"Grammys show highlights why music is dead
For the past 49 years, the Grammy Awards show has been a festival of mediocrity and an annual contest to show how much more out of touch the recorded-music industry becomes each year.
In the 1970s, the long-forgotten disco act A Taste of Honey beat out Elvis Costello for Best New Artist. Neither the Clash nor the Ramones were recognized by the Grammys until long after their careers were over.
In 1994, the Grammys honored Frank Sinatra by cutting away from his acceptance speech in mid-sentence, an act that in earlier years could have led to a Mafia-led war against CBS.
Last year, after 30 years of exile, the Grammys honored R&B legend Sly Stone by giving him 30 seconds of performance time.
But this year’s awards ceremony, broadcast Sunday night on CBS, was the worst ever because they committed the most unforgivable of sins: They desecrated the memory of the Godfather of Soul.
James Brown’s death on Christmas Day brought to an end one of the most prolific, inventive and visionary careers in the history of popular music. Brown was more than a singer and a bandleader, he was the founding father of soul, disco, funk and hip-hop. The music he created will be studied, dissected and, most importantly, enjoyed for hundreds of years.
So how do the Grammys decide to honor Soul Brother No. 1? Christina Aguilera performed an execrable version of “It’s a Man’s World,” full of pointless vocal trills and moans. A tap-dancer tried to recreate some of James’ dance moves. And his storied cape was placed over a microphone.
There couldn’t have been a more inappropriate choice to perform a JB song than Aguilera. In the prime of James’ career, the only thing she would have been qualified to do for him was meet him at the hotel after the show.
Brother James, looking down from on high, was probably sharing a laugh with Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix, two other giants who were slighted by the Grammys during their lifetimes.
A proper tribute to Brown might have consisted of some real singers performing his songs and a reunion of his greatest backing band, with Maceo Parker, Bootsy Collins, Bobby Byrd and Fred Wesley.
But, as usual, the Grammys took the easy way out and, instead, devoted way too much airtime to a half-baked tribute to the Eagles, a band that sold a lot of records but, ultimately, did little that was original or innovative.
It’s stuff like this that makes me glad that I don’t write about music anymore. Rock and roll is dead and has been for quite some time. The rifle slug that tore through Kurt Cobain’s skull in 1994 also brought to an end the last new wave of rock that had any substance to it.
Since then, the only acts recording great music are legacy bands and artists, ones who existed before Cobain killed himself. U2 and Bob Dylan have made great albums. The Red Hot Chili Peppers have made a decent album or two. The genius of
Ani DiFranco and Prince will never fade.
The rest of them are either tiresome Grateful Dead wannabes, wimpy Cat Stevens-style singer/songwriters or shitty new-metal bands.
If rock is dead and in its grave, then hip-hop and rap are on life support, requiring ventilators in order to breathe. In the early 1990s, 2Pac, Biggie Smalls, Public Enemy and Nas were creating music that was changing the world the same way James Brown’s did in the 1960s and 1970s.
Then ’Pac and Biggie were murdered, bringing an end to that era. Snoop Dogg, Eminem and Nas still keep the torch burning for rap, but it’s a dying cause, too, Jay-Z’s Black Album notwithstanding.
I blame American Idol for promoting a culture where soulless interpretation and a nice set of hooters are seen as the ultimate expression of music.
But that’s just a partial explanation. The real reason music has sucked for 10 years or more is that it’s all being recorded digitally, which reduces music to a flat-sounding mess that lacks the soul of the analog recordings of the past. The digital age has made it possible for everyone to record crappy music now.
Dylan, as he so often does, summed it up well in his recent Rolling Stone interview: “I remember when that Napster guy came up across, it was like, ‘Everybody’s gettin’ music for free.’ I was like, ‘Well, why not? It ain’t worth nothing anyway.”
Aptly put, Mr. Z.