I recognized another certain sign of aging tonight: The Grammy Awards no longer piss me off. When I was a worshipper at the altar of pop music, the annual music awards show was always my opportunity to vent at the establishment. Every time they gave another award to Henry Mancini instead of, say, the Kinks, I had the chance to rage against the machine. But the machine has shifted gears, and the world of popular music is in an upheaval for which the industry is still groping for answers. I stopped following the pop charts around the time cassette tapes came on the market, so my soundtrack has pretty much remained unchanged for the past 30 years. But I still keep an eye on it, and this year's awards were perfectly satisfactory. Some talented people won, and when the awards ended, my heart was filled with like.
I mean, how can you not like Lady Gaga? Not only is she outrageous and provocative, she's also seriously good. She opened the show in a futuristic, tight-fitting costume that gave new meaning to the term "cleavage." Strutting in front of the now obligatory flying wedge of dancers that Michael Jackson hath wrought, Gaga was flung into a fiery kettle and emerged face to face with Elton John, with whom she performed a stunning duo on twin pianos covered in what appeared to be severed arms from the "Thriller" video. For some unknown reason, they were both covered in soot and wearing outlandish sunglasses. I don't know what the effect was supposed to be, but between Lady Gaga's outfit and Sir Elton's latest fright wig, they both looked like they just stepped out of the cast of Cats. The performance set up the evening's theme of incongruous duets.
As scintillating as was the Gaga-John partnership, the pairing of America's sweetheart Taylor Swift with America's ex-girlfriend Stevie Nicks was nearly excruciating, and that was just the singing. It looked like "take your daughter to work" day at the Grammys. Mary J. Blige, who has a nice voice, and Andrea Bocelli sang an operatic version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" for Haitian relief, which inspired me to write a short poem:
Mary J. Blige might be Queen of the Scene,
But she's no Mavis Staples, if you know what I mean.
The tribute to Michael Jackson proves that you can grow tired of anything after a while. The 3-D video may have looked nice in the Staples Center, but in my living room it just caused retinal burn. And the kids are adorable, but enough already. (I'll still probably buy the damn film though.) Also, I know Maxwell is supposed to be the next big thing, but singing "Where Is the Love" with Roberta Flack will invariably draw comparisons to Donnie Hathaway ... not a great idea. Flack, who was either drunk or done, was just awful, which is heartbreaking to a man who once wept through an entire, early-'70s Roberta Flack concert at the Mid-South Coliseum. I understand how hard it is to sing live, but somebody ought to tell her.
The evening's longest performance belonged to Recording Academy president Neil Portnoy, who bragged about the association's good deeds and solicited donations for Haitian earthquake relief before the screed turned into Portnoy's complaint, where he scolded the listening public over illegal downloading and file-sharing. It's fun to watch the "industry" so hapless and lost after their decades-long stranglehold on the entirety of the muzic bidness. It was also nice that Jim Dickinson and Willie Mitchell were recognized in memoriam.
Either CBS or WREG Channel 3 seriously screwed up the ending of the show. I suspect I know which. After showing a series of local commercials and no-snow closings, the station had a Heidi moment and blew the entire presentation for Album of the Year. They returned to Taylor Swift's thank-yous already in progress and eliminated at least four minutes of network feed. It was like reading a mammoth novel and finding the final chapter torn out or listening to a CD that's missing a few tracks. Aside from the mutilated ending, this year's Grammys were pleasant. It was justifiable that "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" won Song of the Year for Beyoncé. But it's obvious that the real song of the year was submitted far too late for consideration. Everyone knows it's got to be "Pants on the Ground."