The Grammy Awards were handed out last night. And there was much outrage.
It seems the all-important Grammys behaved as though the whole event was just an opportunity for the music industry to pat itself on the back. A popularity contest, if you will. Small wonder music lovers everywhere are disappointed. This, after all, is the trusted validation-therapy ceremony that has justly recognized Bent Fabric’s Alley Cat as a great rock and roll recording, The Starland Vocal Band as a band with a future and Boyz II Men as pace-setters in the world of rhythm and blues. And that’s not to mention heavy metal heroes Jethro Tull.
So no, I feel no outrage. My Grammy outrage was exhausted years ago, in light of two specific injustices. First, there was Milli Vanilli, the duo unjustly forced to return its Grammys. I maintain that if the discerning movers and shakers who vote for the awards were dim enough to declare Milli Vanilli’s debut album to be one of the best things to ever happen to music, they should be forced to live with that decision rather than conveniently wash their hands of it.
Perhaps they could have gained from the experience.
Likewise, the Song of the Year prize remains an annual source of frustration, as the industry-types inexplicably ignore a key precedent that saw Irving Gordon receive a 1992 Grammy for his 1951 composition Unforgettable. (This, over not only Losing my Religion but Bryan Adams’ Everything I Do etc.) The 41-year-old composition, it was explained, deserved to be recognized because it had been covered (sort of) by Natalie Cole and was therefore made new again.
The following year’s nominees for Song of the Year should, therefore, have included Stardust, It Don’t Mean a Thing, Summertime, It Had to be You, Yesterday, Autumn in New York, Just One of Those Things, My Funny Valentine, Perdido, April in Paris, Sweet Home Chicago, All of Me and/or My Baby Just Cares for Me. Each had been included on a Grammy-eligible album; not one was considered a more enduring composition than a short-list of nominees that included Achy Breaky Heart. (Which, thankfully, did not win. Credit where it’s due.)
You will therefore forgive me if I expect little from the Grammy Awards.
Indeed, I draw comfort from the Grammys’ steadfast resistance to accept change, innovation or life outside the top 40. After all, hip hop has been part of the mainstream for a mere 39 years; we must give the industry time to determine whether this is a passing fad before expecting the awards to rain down. Moreover, hip hop has for two generations and counting been the essence of contemporary folk music. Acclaim and awards have rarely crossed paths with folk music; when hip hop begins to dominate the Grammys, we will know it is no longer relevant.
Not that the ceremony did not have its moments. Say what you will about the Grammy Awards (and I have said plenty, above), they do tributes well. Last night, it was a tribute to lives lost in the name of going out to see a show. (A tribute set to the tune of Tears in Heaven, which, coincidentally, was named Song of the Year at the 1993 Grammys. See how it all ties together?) Poignant. Passionate. Powerful.
There was no tribute to Mark E. Smith, who left us last week. I am okay with that. No doubt, we will no doubt lose a number of rock and roll legends this year, as we now do each year. It is perhaps with that in mind that a handful of veterans announced their retirement last week, as a way of stealing headlines while being alive to see them. Elton John is about to embark on the latest in a series of farewell tours that date back to 1997. Slayer is set to hang it up after 2018. And illness has forced Neil Diamond to cut short a 50th anniversary tour that now stands as his premature goodbye to the stage.
Thankfully, I was able to see The Fall, Sir Elton, Slayer and Neil Diamond back in the day. (Not together — though that would have been awesome!) And I want to take a moment to pay homage to the artist among those four who provided the most memorable concert.
The year was, uh, 2000 or so. (I suppose I could look it up.) I had seen five punk shows over five days. Okay, one was more of an emo show. On this night, however, I was prepared for an entirely different sort of live performance.
Neil Diamond. At the Palladium. Or whatever it was called at the time.
I had exchanged messages with members of the faithful cult known as Diamondheads — loyal fans that followed their hero around the world to see what was, essentially, the same show with the same patter. Night after night. And why not? It was, as I soon discovered, a pretty swell show.
Not start-to-finish swell, y’understand. There was the short set of songs from his latest album. (A collection of Broadway standards, as I recall.) There was, uh, Forever in Blue Jeans. (Not once, but twice, as I will explain.) There was Love on the Rocks. Suffice it to say, there was a bit too much post-1972 Neil. But there was a moment mid-concert when the veteran performer with the old-man pants strapped on his acoustic guitar and broke into a stream of wondrous wonders — Cherry Cherry, Girl You’ll be a Woman Soon, I Got the Feeling, Solitary Man…
At that moment, I became a convert. Perhaps it was only for one night, but I know another night would have had the same effect. Certainly, I gained an understanding of the Diamondhead faith.
He had, after all, sauntered onto the stage (a concert in the round, it was), gazed in awe at the rapt audience before him, gestured in mock-disbelief as though we must be there to see someone more worthy and rasped something along the lines of: “You know, I’ve never been to your city before. I guess that means we’ll be here all night!”
It immediately struck me that this was more appreciation and engagement with an audience than I had witnessed at any of those punk shows. Granted, I did not expect much in the way of patter at the emo show. But still, here was a performer content with his lot and determined to have us know that his mission in life was at that moment to please the people of Kanata, Ont. That, dear rockers, is how it’s done.
Little did I know that staying all night might have meant even more renditions of Forever in Blue Jeans, a song he insisted on repeating after noting that contrary to his instructions not everyone had stood for its first airing. Hearing that Neil intended to perform the song until everyone was on his or her feet, the Sony Music rep seated beside me reluctantly rose. “All right,” he muttered, “I’ll stand! I don’t want him to do it a third time.”
It is likely he had been through this before. It is certain that many in attendance had been through it before. And would gladly do so again. As would I.
Alas, it is not to be. A tribute concert to the performer is reportedly in the works for sometime this year; no further details about the show are available at this time, but it is to be part of a celebration that will include a Lifetime Achievement Award for the solitary man.
It is unclear whether Neil Diamond will attend or perform. But you know it will be good: it is being organized by the Grammy Awards.