Whitney's Big Exit
Opening with a prayer for Whitney Houston, the Grammy Awards had its usual smattering of worthwhile performances and utter idiocy. To my simple mind, it was nearly upstaged by the constant appearance of Elton John’s amusing Super Bowl Pepsi ad. There’s something about him tottering on those platform shoes that never ceases to make me smile. That and Flavor Flav in the pit.
In my unhumble opinion, some Grammy categories need a critical tweak. When Chris Brown won Best R&B Album it was sickeningly clear to meChris Brown is Rhythm and Blues? Please. Chris Brown and Otis Redding (who won posthumously in `68 for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male) have now appeared in the same category?that certain categories need to begin with the word “Pop” as in Best Pop/R&B Album. The same is true for country. Best Pop/Country is much closer to what’s really going on in the music these days. Which brings me to the night’s greatest revelation.
There are now two music businessesand this has actually been true for years. One is about entertainment, about flash and Vegas showcraft, about manufactured celebrity hood; the other is about music. Fortunately, at Stereophile I am lucky enough to write about the latter and not the former, mostly because our readership actually listens and cares about rock, classical and jazz music, the latter two of which were absent from the 54th Grammy Awards telecast. Listen is the key word. And yes, by Jiminy, I am sounding like an old man… but it’s true.
Still the flash did have its moments. Katy Perry’s focused, impassioned performance was killer. The tune, a new song, “Part of Me,” did seem to gain extra momentum from being aimed directly at Ex, Russell Brand. Damn! It was the opposite of revenge being best served cold. And her in that space suit! The girl is a lot to look at.
Springsteen was a rousing opener and while, “We Take Care of Our Own,” the best new song in a while, I can’t help but feel that a sameness is creeping into the Boss’ work. Really missed the Big Man, Clarence Clemons, as Bruce’s wingman.
Though entertaining, Bruno Mars fascinating mix of 50’s rock ‘n’ roll, pop and R&B is the latest in an enormous line of copycats to owe his style to the late, great James Brown.
The nights’ biggest miss has got to be the semidisastrous Rihanna/Chris Martin mash up.
In the only music fans care category: In all the outpouring of emotion surrounding the gone too soon death of Whitney Houston, every news report I have heard, including several on Good Morning America this morning, relentlessly banged home the point that “I Will Always Love You,” was “her” song. Yes, she made it her own but, call me oldfashioned here, but it might be nice if just once, someone, somewhere, thought about giving even a modicum of credit to the songwriter, who is? . . . Dolly Parton. Beneath the glammy cartoon comeon Parton actually wrote songs, of which “I Will Always Love You,” is the best known and undoubtedly the most affecting melody. She’s recorded it several times herself, and while devoid of the otherworldly vocal histrionics Houston was capable of, it comes off very well.
Oldies: While Glen Campbell’s performance of “Rhinestone Cowboy,” (with Sir Paul groovin’ in the front row) was wellsung, and a hoot, especially at the end when he said something to the effect of, “Where do I go? Now I’m going to go somewhere and shut up?” I would have preferred a performance of Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” but hey, you can’t have everything. The Beach Boys appearance was fairly cringeinducing. Brian's physical appearance is always shocking and Mike Love is always so smug and selfimpressed it’s hard to watch.
Nice to see Wilco, Mumford & Sons, The Black Keys, Mastodon, Gerald Wilson, Sonny Rollins (2) and Ry Cooder getting at least a nomination.
The evening’s highlight for me was Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) winning two awards though it was an example of the old Awards show phenomena which awards a performer for his past album (in this case 2008’s For Emma, Forever Ago) by giving the award to that performers next major work. He even mentioned his indie label “Jagjaguwar” on national television. Vernon’s speech for the first award, where he referenced all the talent that would never be up on that stage, presumably because the Grammys are too mainstream and too much about the “entertainment” side music business as mentioned above was classic although Dave Grohl’s topped that and then some:
"To me this award means a lot because it shows that the human element of music is what's important. Singing into a microphone and learning to play an instrument and learning to do your craft, that's the most important thing for people to do. "It's not about being perfect, it's not about sounding absolutely correct, it's not about what goes on in a computer. It's about what goes on in here [your heart] and what goes on in here [your head]."
About half the room had a sourlook on their face when the camera panned across just after he said this. With good reason too. About half of them are created musicians, who can’t play, sing or write. For them it’s all about cashing in and being a star. I wondered at one point how many people in the crowd which again featured Sir Paul prominently displayed in the front row, had ever even heard a Beatles record?
Okay, Adele’s song “Rolling in the Deep” has a great hook. And she has a voice though I wonder for how long when I hear her push it repeatedly to roofrattling volume.
As for Whitney, she had a gift. Such a sad tale. I treasure the 1991 recording of her singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” that later became a chart hit, but which she reportedly lipsynched at the game to an earlier studio recording. Now, in any case, she still did the singing, but it’s an illustration that with Whitney, all was not what it seemed.