, by the time the costs of production and licensing fees are factored in, results in a very slight loss on every sale.” Off-camera, Grumpmeier could be heard saying, “Sounds like Amazon’s ready to join the big boys, doesn’t it?”
The last business award category was for Worst Internal and External Corporate Communications. It went to none other than the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the very people who present the Grammys©®⁜, which were also given a special citation for “pointing the way to the democratic methodologies of the 21st century.” Grumpmeier himself, who tried to join NARAS this year so that he could vote on the Grammys©®⁜, accepted the award. “NARAS is to be congratulated for accepting new memberships and, of course, payments,” he said, “on a Website that was linked to a nonfunctional database that was supposed to confirm potential members’ credits, thus making the application process three times longer than necessary.” He waited for applause and when none came, he went on. “Beyond that, they made new members feel welcome by posting the wrong eligibility dates on their site, so that it was only after they joined that members discovered they were disqualified from voting.”
The final two Grumpys of the evening were Life Achievement Awards, given to artists for outstanding efforts beyond the musical sphere. These artists, in the opinion of the awards committee (i.e., Grumpmeier), epitomize the most ludicrous aspects of the American way of life and serve as shining examples to the young and impressionable, on whom they have such a profound influence, of what not to do.
The Most Overexposed Artist Award, with a citation for illustrating the maxim, “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Publicity,” was originally, according to press leaks, to be given to Michael Jackson for maintaining such a busy and varied social schedule at his home. But in a last-minute change that Grumpmeier, in a press release, attributed to “hormone malfunction,” it ended up going to his sister Janet.
The final Grumpy, the prestigious and hotly contested Phineas T. Grumpmeier Memorial Service to Humanity Through Music (PTGMSHTM) Award — named for the impresario’s late father, who thankfully wasn’t around for any of this — was given to two individuals. The spirit of the award was eloquently elucidated by its presenter, the Rev. Billy Sol Dingbat, head of the Church of St. Strom Thurmond: “The PTGMSHTM Award is given to that individual in the recording industry who best exemplifies the inviolate and eternal nature of marital bliss between one man and one woman, and shows us why this fundamental pillar of our society should not be tampered with. This year, there were so many stunning matrimonial models that we just couldn’t decide on a single winner.” The award went to two mainstays of our industry who even I had to agree couldn’t have deserved it more: former-Mouseketeer-turned-Esquire-nude-cover-girl Britney Spears and restricted-to-his-home-state-by-order-of-the-court, Phil Spector.
Paul Lehrman has disconnected his phone, his cable and his satellite dish.