I have been watching the Grammy Awards ("the music industry's highest honor!") for years, going back to a time when Stevie Wonder was winning every Grammy to be had. I have a love/hate relationship with the Grammys. While I love it when someone deserving is honored, I hate when some lame band like Toto strikes Grammy gold. And don't even get me started on Christopher Cross...
Here's a rundown of this year's Grammy Awards, which began at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on February 21:
6:45 p.m.-Jimmy and I are watching his Awesome Farm Machinery video when Donna finds out on the Internet that Barenaked Ladies, her favorite band, lost the only award for which they were nominated to Steely Dan, never a favorite band of hers. This award had been given out, as they say, "prior to broadcast." This not only disappoints Donna, but is a foreshadowing of another controversial Steely Dan win before the evening is over.
7:55 p.m.-As a Grammy preview show ends, Jimmy sees Beck on TV. Beck is wearing a snazzy white suit that Jimmy likes. "That's Beck," I tell Jimmy. "No," replies Jimmy, "that's me."
8:00-The show begins with Madonna, who rides onto the stage in a glittering limo supposedly being driven by pint-sized rapper Lil Bow Wow. "Don't talk," Jimmy commands as Madonna launches into an energetic performance of her hit, "Music." A few minutes later, Jimmy asks, "What's Madonna doing on that car?" Fortunately, this time around she's only dancing. After Madonna performs, an announcer lists everyone who will be appearing on the show. At the end of the list, Jimmy screams, "...and Jimmy!"
The show proceeds. Heather Locklear and Kid Rock present Macy Gray with an award. My mind is blown when I hear Devo's "Beautiful World" in a Target commercial. After the commerical break N*sync comes on and Jimmy insists he's the one in the red shirt, as I think to myself, "No, Jim, it was cooler when you were Beck." Then Jimmy claims that he and his dad and his pap pap are all in N*sync.
At 8:30, Jimmy heads off to his bedroom and we begin his nightly bedtime ritual. While brushing teeth, reading, and saying prayers, we miss Toni Braxton, apparently wearing a dress the size of a hankerchief, and Paul Simon, apparently sounding off-key and looking, well, his age. As Donna reads a bedtime story, I sneak a peak at Destiny's Child, the members of which have some kind of sparkly bikini-esque type outfit going on.
Perhaps inspired by all this music, Jimmy insists that Donna and I sing some duets for him. We sing the Beatles' "I Will," together, which is usually Donna's solo, and then run through a duet version of Otis Redding's "Dock Of The Bay," which is usually all mine. We sound off-key of course, but considering the fact that we were singing at exactly the same time as Paul Simon was, I guess that's appropriate.
While putting Jim to bed, we also miss Eminem receiving an award, but it's OK though, since singing a few off-key bedtime songs to our son is obviously the most important music that'll be made in our house tonight.
At 8:55, Jimmy is in bed. He's up again at 8:57 to grab a book he wants to take to bed. He tucks himself back in and we don't hear from him again for the rest of the show. This is surprising. Usually, he's up at least twice before he falls asleep.
From this point onward, my notes fail to mention the exact time anything happens. U2 was the next highlight for us, performing their stirring hit, "Beautiful Day." Sheryl Crow and Shelby Lynne sing together and then announce the Song of the Year, which goes to "Beautiful Day." U2 guitarist The Edge tries his hand at standup comedy during the acceptance speech.
Just before a 9:30 commercial break, a list of non-televised awards scrolls up the screen as cheesy music plays in the background. Donna and I agree that they ought to play something less cheesy during a music awards show, but cheesy music seems to be a constant at awards shows. We see a commercial for the new Brad Pitt/Julia Roberts movie, The Mexican and we idly speculate over whether Brad and Julia have an onscreen chemistry, but it's pretty obvious that neither one of us care much one way or another.
The show returns with one of the best performances of the evening: Moby, Jill Scott and Blue Man Group playing an electrifying version of Moby's "Natural Blues." I don't think television does it justice, but it's obviously an exciting piece. This is followed by Shelby Lynne, who has been making albums for years, winning the Best New Artist Award (part of the requirements for this award state that an artist can be eligible if this is the first year they've made an impact in music, as opposed to simply their first year in music). Lynne, whose album I Am Shelby Lynne is the kind of neat little country soul record nobody seems to make anymore, says, "I stand here tonight and represent nothing but music." To me, this is the simplest, yet most eloquent statement made during the telecast.
