We weren’t supposed to attend the actual Grammy show on Sunday night but at a record label dinner for Wilco on Saturday a Warner Bros. executive overheard Leah moaning about how much she wanted to go and got us two great seats that a friend of his wasn’t using. What a blast it was to find ourselves at the Staples Center with all those music industry glitterati (and the scary glitterati wannabes). Being the 50th anniversary of the awards, they had an unbelievable group of talent on that stage, and despite my intense cynicism of such shows, I had a fantastic time even though Wilco was robbed of the Grammy for Best Rock Album. I tend to be somewhat limited in the music I listen to, sticking with my tried-and-true favorites, but watching this event (which was more of a concert than an awards show since only a handful of actual Grammys are awarded during the live telecast), I found my musical tastes being stretched every which way.
Everyone glammed up for the event. My sister had her make-up done by Helen Mirren’s stylist who provided my favorite quote of the day. When some of the other band members asked when the stylist would be coming down to their room, she said, “I need to stick around for a few minutes to see how her face settles.” Brilliant. Sue’s face settled just fine, thank you, and it was crazy to see her and Jeff sitting right by the stage among so many music legends including the Beatles contingent. My 13-year-old daughter was a knockout in a floor-length red gown and was so excited to be there that she was texting everyone she knew during the show. The outfits we saw ranged from classy to sizzling to gravity-defying to WTF?? I saw one guy who was clearly trying too hard with gold face paint, curlers in his hair, and teddy bears pinned all over his primary color suit. Huh? Many of the women’s dresses seemed tamer than in previous years but there was certainly no shortage of sequins, feathers, or exposed skin. It was such a cleavage-fest that Leah and I were eventually reduced to blatantly staring at the pushed-up bazongas that surrounded us on all sides. Jeff’s publicist was back stage during the show and told us how she watched Beyonce’s stylist help get her into one of the many gowns she wore during the show. After putting the dress on, the man reached both hands in, got a firm grip on Beyonce’s breasts, and then hiked them up as far as they would go. Um…would it be inappropriate for me to apply for this job for next year? It’s a tough assignment but someone’s gotta do it…
Oy, with apologies to all my female readers for that momentary display of piggishness (but, hey, it’s Beyonce, cut me some slack!), here are a few highlights and lowlights of the 2008 Grammys:
Honoring music’s past superstars. I know those numbers with dead people have been done time and again but I loved the opening duet of “Learnin’ the Blues” with Alicia Keys and Frank Sinatra, I thought it set just the right tone for the 50th anniversary show and that they nailed it beautifully—it looked like the black-and-white image of Frank was leaning against Alicia’s piano. To be honest, I know Alicia Keys has been around for years but I think it was the first time I ever heard her sing a note and I was duly impressed. I also got a kick out of the Kid Rock/Keely Smith duet of “That Old Black Magic.” I hadn’t seen Smith since she was the mystery guest on “What’s My Line” in 1964 and it was cool to have her on the show since she sang that song at the first Grammy presentation with her husband Louis Prima. I’ve always found Kid Rock to be a bit creepy and yet I’m somehow fascinated by him. I enjoyed his weird sexually-tinged repartee with Keely Smith even though Keely seemed a little confused and Kid Rock completely messed up the song.
Acknowledging mother loss. I can’t say I’m a big fan of Kanye West and his supersized ego, and when he first came out on the stage I had a hard time getting past his glow-in-the-dark sunglasses and jacket that made him look like a character from the Disney movie “Tron.” But when he launched into a heartfelt version of his song “Hey, Mama,” I was moved to tears. Make that loud, audible sobbing. With some of the lyrics retooled to reflect his mother’s recent death (“Last night I saw you in my dreams/Now I can’t wait to go to sleep”), I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house, and despite his bravado, this number was as real as it gets even with the odd floating angel on the video screen behind him. I also loved how he shamed the orchestra to stop playing exit music when he was talking about his mom (“It would be in good taste to stop doing that right now”) but did he have to announce how much he deserved to win the other awards? He said that he and Amy Winehouse both deserved to win Album of the Year (so much for the other nominees). I guess the Grammy voters didn’t get that memo because neither of them won the top prize which, in the only true shocker of the evening, went to Herbie Hancock’s jazz tribute to Joni Mitchell.
