I just read, belatedly, my friend Ann Powers' piece in The Los Angeles Times about The Grammy Awards. As always, her prose is a model of clarity and cohesiveness. Ann always seems to develop a line of argument, which is what sets her apart from the majority of critics, especially in the area of popular music. I am especially impressed with this article, though, because it manages to report on musical matters, while also reminding us that music matters, even in a time of economic crisis when people are forced to cut corners:
Everyone seemed so delighted to be there. The musicians filling the Staples Center seats cheered just as heartily for the night's newcomers as for veterans like Neil Diamond and Duke Fakir, the last remaining member of the Four Tops. They gushed when they came up to accept awards, sometimes even deviating from the script to send special kudos to a favorite winner -- a healthy-looking if slightly loopy Whitney Houston singled out her mentor, Clive Davis, while Tre Cool of Green Day mentioned producer Rick Rubin. Not a joke was cracked nor a prayer sent up for Chris Brown, sorting out his legal troubles. Any breath of such disorder might have punctured the night's dream.To be sure, that elite is not suffering the way that many ordinary citizens are. Yet I do think that it's aware that the non-elite people who depend on the industry for jobs, which are being cut left and right, are not substantially different from the people the industry depends on to buy its goods. If that reality check can bring a sense of collective purpose to the business, perhaps even promoting the idea that music can never be reduced to mere business, the benefit to fans could be substantial. I am skeptical, given the RIAA's recent history. But I am not without hope.
That dream, of a world where music still has significant cultural power, is one that everyone in attendance must believe in. And it's one that can still be proved true -- just not by the means to which the mainstream music industry is accustomed. This year's ceremony showed great effort by a community in peril to stay spiritually afloat.
Perhaps with the help of two-time spoken word Grammy winner Obama, this confused entertainment elite can find better routes to material survival too.