The next great performance comes around 10:00 courtesy of Macy Gray, who leads a big soulful band (some of the wearing funky purple wigs) through her gorgeous song, "I Try," which is up for Record of the Year award. When U2's "Beautiful Day" wins that award a few minutes later, a brief shot of U2 backstage shows lead vocalist Bono trying to bring Macy Gray onstage with him and the rest of U2. She doesn't join them, but Bono says that part of the award belongs to her as much as it does to U2.
My notes get really sketchy after that, a testament to the fact that nothing else moved me the way that Madonna, U2, Moby/Jill Scott/Blue Man Group, and Macy Gray did. Christina Aguilera's performance of a song from her Latin album generates a lot of heat but leaves me cold. The Dolly Parton/Brad Paisley collaboration is nice but insubstantial. The segment where a new award, the Best Native American Recording, is given out is just plain surreal, not because it isn't a valid award but just because it seems to be plopped into the middle of the program, with little or no context, making it seem like the award is nothing more than a bone thrown to the gods of political correctness.
None of this really matters though because I was feeling uplifted and excited by the performances I've already mentioned. And then along came Eminem.
It had been big news for weeks that internationally famous gay entertainer Elton John was going to be performing with the allegedly gay-bashing Eminem, so of course their duet was scheduled late in the show. This was to keep the kiddies from seeing it, of course, but it also helped build suspense. Michael Greene, the president of the National Academy of the Recording Arts and Sciences stepped onstage and gave a typically annoying speeches (for some reason, he's one of those guys who aggravates me even when I agree with every word he's saying) about the First Amendment, blah, blah, blah, and then he introduced Eminem, who performed "Stan," his melodramatic tale of obsessed fandom, with Elton John playing piano and singing.
I have to admit it's a compelling performance. Elton John sings and plays with the kind of conviction he doesn't always seem capable of anymore. Having only heard the song before once, I find myself caught up in the tragic tale of Stan who drives himself and his pregnant girlfriend (who he has stuffed in the trunk) off a bridge because Em hasn't answered his fan letters. In that moment, I had to admit, at least to myself, that Eminem is a powerful performer with something to say and that it's no wonder that more people bought his Marshall Mathers LP than bought all four of the other Album of the Year nominees combined. "Stan" ends and the audience gave Em and EJ a standing ovation (to which Eminem allegedly responds by giving the audience "the finger" with both hands but this isn't seen in the telecast).
That moment of weakness on my part, giving Eminem the benefit of the doubt, is wiped out immediately after Em and EJ finished "Stan," when the network cuts to what had to be a very carefully placed commercial. It's a public service announcement decrying domestic violence. In it, the viewer hears a husband beat up his wife, while seeing only their toddler-aged son, huddled on the staircase with a sad, terrified expression on his face. This is a powerful and disturbing ad, the kind nobody wants to see but maybe everybody needs to see once in awhile. It's even more powerful when juxtaposed with Eminem's performance, since one of the most notorious tracks on his Grammy-nominated CD is "Kim," in which Eminem fantasizes about killing his wife in their child's presence. This snaps me back from any positive feelings I may have had about the performance I'd just seen, since it makes me realize once again that one compelling performance, a lot of critical praise, a few Grammy Awards, and eight million plus sales do not excuse the evil that Eminem conveys with his music, no matter how cleverly it's produced.
After the commercials are over, Steely Dan wins Album of the Year award, and the show sputters to a halt. Eminem fans are probably still demanding a recount and saying the award was fixed, but by and large, it is the tradition of the Grammys to reward artists who were shunned in their prime with Grammys for lesser work. In other words, Steely Dan's Grammys this year aren't so much for the Two Against Nature album as they were for the Aja and Katy Lied albums that were ignored by the Grammy people more than two decades ago.
So the Grammy Awards end, not so much on a sour note, as a flat one. No matter though. We had fun watching the show and singing to Jimmy before he fell asleep and the best performances were well worth watching.
Besides that, Christopher Cross didn't win a thing. Life is good.
(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print a hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2001 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)