To Grammy or not to Grammy?
Did Sinead O'Connor best promote excellence and integrity in pop music by refusing to participate in Wednesday night's Grammy Awards ceremony, a competition that she feels honors commercial success rather than artistic contribution?
Or did Bob Dylan--whose landmark '60s albums were ignored by Grammy voters--accomplish more for the same cause by going on the nationally televised show and performing one of his earliest anti-war songs in a raw, tenacious way that, in effect, mocked the timid, commercial mainstream style of most of the evening's Grammy nominees?
And what would the late John Lennon have done regarding the Grammys? Like Dylan, Lennon was honored by the recording academy with a lifetime achievement award during the ceremonies at Radio City Music Hall.
Despite their different approaches, both O'Connor's and Dylan's presences were strongly felt during the exhaustingly long event.
Comedian Garry Shandling, host of the show, opened his monologue with a good-natured remark about O'Connor, the young Irish singer with the shaved head.
"I'm a big fan," said Shandling, whose humor revolves around a mock obsession with his hairstyle. "I miss not having her here. . . . (But) I'm concerned about her because I think she worries too much. I'm getting the feeling maybe (that's why) her hair fell out."
Vernon Reid, leader of the rock group Living Colour, showed support for O'Connor by wearing a T-shirt with her photo on the front when he walked on stage to accept a Grammy for the year's best hard-rock performance.
And Phil Collins, in accepting an award for best record of the year for his "Another Day in Paradise," acknowledged the widespread critical support for O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U," which was also nominated for best record. "In all seriousness, I, along with a lot of critics and others, thought Sinead O'Connor would win this . . . if I may say the S-word tonight."
Yet the Dylan appearance--and the salute to Lennon, who won seven Grammys, mostly as a member of the Beatles--brought an equal drama to the evening.
In a year when the credibility of the Grammy Awards was shaken by the Milli Vanilli scandal and by an unusually weak collection of nominees in the best album and best record categories, these two presentations helped give the program a much needed display of genuine rock 'n' roll purpose and passion.
Actor Richard Gere was an odd and unsatisfactory choice to explain why Lennon was one of the seminal figures in modern pop music, but Tracy Chapman sang Lennon's idealistic "Imagine" with a gentle understanding, and Aerosmith followed with a high-spirited version of "Come Together" that celebrated Lennon's primal rock instincts.
Even while admiring the performances, however, you couldn't help but try to picture what Lennon might have done if he were still alive and had been offered a national platform in a time of crisis in the Persian Gulf.
At the very least, he, too, might have come on stage wearing a Sinead O'Connor T-shirt as a sign of support for the Irish singer-songwriter, or he may even have been able to persuade O'Connor to join him during the segment.
More than anyone, perhaps, Lennon would have understood this young artist's almost obsessive need to express herself, regardless of consequence to her own career or public image.
Actor Jack Nicholson was an inspired choice to introduce Dylan, and his delivery had just the right touch of reverence and wariness: an acknowledgement of Dylan's genius, and an equal awareness of the foolhardiness of trying to define that genius.
"He's been called everything from the voice of his generation to the conscience of the world. He rejects both titles and any others that categorize him or analyze him," Nicholson said, in part. "He opened the doors of pop music wider than anybody else, yet returned time and again to the simplicity of basic chords and emotions to express himself. He's been--and still is--a disturber of the peace. . . ."
After almost 30 years in a pop world that has alternately toasted and ridiculed him, Dylan might have come on stage finally ready to simply accept the affection of the crowd.
But he raced through a version of "Masters of War" that was so restless and angry that even longtime Dylan fans might have had trouble recognizing the song at first. His stance was as far from nostalgia as it was possible to get.
Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain.
It was a remarkable display of pure artistry rather than polite, polished, commercial pop--the territory of most of the evening's nominees, including album of the year contenders Phil Collins, Mariah Carey, Wilson Phillips and M. C. Hammer. After all these years, Dylan may still be outside the Grammy sensibilities. (Note: The lifetime achievement awards are voted by the board of trustees, not the full membership. Marian Anderson and Kitty Wells were also presented lifetime achievement awards Wednesday).
While O'Connor, in effect, told the Grammys what was wrong with its voting instincts, Dylan showed them.
But what about Lennon?
