As my description above tells you, I am a musician. So I should have been all over the Grammys last Sunday night. The truth of the matter is that I didn't have time. I not only fruitlessly searched for a new leather handle for my pedalboard (looks like a steel suitcase), but I took the time to write another song that popped in my head the other day called Use What You Got.
So by the time I got back the Grammys were over and I passed out on the couch watching what I always do - Comedy Central. I wake up and see something, I hate to say, I wished I didn't see - Ray Charles sweeping the Grammys.
Now, I have nothing against Ray at all - I cry every time I hear that voice sing America the Beautiful. I think Ray was one of the most amazing musicians of our time. And while I understand an academy's desire to showcase and offer awards to a recently departed genius, this was not the album or the time to do such a thing.
I got the album Genius Loves Company, and while it was a cool album, it really wasn't the best album of the year. My question would now be - if this is what the Recording Academy says is the best album of the year, what does that say for music in 2004? To me, it would say that it was an abysmal year.
If anything, this year's awards ceremony proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Grammys, while it may once have awarded excellence, only awards political correctness while occasionally awarding excellence, just so it doesn't offend anyone. I would rather have Ray Charles honored for what he did while alive than shower him with the same number of trophies as Michael Jackson got for Thriller only because the legend surprisingly passed on recently. I would venture that Ray's album probably would not have gotten as many nominations, much less awards, if he were alive today.
None of this is to slight Ray and his musical contributions. The man is a legend, an icon, and a revolutionary when stuff like that mattered. If anything, this should be a clear indication as to how music and art is perceived today - nobody will touch you if you try to do something controversial or out of the ordinary, but they will eulogize you with awards and adulations when you are long gone.
Ray Charles may be beloved today, but way back when, he was vilified for his merging of R&B and gospel to produce what we call today soul music. People said he was desecrating God's music, but luckily, the music he wrote was so timeless and so important and loved, he got his accolades as he was moving on up in the business. Many artists today don't get that kind of treatment. Rare is the Norah Jones in today's business.
As far as the Grammys go, as important an honor it is to receive one (and I hope to have my own trophy someday), they haven't gotten the memo that award ceremonies today have changed drastically. As far as format goes, the ceremony seems to be stuck in the past. Some may find that refreshing, others find it boring or unimportant.
But what's worse is that the perception of politics involved in the distribution of awards taints the power that the award itself gives to the recipients then, now, and the future. The Academy Awards lost oodles of respect years ago for a variety of reasons. Some wondered why the romantic comedy/drama Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture over Saving Private Ryan, of which some declared the first 40 minutes to be some of the best filmmaking ever. Spielburg's Director Oscar may have cooled things down, but when Jim Carrey was snubbed of an Oscar nod for his portrayal of Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, that was the last straw for me and many other Oscar watchers.
Today, we view the Academy Awards as one big political back-scratch for many of today's actors, actresses, and directors. This may be the year that Martin Scorsese finally wins his Oscar, but even though I haven't seen the Aviator, I would think he should have gotten one already by now for one of many other works he has done. If the Oscars wanted to redeem my faith in them for awarding excellence, they should give it to Jamie Foxx for Ray, not because of the legend's passing, but because Jamie was phenomenal in that role. Now if they give Ray the Best Picture trophy, even if Foxx gets the Oscar, the political bug will have bit again, as Million Dollar Baby and Sideways, just to name two, were much better overall pictures than that one. But I digress...
Award ceremonies today for the big two - Grammys and Oscars - are big lessons in political correctness. The less amount of people you offend the better, they say, or at least by their actions they say. But as I mentioned, the short-term gain may have long-term consequences, such as the awards no longer being taken seriously. The Grammys today are STILL trying to recover from their massive debacle of awarding Jethro Tull the Best Hard Rock Album award the first year they issued it.
Some good moments and recognitions still come through, but the Grammys continue down the path that is sure to continue to turn off many watchers to the point that the award itself becomes irrelevant to the majority. They are still somewhat taken seriously, but a decline in ratings and acknowledgment of the accolades is not a healthy sign for the most important awards show for music. The last thing the deteriorating music industry wants is for its most beloved award to become an irrelevant hunk of metal that awards the most connected and deserving more than the best musician, writer, performer, or artist that year. This year, it moved closer to the former than the latter, and if they aren't careful, the industry will not have any symbol left to honor those that deserve immediate recognition, which is about the only thing keep it afloat.