J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Notes From Underground - #27
Grammy Goodness

Ah, the Grammys.

I do it every year: position myself in front of the television on that night in February, have a snack and some drinks, lock myself in and prepare for penance. Not being a fan of self-flagellation, I often picture my watching the Grammys as the closest thing to it. My penance for being a touch pretentious, or maybe a bit snobbish about music, is to sit down and take what the Grammy awards have to dish out every year. Much like a self-applied horse whipping, I often come away bruised and bleeding.

The few awards, aside from the big ones, that I'm interested in are rarely, if ever, telecast (Contemporary Folk Album, where are you?) and I'm left to watch lazy performances by whoever they've deemed worthy that year to spice up the between-award periods. As a music fan I feel insulted by the obviously brainless nature of the nominating body, especially in categories like the oft-maligned Best New Artist. Fountains of Wayne as Best New Artist? In 2004? 8 years after the release of their first album on a major label?^ Also, their tendency to nominate albums for major awards by artists who are far beyond their prime simply because the Grammys failed to recognize them when they were hot. I love Steely Dan, but was Two Against Nature really the best record of 2001 or even of their career? Hardly. But there it was - a sop to the venerable veterans. Same with Bob Dylan's victory in 1998 for the sublime Time Out of Mind*, an album whose title is a Steely Dan reference - hmm, I'm seeing a pattern here.

There are the ridiculous 'controversies' (A hip-hop album for Album of the Year? Is America really ready?!?) and the mildly insulting Lifetime Achievement Awards, where the Grammy scrambles to throw artists a bone to make up for never really granting them any credit, anywhere, during their heyday or lifetime, as the case may be. A list of recent Lifetime winners: the Grateful Dead, Booker T & the MG's, Ornette Coleman, David Bowie, the Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, Led Zeppelin and many, many more.

So why watch? Occasionally, despite the Grammy Awards' best efforts, really great artists either win awards or perform on the show. The Best Alternative Rock Album award, since its inception in 1991, has played host to a ton of really remarkable nominees and winners (Tom Waits' Bone Machine in '93, Wilco's A Ghost is Born in '05) and some boneheaded winners as well (U2's Zooropa won over Nirvana's In Utero, Belly's Star, R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People and the Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream. I'll let you think about that for a minute.) Even the Album of the Year award, much like a stopped clock, gets things right every so often: '68 (Sgt. Pepper's..), '74 (Innervisions), '78 (Rumours), and '88 (The Joshua Tree over Sign O' the Times? Eh.).

But since I've started annually watching, it's the live performances that keep me hooked. The funk montage from about 3 or 4 years back, that ended with what the Guinness Book of World Records has established as the most tepid performance of Parliament Funkadelic ever^^, had the most jaw-dropping performance by Robert Randolph and the Family Band right in the middle. Randolph had more energy and fire sitting at his pedal steel than most people do standing up and performing. And then of course, last year, there was this:

I stared at the television for quite some time during this - really not believing what I was seeing. It made the entire, manufactured Britney vs. Christina debate a joke, once and for all time. That is what the Grammys are (every so often, but not really too often, I mean, okay, so, like, really rarely) all about. And I smiled.

This year, the nominees are mostly hideous (Foo Fighters' latest for Best Album? Jay-Z's Kingdom Come for Best Rap Album? "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" as Best Rap Song? Have I used too many parenthetical statements yet?) with touches of class (Tom Waits' Orphans for Best Contemporary Folk Album! Woo!). Nothing shocking, that's for sure. But I'll be watching anyway. Complaining away on my couch.

And if there's truly any justice in the world, Charlie Louvin will win the Best Traditional Folk Album category, giving a moving, tear-jerking acceptance speech, dedicating all of his success on the album to his late brother, Ira. There won't be a dry eye in the house as he recounts the loss of his brother too many years ago and how he wrote the song "Ira" from the new record in memory of him. Of course this will be at 4 in the afternoon, no cameras will be rolling and only the people who are there will ever get to see it.

Later that night, a zombified Ol' Dirty Bastard will return to interrupt Kanye West's Album of the Year acceptance speech, leaving him to throw another hissy fit and, perhaps, exclaim that O.D.B. hates black people.

Now that would be justice.


^ - Yes, I'm aware that Shelby Lynne's nomination for this category in 2001 was even more egregious - her debut record coming 9 years prior to the award. Also, unlike Fountains of Wayne, she had the added indignity of actually winning.

* - Unlike Two Against Nature for Steely Day, I actually think Time Out of Mind ranks as a high-water mark for Dylan's career. But did it deserve to win over Radiohead's OK Computer? Don't answer. It's a rhetorical question.

^^ - Not really. Though it should.



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