Elliot Mintz, a former radio talk-show personality and now a media adviser, is in a unique position to comment on both Lennon and Dylan. He was a longtime friend and confidant of Lennon who now represents the Lennon estate and Dylan.
"Bob, for the most part, lets the music speak for itself and what you saw last night was pure Dylan," Mintz said here Thursday. "Bob could have come out with a love ballad, but he didn't. He chose to look the camera in the eye and did a song he recorded 25 or 30 years ago, and for those who know that song, it is as real and meaningful today, if not more so, than it was when he put pen to ink."
Would Lennon have attended the ceremony?
Mintz thinks he would have.
"John and Yoko (Ono) also believed in making use of the media as a tool to advance their observations, their thoughts and their emotions," he said. "So they seized the bull by the horns and used the energy of the beast to get their point across.
"Would he have made a statement last night? You betcha--and he probably would have done it in an original, possibly even humorous way. He might have even gone on wearing a T-shirt saying, 'I love you Sinead.' All the artists we're talking about approach things in their own, unique way--that's what makes them such special artists."
Following is a complete list of Grammy winners:
Record of the Year: "Another Day in Paradise," Phil Collins.
Album of the Year: "Back on the Block," Quincy Jones.
Song of the Year: "From a Distance," Julie Gold.
Best New Artist: Mariah Carey.
Female Pop Vocal: "Vision of Love," Mariah Carey.
Male Pop Vocal: "Oh, Pretty Woman" (from "A Black & White Night Live"), Roy Orbison.
Duo or Group Pop Vocal: "All My Life," Linda Ronstadt with Aaron Neville.
Pop Instrumental: "Twin Peaks Theme," Angelo Badalamenti.
Female Rock Vocal: "Black Velvet," Alannah Myles.
Male Rock Vocal: "Bad Love," Eric Clapton.
Duo or Group Rock Vocal: "Janie's Got a Gun," Aerosmith.
Rock Instrumental: "D-FW," Vaughan Brothers.
Hard Rock Performance: "Time's Up," Living Colour.
Metal Performance: "Stone Cold Crazy," Metallica.
Alternative Music Performance: "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got," Sinead O'Connor.
RHYTHM & BLUES
Female R&B; Vocal: "Compositions," Anita Baker.
Male R&B; Vocal: "Here and Now," Luther Vandross.
Duo or Group R&B; Vocal: "I'll Be Good to You," Ray Charles and Chaka Khan.
R&B; Song: "U Can't Touch This," Rick James, Alonzo Miller and M. C. Hammer.
Solo Rap Performance: "U Can't Touch This," M. C. Hammer.
Duo or Group Rap Performance: "Back on the Block," Ice-T, Melle Mel, Big Daddy Kane, Kool Moe Dee, Quincy D. III and Quincy Jones.
New Age Performance: "Mark Isham," Mark Isham.
Jazz Fusion Performance: "Birdland" (track from "Back on the Block"), Quincy Jones (various artists).
Female Jazz Vocal: "All That Jazz," Ella Fitzgerald.
Male Jazz Vocal: "We Are in Love," Harry Connick Jr.
Jazz Instrumental, Soloist: "The Legendary Oscar Peterson Trio Live at the Blue Note," Oscar Peterson.
Jazz Instrumental, Group: "The Legendary Oscar Peterson Trio Live at the Blue Note," Oscar Peterson Trio.
Jazz Instrumental, Big Band: "Basie's Bag" (track from "Big Boss Band"), Count Basie Orchestra (George Benson featuring the Count Basie Orchestra) Frank Foster, conductor.
Female Country Vocal: "Where You've Been," Kathy Mattea.
Male Country Vocal: "When I Call Your Name," Vince Gill.
Duo or Group Country Vocal: "Pickin' on Nashville," Kentucky Headhunters.
Country Vocal Collaboration: "Poor Boy Blues," Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler.
Country Instrumental Performance: "So Soft, Your Goodbye," Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler. Bluegrass Recording: "I've Got That Old Feeling," Alison Krauss.
Country Song: "Where've You Been," Jon Vezner and Don Henry.
Rock/Contemporary Gospel Album: "Beyond Belief," Petra.
Pop Gospel Album: "Another Time . . . Another Place," Sandi Patti.
Southern Gospel Album: "The Great Exchange," Bruce Carroll.
