The 48th Annual Grammy Awards
Staples Center, Los Angeles/CBS-TV
Wednesday, Feb. 8
The annual celebration of all that is bad about the music industry, the Grammy Awards, reinforced the popular notion that almost all popular music is shit and the record labels are full of evil bastards who wouldn't know talent if it hit them on the head with a Fender Jazz Bass.
The good news was that the public seemed to ignore the CBS broadcast in droves; the amateur singers on American Idol drew more viewers than did the Grammys. While that's encouraging news, the bad news is that the Grammys are as bad, if not worse, than they've ever been.
All the atrocities from past years were present. Washed-up icon opening the show: Madonna, check. No-name performers cracking lame jokes: Jennifer Love Hewitt, check. Annoyingly sappy montage of recently deceased musicians: check.
In fact, most of the show was so uneventful and so inane that it would hardly deserve the meager space given it here. But there were a few lasting impressions of the TV broadcast that deserve attention.
One is that we've reached some kind of Warholian dilemma. Everyone is world famous for 15 minutes, as he predicted, but Andy couldn't have foreseen that a) most of those people end up in the music biz; and b) they refuse to acknowledge that their personal game clock is showing all zeroes.
In real life, this phenomenon is played out with endless reunion tours by groups such as Chicago and James Taylor. On the Grammys, it's played out by pretending that Mariah Carey is still a viable artist, that Kelly Clarkson is the new Madonna and that people still listen to Bruce Springsteen.
The harsh fact facing the music business these days is that there is only one performer worthy of the term superstar, and he claims that he's retiring. When Jay-Z took the stage with Linkin Park to perform the mash-up of "Numb" and "Encore," that fact was made plain as day.
No one else there that night, not Bono, not Clarkson, not Carey, can command a stage like Jay-Z can. And while the boasts of most rappers are just that, self-aggrandizing bull, Jay-Z was not exaggerating when he rapped, "After me, there shall be no more / So for one last time, make some noise."
To further emphasize his point, during the end of the song, where Linkin Park does its woe-is-me bit, who should show up on the stage and finish the song but Sir Paul McCartney, doing two verses of "Yesterday" while Jay punctuated each line with "Yeah" and "That's right."
Even the Beatles (or what's left of them) are Jay-Z's bitch now, something that the world can observe with happiness or horror but which is indisputably true. Save U2, no other performer nominated for a Grammy exudes the starpower Jay-Z has this year. Nobody, not even Dr. Dre or Tupac in their prime, exerts as much power as he.
The only other redeeming aspect of the Grammys was the much-hyped Sly and the Family Stone reunion. Notoriously reclusive, Sly hasn't appeared in public since his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. So for his return to the stage, the Grammy people pulled out all the stops.
Van Hunt and others sang "Family Affair." Fantasia pulled out the stops on "If You Want Me To Stay." And Maroon 5 (!) even did a credible version of "Everyday People," all of which led to Steven Tyler and Joe Perry starting off "I Want To Take You Higher," with the idea being that Sly would finish it.
But the 61-year-old Stone had other ideas. Emerging in a gold jumpsuit with a blonde mohawk wig, he took the mic, sang a few inaudible lines, pretended to play his Korg keyboard and then left the stage, waving, leaving the rest of the band confused and forced to finish the song without him.
By leaving the stage, by refusing to take part in the charade, Sly not only reinforced his image as the J.D. Salinger of funk, he showed enormous integrity and courage. If he is never seen in public again, it will have been the perfect coda to his career.
It was the perfect capper to a perfectly awful night of entertainment. If, as has been said, one can gauge the health of the recorded-music industry by the quality of the Grammys, it's far past time to write the obituary of rock and roll as a means of mass communication.
And as its life passes before its eyes as it enters the great unknown, rock and roll's last memory will be that of Sly in a mohawk, leaving the stage while network producers scrambled in panic.
In a world where endings are rarely so well-defined or permanent, there was an odd justice to that act, as if Providence had intended it all along.