Nashville? Knock, Knock! No One Home?

I usually go into the Grammy telecast with much cynicism already on edge and a large glass of some variety of fermented libation standing by for medicinal purposes.

I also admit that I get a perverse pleasure out of the pompous–assed music biz ego parade. Note to presenters and recipients: real stars do not feel compelled to get all giddy and cool when they're on stage. Actually most real music talents don't go anywhere near the Grammies.

But back to the telecast. This year, as pathetically depleted as the music biz talent pool is, I have to say that the Dixie Chicks sweep was extremely gratifying and about the smartest move I've ever seen the recording academy make. Let's not forget that through the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, this same Academy routinely shot down hip, deserving new acts—i.e. any effort at remaining relevant—in favor of giving multiple Grammies to safe choices like Natalie Cole, and much as I hate to say it `cause I still love her on some levels, Bonnie Raitt. The Academy has lost much of its clout because like the music business itself sowed all the seeds of its own demise. Make no mistake, it was the crusty old guard, who thought the 60’s record business gravy train would go on forever and who to be frank had no interest in listening to new records and moving the business forward that caused the disaster. I vividly remember the night Natalie Cole won 700 awards and some aging white male idiot exulting from the podium how "real songs" had triumphed.

So there I was with the laptop all cranked up to spew ugly invective about how the BIZ had gone down the chute and among other things forgotten that adults still buy physical product, lots of physical product, not mention concert tickets, "merch" and ahhh yes, rock and roll collectibles for exorbitant amounts of money. Oh and let's not forget those gouge-y projects that benefit both label and artist: let’s see there’s Dicks Picks, the hideous Phish collect 'em all, loose leave notebook scam, the Pearl Jam live editions and now the new Neil Young Archive stuff. Yeah, I was ready wade in guns a blazin’ but then the Chicks sweep started.

Yes it's more about politics than anything else, and Gnarls probably did get rooked, but you have to love it that the ripples of disapproval for Bush continue to percolate. Gee, guess W, Nashville and all those reactionary assholes out there who threatened the band's life got theirs eh? Not really. The thinkers who elected Bush don't care about what academy voters and an awards show from California say about anything. In fact, in their minds that probably confirms for them that they were right in the first place. It's also too bad that Music Row has become so hidebound, stagnant and dependent on playing to the very lowest common denominator. They're living in the same unreal bubble world that our president fumbles around in. When people in New York say they hate country music, it's Reba and Toby and absolute morons like Big and Rich and Rascal Flatts that they're thinking about. I've even noticed lately that smart folk in Nashville all preface discussions of mainstream records with the phrase: "It’s not the kind of record critics will like" because they know it's shit.

But back to the Chicks. They actually deserve the awards, because the record, which is good not great and hovers stylistically in a sort of countrified urban folk groove, is filled with genuinely cool people, a highly unusual occurrence for a big budget, high visibility, major label record. Gary Louris (Jayhawks), Mike Campbell (Tom Petty), Pete Yorn, and Neil Finn (Crowded House) all get co-songwriting credit for one song each on the record. Now on the downside, they also collaborated with Sheryl Crow. Any respect I had for Crow evaporated a few years ago when I saw her badly lip synch a performance at an AFC Championship game. She was weak to start with. Now she's just despicable.

Other Grammy observations:

The shots of the crowd after the Police did "Roxanne" showed nothing but bewilderment, like "What was all the fuss about?" The music biz, not to mention that world at large has changed several times over since the days when the Police had hits.

Jaime Fox saying he had to "translate for the people in Ohio." Ouch! Nice move smooth! People already think music is populated by conspicuously rich, immoral, anti-family values elitists.

Seeing Stevie Wonder is always a treat. As was Ornette Coleman. And Joan Baez introducing The Dixie Chicks, although mentioning Woody Guthrie in the same breath as the Chicks was way, way over the top.

Hearing the great New Orleans engineer/studio owner Cosimo Matassa’s name mentioned and his picture flashed was great. By the way why wasn't the drum beaten for New Orleans over and over again? You know that city, now in severe distress, where most American music began? Shame on this government that we'd rather fight and pay for this obscene mess in Iraq than rebuild one of this country's greatest cities.

Tony Bennett thanking his sponsor Target was embarrassing.

The only way that Mary J. Blige, called "Queen of Soul" in some quarters, is royalty is in making a career out of having a one octave voice.

The Robin Troupe/Justin Timberlake mash as one of the evening's closing numbers was scarily weak. Is that really the best showstopper idea they could come with?

More proof that Rick Rubin is a genius of sorts although not in the way we all thought at one time. He's the king of commerciality. His ears for what will sell, or bringing out what in an act will sell, is absolutely incredible. I mean Johnny Cash loved him. And he made extraordinary records with Cash. So he gets my respect, especially because even though he's become the Midas of sales, it's still doesn’t feel like he's sold out. Yet he’s definitely lowered his sights. The Chili Peppers? They are still the same annoying as hell, marketing focused, pale—assed imitation of Bad Brains that they always were. Can someone, anyone, find a nice quiet vault to bury Anthony Kiedis alive in please?

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