Traditional Soul Gospel Album: "Tramaine Hawkins Live," Tramaine Hawkins.
Contemporary Soul Gospel Album: "So Much 2 Say," Take 6.
Choir or Chorus Gospel Album: "Having Church," Rev. James Cleveland & the Southern California Community Choir with the Rev. James Cleveland, choir director.
Latin Pop Performance: "Por Que Te Tengo Que Olvidar?," Jose Feliciano.
Tropical Latin Performance: "Tito Puente Presents Millie P.," Tito Puente and Millie P.
Mexican/American Performance: "Soy De San Luis," Texas Tornados.
Traditional Blues: "Live at San Quentin," B. B. King.
Contemporary Blues: "Family Style," the Vaughan Brothers.
Traditional Folk: "On Praying Ground," Doc Watson.
Contemporary Folk: "Steady On," Shawn Colvin.
Reggae Recording: "Time Will Tell--A Tribute to Bob Marley," Bunny Wailer.
Polka Recording: "When It's Polka Time at Your House," Jimmy Sturr & His Orchestra.
Recording for Children: "The Little Mermaid--Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" (songs and instrumental score), Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, composers.
Comedy Recording: "P.D.Q. Bach: Oedipus Tex & Other Choral Calamities," Prof. Peter Schickele.
Spoken Word or Non-Musical Recording: "Gracie: A Love Story," George Burns.
MUSICAL CAST SHOW
Musical Cast Show Album: "Les Miserables, the Complete Symphonic Recording," David Caddick, producer.
Instrumental Composition: "Change of Heart" (track from "Question and Answer"), Pat Metheny.
Instrumental Composition for Motion Picture or Television: "Glory," James Horner.
Song for Motion Picture or Television: "Under the Sea," (track from "The Little Mermaid"), Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.
Music Video, Short Form: "Opposites Attract," Paula Abdul, directors Michael Patterson and Candice Reckinger, producer Sharon Oreck.
Music Video, Long Form: "Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em, the Movie," M.C. Hammer, director Rupert Wainwright, producer John Oetjen.
Arrangement on an Instrumental: "Birdland" (track from "Back on the Block"), Quincy Jones, Ian Prince, Rod Temperton and Jerry Hey.
Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocal: "The Places You Find Love," Siedah Garrett and Chaka Khan, arr. by Jerry Hey, Glen Ballard, Cliff Magness and Quincy Jones.
Best Engineered Recording (Non-Classical): "Back on the Block," Bruce Swedien.
Producer (Non-Classical): Quincy Jones.
Album Package: "Days of Open Hand," Suzanne Vega, art directors Len Peltier, Jeffrey Gold and Suzanne Vega.
Album Notes: "Brownie," Clifford Brown, notes by Dan Morgenstern.
Historical Album: "Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings," Lawrence Cohn, album producer.
Classical Album: Ives: Symphony No. 2, "The Gong on the Hook and Ladder," "Central Park in the Dark," "The Unanswered Question." Leonard Bernstein conducting the N.Y. Philharmonic.
Orchestral Performance: Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 7. Leonard Bernstein conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Opera Recording: Wagner: "Das Rheingold." James Levine conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, with James Morris, Christa Ludwig, Siegfried Jerusalem, Kurt Moll.
Choral Performance (Other Than Opera): Walton: "Belshazzar's Feast;" Bernstein: "Chichester Psalms," Missa Brevis. Robert Shaw conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
Classical Instrumental Soloist (With Orchestra): Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1; Glazunov: Violin Concerto. Violinst Itzhak Perlman, with Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic.
Classical Instrumental Soloist (Without Orchestra): "The Last Recording." Pianist Vladimir Horowitz.
Chamber Music or Other Small Ensemble Performance: Brahms: 3 Violin Sonatas. Violinist Itzhak Perlman, with pianist Daniel Barenboim.
Classical Vocal Performance: "Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti in Concert." Tenors Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti, with Zubin Mehta conducting the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Orchestra del Teatro dell' Opera di Roma.
Contemporary Composition: Leonard Bernstein: "Arias and Barcarolles."
Best Engineered Recording (Classical): Rachmaninoff: Vespers. Robert Shaw conducting the Robert Shaw Festival Singers, Jack Renner engineer.
Classical Producer: Adam Stern.
RELATED STORY: E5