Saturday, February 19, 2005

Grammy anger management

I watched the entire Grammy broadcast this year, hoping to see Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks in the audience. Alas, the three categories in which their masterpiece SMiLE was nominated weren't even part of the broadcast. Brian Wilson did make an appearance in a ramshackle "all-star" version of "Across the Universe," which was immediately offered for sale across the universe in the form of an iTunes file.

As music lovers both younger and older know, the Grammys are about product and units sold and the handful of cds that all listeners are supposed to fall in line to buy. So I'm not really disappointed by this year's Grammys. But I am angered by several elements of this broadcast:

One: The dreadful singing evident in so many of the live performances--faux-gospel melisma and faulty pitch. "Across the Universe" is just one example. The ghastly Southern-rock medley is another. What does it mean that we have a pop culture in which many singers cannot really sing? Presumably, that their listeners don't know enough to hear the difference. (Quite scary, because some young singers--e.g., Usher--can really sing.)

Two: The lip-service paid to dead musicians (such as Jelly Roll Morton) and living musicians (such as Pinetop Perkins) whose work will never be a part of the show.

Three: The marginalization of other musicians through specious categorization. On what basis, for instance, is Wilco relegated to the "Alternative" category? (Number of units sold, I suspect.)

Four: The virtual disappearance of whole areas of music. Classical music and jazz were never more than peripheral in the past, but now winners in those areas (and many others) aren't even announced from the stage. Instead, their names flash at the bottom of the screen, so unobtrusive that they're almost invisible.

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