I don't think I've ever aimed a diary for Community Spotlight, but this is it.
Have you ever heard of the Americana category in the Grammy Awards? It used to be attached to Folk Contemporary, as of two years ago it became its own category.
It is the unlikeliest site of controversy in this year's Grammy Awards.
This year's nominees include Emmylou Harris (12 Grammy wins), Ry Cooder (six Grammys), Lucinda Williams (three) and Levon Helm (two) -- if you're of a certain age and temperament, you are already tapping your feet.
But there is a fifth nominee, a controversial nominee, who has sold a lot fewer records than the other four: Linda Chorney, of Sea Bright, N.J. In fact, according to the official Nielsen SoundScan count, up to a week before the nominations Chorney's Album, "Emotional Jukebox," had not reported any sales despite its January release. Only two of her five previous albums have had sales at all: one had 15, one had 18.
(Nielsen SoundScan does not count CDs that you sell after concerts at street fairs and bars and restaurants -- where, personally, is where I buy most of my CDs these days.)
I had better make a couple of things clear up front: (1) I don't know Linda Chorney, don't know that anyone I know does know Linda Chorney, and have no personal stake in Linda Chorney's success. (2) I got this story from the Facebook page of a friend and old roommate of mine who is a noted music writer and who seemed intent on not expressing his personal opinion about her saga, except for its unusual amount of unusualness.
I went to YouTube, where some of Linda Chorney's career apparently lives, to check her out. The first title I saw was called "Tea Bag Party People," which was released in mid 2010 on her "Dance More Less War" label. (I believe, Daily Kos, that I now have your attention.)
Yeah, she's our type. Here's what Variety quotes her as saying about herself, her accomplishment, and the controversy:
"I am Occupying the Grammys -- I am the 99. ... I'm the middle-class that got a friggin' shot, and I got in there. And the irony of hearing that people are upset that the little nobody who hasn't sold a thousand copies of her little album managed to get in there -- somebody's upset about that? Really? You want to just take it all, and not share the wealth? It's so unbelievable. I've been playing guitar for 41 years, and (working) in bars for 30. I haven't made it to that (big) scale -- not because I'm not good enough, but because nobody gave me the break. And Grammy 365 gave me the break."
You should read the real story about her from Variety -- an amazing tale of guts, talent, luck, and social media -- or you can start with my story below. The only real advantage of starting with mine is: I'm embedding video. Lots and lots of video.
Let's start with a video, shall we? It's called "Tea Bag Party People"; I have to warn you that the first 45 seconds are a little slow and then it gets creative and fun. I find the politics a little obvious, the tune a little limited, but she has a beautiful sultry voice and a spirit of fun. (Warning: she's a 51-year-old who looks like a beautiful 31, so if that is going to bother you, gird yourself before you click the link.)
Whatever its limitations -- and it's hard to write something that's political, funny, and top form -- the world will be a better place if it goes viral by Monday morning.
If you want something a little more indicative of her songwriting and vocal talent, here's "Sink or Swim" from 2007, which should clear up any doubts:
Here's a live performance of a lovely song, Led Zeppelin's Going to California, a duet with Ralph Notaro:
And here she is at a festival, singing an acoustic version of the Stones jagged little "Mother's Little Helper."
And oh, this song -- a contemporary Dylanesque story of yearning for love with a delightful chorus -- just tickles me:
OK, you'll have to find the rest (and there are more) yourself.
One pleasure of having lived in New York City and Greater Los Angeles over ten of the past twelve years is that you find out how many really excellent musicians there are. I cherish the self-produced CDs I've bought in the subway tunnels, Thai restaurants, street fairs, tables by the side of the small secondary stages, and such more than most of the mainstream ones I've bought. They are the glorious lumps in a homogenized culture -- just as the Americana category itself is a lump in a larger homogenized culture.
So, with all due respect -- and great respect is due -- to Emmylou, Ry, Lucinda, and Levon: am I sorry that Linda Chorney was nominated? Not in the least. A little controversy is good for a category. Chorney represents what I imagine most Americana artists were like when the started out, except that (at least until now) she has not been able to grasp the brass ring. So Americana music will survive this insurgency, I'm sure.
And I hope -- without having heard any of the albums -- that Grammy voters will, between now and the December 23 cutoff, fill out their ballots and cast their votes for -- Lucinda Williams, of course! Three Grammys is way too few for an amazing artist like her, and I'm sure that this album must be as good as all of the others.
As for Linda Chorney: what the heck, it's an honor just to be nominated, right? And, anyway, I understand that someone wrote a nice story about her on Daily Kos.