Watching the Grammy Awards is always a mixed bag for me. I want to see the performances and the presenters, but the thing drags out too long and sometimes the host makes or breaks the deal. Last night LL Cool J handled the task well enough, actually starting off the show with the appropriate decorum and respect for the late Whitney Houston, whom he referred to as a “fallen sister.” He asked the crowd to join him in prayer, and that was without question a great Grammy moment.
The rest of the show came off to me as a pastiche of performances, with some hits and misses, and I didn’t like noticing that some of these “live” performers were moving away from a microphone and their singing voices carried on without them. Whether this is double tracking or whatever other thing that is done during a show like this, it comes off as a disingenuous musical moment. No wonder why Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters made a big deal in his acceptance speech of making music in his garage for this latest album. As he rightly pointed out, music should be what is in the heart and mind and not about what’s pumping out of computers. Alas, Auto-Tune is a reality that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
The oddest thing of the night was the parade of older stars (some looking better than others). While I enjoyed seeing musical vets Bruce Springsteen, Glen Campbell, Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, and the Beach Boys on the stage, I was watching it with my tween daughter who did not appreciate their presence. Not only was she baffled by them being “old and singing bad,” she also didn’t know why the show devoted so much time to honor Whitney Houston. Of course, this is coming from a girl who watched the Super Bowl with me last week and asked, “Who is she?” when Madonna came out to sing. When I tried to explain she said, “Yeah, but they should have had a really big star.” Okay, where is Lady Gaga when you need her?
I guess I was taken aback by the head-on crash between my reverence for these cultural icons and my daughter’s disdain for them. I sat quietly as Paul McCartney performed a new love ballad (admittedly slow moving), while my daughter kept saying, “Boring!” It reminded me of when he used to sing “Yesterday” on stage accompanied only by his guitar, but my daughter didn’t know anything about that and for that matter didn’t care. She only wanted Rihanna, Taylor, Adele and company – proving once again that youth reigns supreme in the minds of many watching these broadcasts.
I have to say that seeing the surviving Beach Boys perform was a bittersweet moment for me. While they sounded pretty close to the band I saw singing “Good Vibrations” in concert 30 years ago, they looked their age and then some, almost like some SNL skit lampooning old rockers. I guess I appreciated them for the memories they invoked, but I can understand how my daughter saw them – like “people’s grandpas” playing rock n’ roll.
Overall, it wasn’t the worst Grammy Awards show I had ever seen but not the best either. In the end I realized that there is always an overlapping of generations at moments like these, and I recall watching the show years ago with my parents and being asked, “Who is this guy Meatballs?” They were referring to the singer Meat Loaf, but you get the idea. They were looking for Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Perry Como and, while I could appreciate those singers for what they had done, I much preferred seeing Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Heart, and the Cars. Ah, those were the days.
So perhaps the Grammy Awards are no country for old men (and women), or maybe they are just a place where the past and present converge, to the delight or dismay of the individual viewer. Whatever the case, the show proved that while some acts can go home again, they might be better off staying in that undiscovered country where they remain mythical instead of being brought down to earth by the reality of time and place.
Photo Credits: LL Cool J – hollywoodlife.com; Beach Boys – nytimes.com