How a group of obvious know-nothings wield such apparent power is beyond me -- although calling it "power" is relative. There's an inversely proportional weight to the Grammys, since the less one is familiar with music, the more stock one places in these awards.
The most publicized gaffe in Grammy awarding came in 1989, when Metallica's beloved (by metalheads and then some) album . . . And Justice for All was snubbed in the Grammy category of Best Hard Rock/Metal in favor of Crest of a Knave, a middling, post-crest effort by . . . Jethro Tull, natch. While the Metallicans, critics, and rock fans all over scoffed at this misstep, it was the continuation of a pattern for the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences. Here's the M.O. of the NARAS:
- Completely overlook the musical standouts of the times.
- Years later, attempt to rectify these grievous errors with subsequent awards for later, lesser works, thereby ensuring that you . . .
- Completely overlook the musical standouts of the times.
- Rinse; lather; repeat.
Bruce Springsteen first won a Grammy in 1984, meaning everything from the opening guitar notes of "Blinded By The Light" in 1973 through the last howl of Nebraska must have been relatively subpar. That '84 win was for "Dancing in the Dark," which was a huge hit, but not wholly representative of his work, wouldn't you say? He has since won 19 (!) more for the following works:
- "Tunnel of Love"
- "Streets of Philadelphia"
- The Ghost of Tom Joad
- The Rising
- "The Rising"
- "Disorder in the House" (with Warren Zevon)
- "Code of Silence"
- "Devils & Dust"
- The Seeger Sessions: We Shall Overcome
- Wings For Wheels: The Making Of Born to Run
- "Radio Nowhere"
- "Once Upon a Time in the West"
- "Girls in Their Summer Clothes"
- "Working on a Dream"
There have been other egregious make-up calls in recent Grammy history, like: Steely Dan's comeback album win after the 70's drought, Ziggy and Bunny Wailer both winning where Bob could not, Tom Petty not getting over the hump until he was a Wilbury, Floyd winning a decade after Roger Waters left, Nirvana winning after Kurt was dead, Santana cleaning up 25 years after his heyday, and The Clash getting a wink for a documentary long after their records had been shelved by the Association. Check out the Stones' Grammy trophy case for an eye-opener. A time-capsule view through the Grammy lens would see 1994 as the year two one-hit wonders, Salt-N-Pepa and The Rolling Stones, made it big. NARAS misses the mark more often than it hits, and my first thought is: who’s in this association, and why aren’t they listening to very much music every year?
Then there are the categories. Any casual viewer asks the same questions every year:
- What’s the difference between Record of the Year and Song of the Year? [Record goes to who made the music, Song goes to the writer. Why can’t they change it to Songwriting? Imagine your audience is Teej after papal ballots. Keep it simple.]
- Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song? [Same story. Why they wouldn’t at least keep “Record” consistent is beyond comprehension.]
- There’s really a category for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration?
- Other than me, does anyone call it “rap” any more?
- There’s really a category for best album notes?
- There’s no category for Best Hard Rock/Metal album? (Jethro Tull objects.)
Here’s top on the list. Mumford & Sons, “The Cave.” Great song. Nominated in four separate categories this year. Good choice. For last year or the year before. This song was recorded and released in 2009! The Grammy rules, of course, stipulate that if the music was released in any way after October 1 of the prior year, they are eligible for nomination. Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More came out in 2009 and started making waves in 2010, but the record company – almost as if by design – waited and released “The Cave” as a single in October 2010. This rant is already too long, but singles have no place in the world of rock and roll any more. So if your album comes out in 2009, the music on it should be eligible in 2010. End of story. Not 2011. Not 2012. NARAS, be big enough to say, “Killer song. We missed it. Our bad.” Now, because of this late entry, acts like the Jayhawks, Dawes, Feist, TV on the Radio, Mayer Hawthorne, Trombone Shorty and the Drive-By Truckers get ignored. Just stupid.
In a similar vein, Bon Iver has been nominated for Best New Artist. Bon Iver. Whose outstanding debut album made the Gheorghemas Day 12 list . . . in 2008. And we weren’t the only ones touting Justin Vernon for this work three or four years ago. He was pretty huge in most circles of music. In 2008. Best New Artist. “Hey, he’s new to us at NARAS . . . we don’t hear all that much new music!” Just stupid.
Then there are simply the differences of opinion. Anyone who thinks that Coldplay’s “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall” – one of their most sissified, faux-U2 efforts ever – is the Best Rock Performance/Song of 2011 should not be given any authority to award anything. Coldplay is about as “Rock” as Geoff is. During Gheorghemas I granted you that “Paradise” was a guilty pleasure. This song is weak, and the Association is simply throwing the nomination Coldplay’s way because it’s easy.
I think this is what it’s all about. It’s easier to nominate the Chili Peppers, Wilco, Death Cab for Cutie, Kings of Leon, My Morning Jacket, Eminem/Dre, George Strait, and Radiohead for whatever they did last year, even if it’s starkly subpar to their earlier work. They are known entities and people won’t say, “Who???”, but if you nominate Jessica Lea Mayfield or Of Monsters and Men, the masses might ask just that. Take some chances, and do your fucking job, NARAS.
Credit where it’s due: amazingly, the Association did come across The Civil Wars, nominating them in both the folk and country categories. And The Decemberists. But like I said, more misses than hits. Maybe I’m just bitter that NARAS keeps leaving Random Idiots out. I don’t know.
I suppose while the Grammys fall short of my hopes for them, they're certainly far closer to perfection than the other music awards programs that have surfaced. (Billboard, the American Music Association, and MTV all issue flimsy knock-offs.) I'm not quite sure why that is; in the world of cinema recognition, the Academy occasionally errs and is held to task by the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and Independent Spirit Awards, which are all worth their salt. In music, there seeming is only the Grammys, and that's why I expect more and get frustrated with less. Every year.
Next Whiny Rant Coming Soon: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!