Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Old, Flat Pop: A Belated Rant on the 2014 Grammys

The Grammys kicked off a week which included the President’s State of the Union address and ended in a fat mixed bag of a Super Bowl. I know, it was a week ago, it’s over, no one cares. Still, there’s something about it bothering me. I’ll try and make this quick.

One of the Big Deals going down at the Grammys this year is Sir Paul McCartney nominated in five categories—and winning all of them. The Lifetime Achievement was a gimme and maybe 30 years late at that, but the one that got me was the award he won for that song he did with the survivors of Nirvana, “Cut Me Some Slack.” This thing got a universal “Cram It!” on the “Crank It or Cram It” segment of my local metal station when it debuted, but it won the Grammy for Best Song or whatever.

“Cut Me Some Slack” was a very enthusiastically played mediocre song with tossed-off lyrics. I’d completely forgotten about seeing this performed on Saturday Night Live last year until hearing it won the Grammy last week. I expect no one will remember this song until they’re reminded of it reading this post. Maybe I should apologize, but it’s really a harmless thing. You honestly will forget it all over again once you’ve moved on.

Keep in mind the Grammy Awards supposedly represent the best of the best of the music industry. But did it ever?

Be it noted for the record that I stand second to no one in my love for The Beatles. Paul McCartney’s natural talent for melody and songwriting—his very presence and enthusiasm—were integral to the greatness we’re still talking about one-half century later. That’s a natural fact. 

What’s also a natural fact is McCartney’s prodigious songwriting skills evaporated with the end of his band Wings sometime in 1979 or 1980. Since his first wife Linda passed away in 1998 he’s evolved smoothly into the jovial elder statesman he is today, playing his hits of yesteryear, making us go “awww!” every time he releases something new, even though no one plays it on the radio, nor buys it.

Call this period his “Sir Paul” phase. One wishes him all the best, it’s wonderful knowing he’s doing what he loves, etc., but let’s be honest. No one has bought his last two dozen or so albums. They get lots of love in the media, but they don’t chart. So why are we giving them awards like  they’re the best thing to happen to music all year? Because that’s what the Grammys are supposed to represent, right? The best in music?

Sir Paul, ironically, reminds us that the greatest lesson of all the great lessons The Beatles taught us is to go out on top. Make your Abbey Road and walk away leaving your audience wondering what might have been. (What most certainly would have been if they’d stayed together: a sorry bunch of old has-beens riding on a half-century of old glories, like the once fearsome, now tiresome Stones.)

Compounding the irony is something I’ve always said regarding awards of any sort, my bunker-buster missile of a rhetorical question being: “How many Grammys did The Beatles win?”

There’s always some smug prat who will immediately reply, “Two! Best song, ‘Michelle,’ 1965; Best Album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967!” 

A buzzing/razzing noise should interrupt this prat before you scream, “Wrong! The correct answer to ‘How many Grammys did The Beatles win?’ is ‘Who cares?’ The true Immortals don’t need your silly participation trophies!”

So it makes dear old Sir Paul feel special, but I remember a time when it didn’t matter. As plain ol’ Paul McCartney he was too busy making pop history to worry about shiny dust catchers on the mantel.

As for the rest, it hardly bears talking about. Some gay people got married before the show, because that’s just the sort of thing a music awards show needs to demonstrate its edgy relevance. Or something. Some people played their hits. 

And so life goes on, even with nothing much to look forward to, our best and brightest now old and dying off, not a damned thing alive and new out there that doesn’t sound like it was written by algorithm for upper-middle-class 11-year-old white girls and their twitchy 35-and-up recently divorced mommies.

Goddamn, this is one hard-assed winter.


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