There was a lot of kvetching last week about the Grammys this year, on the Facebook and the Interwebs. As in, who are these people?
Our blogging friend Fandango wondered about it in his Wednesday question of the week. After wondering why so many people on the Grammys seem strange, his question was What’s your favorite music, but I decline to answer that, since my list is long, and I like individual songs rather than the style (though I will answer, at the end of the post). I’m still considering the other question: Who are these people?
I’ve seen my contemporaries, my sexagenarian friends, ask that question too, with a lot of grumpiness. And yet, I say to them, when you were a kid and watched Frank Sinatra or Perry Como sing year after year at the Grammys or the Oscars, didn’t you feel like they ought to shuffle aside for someone a little hipper?
Let’s keep the Grammys in perspective.
It Ain’t About the Age
My grandfather didn’t listen to Led Zeppelin. Actually, my grandfathers probably didn’t even listen to Elvis; they were both the Perry Como types, if they liked music at all. I’ll bet their grandfathers also thought that Sinatra, Como, Tony Bennett, and Ella Fitzgerald were all way too radical. Remember that swing and jazz were revolutionary. Waltzes were revolutionary because they were among the first dances where partners would actually touch. Plus they were revolutionary because… ok, I’m not going to say it.
…(because they turned in a circle…Doh! Shame on me!)…
In 1961, Ray Charles won a Grammy for “Hit the Road Jack.” It’s a classic now because it’s an enjoyable little ditty that was perfectly executed, but Charles singing his jazzy, country style at the time was also considered pretty radical. Jim Crow was still in fashion; Black performers couldn’t get played on the radio and, when they did, white counterparts would play their music on TV. Until talent pushed blandness out of the way. Popular music pushes the cultural envelope forward. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable.
Music is also in the ear of the beholder. I still haven’t warmed to that newfangled rap music and was surprised to find that it’s already half a century old! The Grammys featured it in a long tribute. I didn’t care for all of it, but they made their case. I mean, Queen Latifah, end of story. I don’t care for Charles Ives either or much of Mozart, nor do I like anything where someone uses an auto tuner. I’m told that everyone does these days, but I don’t think that’s entirely true.
We need to distinguish between I don’t care for that music from that music is no good, and we need to stop saying it has something to do with lowered standards or people’s age. My sexagenarian friends, you can not tell me that “Woolly Bully,” the #1 song of October 30, 1965, was the height of civilization. Or that you enjoyed listening to “You Light Up My Life” in 1977 for a year and a half. Or Britney Spears, Milli Vanilli, or … well, if I go much past 2002, I don’t know who these people are. But I hear that Nickelback is passe now.
The Musicians Are Aging Anyway
Led Zeppelin wasn’t classic at the time. They are now, having finally won a Grammy, shortly near the time they were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. When Heart‘s Ann and Nancy Wilson performed “Stairway to Heaven” in 2012 at the ceremony, the women rockers were in their late fifties, Jimmy Page was in his late sixties, and this song would go down as one of the greatest rock performances of all time:
For all the head-scratching over who those unknown people are on the Grammys, there were plenty of older very recognizable faces. Rock and roll is getting older, too. Sheryl Crow, Mick Fleetwood, and Bonnie Raitt played a lovely tribute to Christine McVie, and they sounded just fine. Raitt went on to win another Grammy. Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson don’t sing the same, but Stevie still sounds the same when he plays. It was joyful to watch new country superstar Chris Stapleton watch Stevie play.
When Madonna came out, there was the usual stream of invective about how she looks, which has followed Madonna for her entire career. Kudos to her for being able to get people to talk about her for forty years. Madonna made it possible for Sam Smith and Petra and Lizzo and half the acts on the Grammys. Laugh all the way to the bank, Madonna! The song “Oh, Father” is still an underrated masterpiece.
If you didn’t know Lizzo, then the Grammys was a great time for an introduction.
A Mix of Fish and Wine
The Grammys are always a mix of fish and wine. Some of the fresh, popular acts of the day will seem pretty stale, pretty soon; other acts will be great 20 or 30 years later. Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow were nominated in 1995 along with Toni Childs and Dionne Farris (yep! Who?) Milli Vanilli beat out the Indigo Girls, who in 2019 won a lifetime achievement award and just released their 15th album.
Don’t worry so much about the schlock. But watch the live acts. You wouldn’t want to miss Brandi Carlisle. You wouldn’t want to have missed Janaelle Monae in 2019 or Melissa Etheridge in 2005. Or, my gosh, Aretha Franklin stepping in for Luciano Pavarotti and singing “Nessun Dorma.” They all blew the roof off.
Not every song at every concert you ever saw was breathtaking either. But that’s what makes the extraordinary stand out all the more.
Give the Grammys another chance. Since free radio doesn’t play music anymore, and half of us have moved to playlists that only play what we already know, where else will you hear what’s new? The Grammys are about finding out who these people are.
So what is my favorite music style? My top playlists on Pandora are Tallis Scholars (18th century choral), Zumba/Shakira, Oscar Peterson (piano jazz), Classic Soul, Glenn Gould (baroque piano), The Irish Experience, Bruno Mars, Classical Guitar, Hawaiian Breezes, Hipster Cocktail Party, Dune (orchestral movie soundtracks), and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Good luck figuring that out. I do know who Bad Bunny is, the guy that did the first live performance.
Now excuse me while I go dial up Madonna and 100,000 of her best friends in London grooving to “Ray of Light.”
6 Replies to “Grandpa Didn’t Recognize Led Zeppelin Either”
Funny, even what Madonna complained about (per later responding via Twitter) wasn’t borne out by what happened in the show that night (except that an exception, Bonnie Raitt, winning at her age might prove the rule). It is interesting where, in the show, the material girl agreed to participate. I ended up learning a little bit about [facial] plastic surgery and — in my opinion the sadness — of even young up-and-coming actresses getting some. Anyway, I’ll have to check out some of your playlists.
The way I see it, if I either find someone I like and didn’t know about before or find that someone I like is experiencing props or a spotlight, it’s worth the time. I went to hear and see Sheryl Crow just recently in the summer. And a young guy whose station (or whatever) I listen to, and who has been putting out music to the public for six years, was in the lineup of nominated new artists.
Yes, I will keep tuning in.
That’s exactly right. You keep what you like and dislike as you please, but you have to be open-minded to listen a little. A lot of new acts show up on Saturday Night Live, too, which I tape; I find I dislike a lot of them, but every fifth or sixth one is a wow… Thanks for reading!
I’ve begun putting SNL into my saved/recorded shows again. I wouldn’t check in if I had to wait through commercials, but I don’t have to wait. A lot of that show is boring to me usually, but I like being able to see who the musical guest is. And humor is good; the opening monologue isn’t long, and there can be something else funny at times.
Great post, but I still don’t think I’m going to spend 3-4 hours anymore watching the Grammys seeing artists I’ve never heard of performing music I don’t particularly like. I’ll stick with classic rock, thank you very much.
Well, when you know what you like… but that’s what DVRs are for! You do want to listen to the Classic Rock live performances if you can. But there’s also Youtube afterward I suppose to find just those. I don’t care for Sam Smith either. Or Bad Bunny, Petra, Mary J. Blige… my list is long, too.
I wouldn’t have gone back and watched the whole thing (skipping, yet, when I was bored) after I’d seen that I had missed the bulk of it; I found it in my recordings, whereby I didn’t have to wait through commercials.