SONIC REDUCER Strip away the pre-Grammy bashes and after-parties, the hunger pangs, the monstrous Staples Center and the surrounding downtown LA sketchiness, and the mandatory earful you get from radio broadcasters playing brain-numbing Grammys numbers games as if they were rattling off sports stats and I’d say I’m glad to have made the five-hour drive to the awards show. I feel privileged to have camped out at the arena’s media center for almost 12 hours to hurl polite questions at the Dixie Chicks, Ludacris, T.I., etc., at that most bemoaned of ceremonies, because I learned so much about the music industry’s "biggest night of the year" Feb. 11. Start with this grain of wisdom from pretelecast host Joe Satriani: "Remember, it’s not whether you win or lose but how good you look at all the after-parties tonight," and go forward, ladies and gentlemen, to "What I Learned at the Grammys":
1) Skip many of the pretelecast awards, unless you’re dying to see who won Best Spoken Word, Polka, or Surround Sound albums. None of the stars show up for these unless they’re presenting. Only so-called niche artists (read: Hawaiian, American Indian, gospel) still interested in industry recognition bother showing up before 5 p.m.
2) If, however, there’s screaming for a nominee during the pretelecast handout, you can bet the band is there. Wolfmother, for instance, got a load of whoops when its name was called for Best Hard Rock Album and indeed Rob Tyner’froed vocalist Andrew Stockdale eventually made it from outer Siberia to the stage. Backstage he joked, "I thought this award was reserved for the permanent residents of Bel-Air."
3) Speak the truth. Then stick to it. Even the Dixie Chicks couldn’t honestly say they made the Best Record and Album, just two of the five Grammys they won, but they did gratefully acknowledge that their awards were symbolic and no less meaningful. "I’m definitely aware that we were up against a lot of great music," Natalie Maines told the media. "But I definitely think people had an inspiration and different motivation in voting for us."
4) Be nice and better, be funny. Media wage slaves in regulation black knew that in the tightly controlled Grammy universe, we best not ask untoward questions for fear of being ejected and disinvited in the future. We must take humility and humor lessons from Lewis Black, winner of Best Comedy Album, who sputtered, "I never win shit, so I’m astonished."
5) Keep the American Idol appearances to a minimum (thank the lord that Kelly Clarkson didn’t make another album this year, and pass the ammunition). Carrie Underwood looked terrified as she sang "San Antonio Rose" during the tribute to Lifetime Achievement honoree Bob Wills.
6) Be from Texas or better still, Houston: the Dixie Chicks, Beyoncé, Chamillionaire, "My Grammy Moment" newb Robyn Troup.
7) Skew elderly, as usual. Stevie Wonder and Tony Bennett score before silly but infectious monster hits "Hips Don’t Lie" and "Promiscuous"? Complain into the hearing aid.
8) Concentrate on giving the people memorable performances, with tasteful production à la Gnarls Barkley’s "Crazy," complete with airline pilot uniforms and an eerie Lostasamodern opera feel. With the exception of the messily mixed Ludacris and Earth, Wind and Fire production, most of the show was solid.
9) Keep your celebrated poonanny shots to yourself. Christina Aguilera, known for her own supposed flash at a Grammy telecast a few years back, tactfully fielded a question backstage on how to leave a limo gracefully, unlike her former Mickey Mouse Club mate Britney Spears. "Are you setting me up to say, ‘Keep your legs closed’?" asked the petite blond, working that retro vibe in black lace and a simultaneously amused and prim attitude.
10) When all else fails, baffle them with bullshit or designer body modification mishaps. Frail, in a gold tie and matching yellow splotched jacket, Ornette Coleman waxed oblique and philosophical, improvising a mumbled hepcat monologue on sound freely, incomprehensively, and far out there backstage after his Lifetime Achievement win. Coleman sounded utterly cracked until he brought it all home: "I’m only saying what I’m saying because I want to hurry up and get this over with." Rim shot!
Grammy’s only surreal moment was the instant Smokey Robinson’s strangely erased-looking, waxy brow and unnaturally bright blue eyes appeared on TV as he came out to sing "The Tracks of My Tears" alongside a wildly energetic, trampoline-bouncing, handstanding Chris Brown. Had the Motown songwriting genius been body-snatched and replaced by a Botox victim from Planet Zanthar? A woman reading my notes on Robinson’s tweaked face over my shoulder told me I had to write about it. "His wife is my godmother," she swore. "I went up to him last night at a party and said, ‘You look like a demon!’ He takes care of himself, but someone needs to tell him." Speaking truth to legend? It could become a habit. *