Rehab from rehab. I’m more familiar with Amy Winehouse’s drug and alcohol troubles than I am with her music so I didn’t know what to expect during her live performance from London. I also wondered if her rehab doctors had sanctioned her singing via satellite on the Grammys. Call me crazy, but playing at a rock club at 4 am doesn’t seem like a typical part of an addict’s recovery program. But man oh man, that woman killed. Her raw performance of “You Know I’m No Good” and “Rehab” (wink, wink) brought the house down and sent me straight to iTunes when I got home (which, after all, is the primary goal of these shows). She seemed genuinely moved when she won the award for Best Record and it was sweet seeing her clutching her little Jewish mother. Will I lose all my street cred (like I ever had any) if I mention that I thought Winehouse looked a lot like the young pre-“Funny Girl” Barbra Streisand, complete with wild hairstyle and bizarre eye makeup? The Danish contingent directly behind us was so excited every time Amy Winehouse won a Grammy that Leah had to put her fingers in her ears during their cheering. I hope Winehouse gets her act together, she has so much to offer.
Beyonce and Tina Turner create a fire hazard. What was that weird noise during the Beyonce/Tina Turner duet? Oh, that was the sound of my tongue hitting the floor. Has there ever been a greater level of HOTness on the Grammy stage, both from Miss Knowles and the 68-year-old Turner who is now officially retired but has not lost a smidgen of her talent, voice, charisma, or sex appeal? I loved every second of this tribute and get dizzy when I think of their supercharged version of “Proud Mary.” The only sour note came after they were finished. The audience was so revved up from this pairing that we wanted to bask in the glory of it for just a few moments. But the second Tina sang her final exquisite note, the ladies were summarily booted off the stage as Andy Williams trudged to the podium with Nelly Furtado and Roselyn Sanchez. Their inane banter managed to deflate the energy in the room from ecstasy to boredom in record time.
Aretha rules. And don’t you forget it. I would never want to be on Aretha Franklin’s bad side (today she dissed Beyonce for calling Tina Turner the Queen instead of her), but I’d happily sit in any audience that she graces with her supreme presence. We all know and love her pop hits, but hearing her channel her gospel roots with BeBe Winans was icing on the cake. As the gigantic video screen displayed a huge glowing cross, Franklin and Winans crooned “Never Gonna Break My Faith” and then were joined by a bunch of fabulous gospel groups I’d never heard of such as the Clark Sisters, Trin-I-Tee 5:7, and Israel and the New Breed. I believe, Aretha, I believe! And speaking of Aretha’s glory days, what a thrill to see Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard rocking on that stage. To quote me, my sister, and I’m guessing half of the crowd at the Staples Center: “I thought they were both dead!” but they were most definitely alive and still able to sell their hit songs with gusto and verve. Can you believe that Lewis is now 72 and Little Richard is 75? I also enjoyed seeing the always classy 81-year-old Tony Bennett and only wish he’d been allowed to sing a few bars.
Lifetime awards fizzle. By far the most annoying part of the Grammys was the stupid way they presented the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Awards. What should have been a series of reverential moments for this year’s honorees (which included artists such as Doris Day, Cab Calloway, Earl Scruggs, Burt Bacharach, and Itzchak Perlman) instead came off as a disrespectful dismissal of these great talents. Presenter Tom Hanks started off the confusion by presenting the first award to The Band but then switched in mid-sentence to his introduction of a Beatles medley by Cirque de Soleil and the cast of “Across the Universe.” I wracked my brain trying to figure out the connection between the two groups until I realized there was none, they were just on to something else. Would it have killed the Grammy producers to come up with 30-second clips for each of the lifetime award winners? I say give out less of those awards each year and have current performers pay tribute to these folks. How about a little “Que sera sera” sung by Alicia Keys for God’s sake? The presentation of those awards was consistently awful and cringe-producing.
Prince, you’re closer to Sinatra’s age than you think. Okay, I admit it, I never “got” Prince. Don’t yell at me, but I always enjoyed our friend Fred Armisen’s send-up of the Artist on “Saturday Night Live” far more than watching the Purple One himself. Maybe I misinterpreted the joke but I resented Prince’s crack following the Alicia Keys/Frank Sinatra duet: “He looks pretty good for someone who’s 150 years old.” Okay, Mr. 24-inch-waist, first of all, Sinatra’s been dead for seven years but if he were alive he’d be 92. I’ve got news for you, bub, you’re getting up there yourself, I wouldn’t be so quick with the age jokes. You’ll be turning 50 this year, which in your industry makes you close to Moses’ age.
Does anyone care about what’s going on in the world? No one wants an awards show that is bathed in self-righteous preachiness. Believe me, I could care less what Rihanna or Carrie Underwood think about world events, but I was a bit surprised by the complete absence of political awareness during the broadcast. Only comedian George Lopez mentioned the upcoming election with a non-PC retro joke about how Clinton or Obama needs to choose a Mexican Vice President. Oy. Oh, and Herbie Hancock did evoke Obama’s “Yes, We Can” mantra. I didn’t see any ribbons on display for AIDS or breast cancer awareness, or any other causes du jour. I suppose it’s just as well—let the Grammys be what they are: a self-serving congratulatory lovefest from the music industry to itself. Still, it’s worth noting that Barack Obama actually won a Grammy on Sunday for his audio recording of “The Audacity of Hope.” He beat out Bill Clinton for the award just a few hours after trouncing Hillary in the Maine Caucus. An omen of things to come?
Everyone please stay in your seats! The show’s not over! In one of the few technical mis-steps, the ending of Grammy broadcast was a big bomb. Herbie Hancock finished his acceptance speech and the monitors cut to a commercial. Often during the commercial breaks an announcer would tell us what was happening, when they were coming back from the break, but this time there was nothing so it just seemed like an anti-climactic ending to an exciting evening. People started swarming out of the Staples Center in droves, when finally a meek voice came on the speakers saying, “Oh, please don’t go yet. We still have Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band coming up!” Oops. Apparently the Cirque de Soleil was going to perform this bit during the closing credits. Leah and I stayed to watch but half the crowd had already left. It was times like this when they really needed a host. I say hire Jon Stewart or Ellen Degeneres next year, Grammy people. My sister took this cool photo of the confetti that poured down during the closing number.
Despite any criticism I may have, I have to say how impressed I was at how smoothly things went. The set changes were extremely complicated and yet most went off without a hitch. I’m amazed at how calm and collected all the performers seemed during their numbers even though chaos often ruled seconds before the end of the commercial break. Bravo, Grammys, even if my brother-in-law was robbed of the award! My nephews didn’t come out from Chicago for the show but their friends were very supportive. When Sammy went to school yesterday, many of his second grade classmates referred to the Foo Fighters, the band that won the Grammy over Wilco, as the “Poo Fighters!”
Kendall met us for the crazy after-party at the old St. Vibiana’s Cathedral in downtown L.A. Once again we got to walk the red carpet, trailing behind Wilco and causing the crowds of reporters and photographers to give us those wonderfully irritated looks that say “Who the hell are YOU and what are you doing here?” Unlike the last Grammy after-party we attended years ago at Warner Bros. Studios, which was packed full of long tables containing all manner of gourmet delicacies, this party was low on the grub, at least for the likes of us. Servers would walk by with small trays of mini-Kobe burgers or goat cheese tartlets and we’d attack them like we were World War II refugees. The booze was free-flowing but Kendall and I were starving to the point where we wanted to shout, “Who do you have to f*ck around here to get a shrimp?” We finally found a balcony at the party that contained a lot more food but were stopped on the stairs by some burly guards who asked us who we were. Apparently you had to be a bona fide star to merit entry to this buffet line. With our mouths watering, we gazed over the man’s shoulder to watch Natalie Cole devouring a plate of desserts. “Hey, Natalie, can you toss us a red velvet cupcake?” Speaking of the “Unforgettable” Miss Cole, I was a little surprised to hear her diss Amy Winehouse and her five Grammy wins. “I don’t think she deserved it,” the former Grammy winner told a reporter. “I think she needs to get her life together first and then get the awards later.” Oh, Natalie, Natalie, if having your life together is a prerequisite for such an honor, we better set up a toll-free number to facilitate the return of nearly every Grammy, Oscar, or Emmy ever awarded.