GETTING MORE TALE #470: Awards
Do you watch award shows? I don’t — not anymore, anyway. In the Record Store days,we had to keep an eye on this sort of thing. If somebody swept the Grammys, we had to be prepared with inventory. The day after an award show, the requests would circle around the winners and headline-makers. The same still happens today, with much of the post-show sales being downloads. Adele is most grateful.
As a child I was aware that award shows didn’t seem to recognize any music that I liked, but I also knew that didn’t mean squat. It’s nice when a talented artist is honoured for their music, but the Grammys are the same organization who awarded Milli Vanilli with “best new artist”. To even call such commercial product “art” at all is such a deception. They were manufactured from the ground up as a money-making endeavour and nothing more. That was 1990, but the year before was another titanic embarrassment for the besieged awards.
I didn’t watch the ’89 awards but I heard all about it the next day. The following morning, my mom asked me, “Who is Jethro Tull?” I had to confess I didn’t really know. Old guys. “They won best heavy metal,” my mom explained. Who? I was a metal fanatic but I never heard any of their music.
The actual category was best “Hard Rock/Metal” and it was introduced in 1989. The nominees included a couple actual hard rock and heavy metal artists: AC/DC, Tull, Metallica, Jane’s Addiction, and Iggy Pop. Of those bands, I think only two can be consider unambiguously “hard rock” or “heavy metal”. I’m sure the members of Jane’s Addiction didn’t consider themselves either. God knows what Iggy Pop thinks of his music as, since he’s been all over the board. With the benefit of hindsight, we know today that the most important album historically in that category was …And Justice For All by Metallica followed by Jane’s Nothing’s Shocking. Tull’s Crest of a Knave was a good, solid return but hardly “hard rock”. Ian Anderson was gracious but befuddled by it all. Metal fans declared it highway robbery. To them, Metallica was clearly the only band who deserved that trophy that year, and with all due respect to AC/DC and Jane’s Addiction, it is hard to argue with that. …And Justice For All was one of the most challenging albums for the genre, real art, yet it sold millions. Not to mention overcoming the personal tragedy of losing Cliff Burton in that crash a few years before. Plainly, Metallica deserved that award. Fans were livid.
The Grammys furthered their embarrassment by contritely awarding Metallica the “best metal” award for the three years in a row that followed, even when it was not deserved. In 1990 they split “hard rock” and “metal” into two awards, and gave Metallica a trophy for “One”. The real head-shaker was 1991, when Metallica won again for a cover of Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy” (from Rubáiyát: Elektra’s 40th Anniversary). This little-heard cover beat out stunning new albums by Judas Priest, Anthrax and Megadeth. A single Metallica cover from an obscure compilation CD beat Rust in Peace by Megadeth? Yeah, right. You could not take this seriously. Their streak continued into 1992, when they won the prize for the Black album, Metallica, once again beating Anthrax and Megadeth (and Motorhead and Soundgarden).
Here are some other stunningly bad decisions the Grammys made that you may not be as familiar with. The same year of the Tull debocle, the awards introduced a “best rap” category, but chose not to air them. The Fresh Prince Will Smith compared it to graduating high school but not being allowed on stage to accept your diploma. Not to mention, the “best new artist” award is often a curse. Just ask Hootie and the Blowfish, Debby Boone, Marc Cohn or Milli Vanilli. Then there was the year that Steely Dan beat Radiohead’s Kid A and the Marshall Mathers LP.
What you may not realize is that the Grammy awards were never designed to recognize the raucous and rebellious artists of rock and roll. In fact, they were created to stem the tide. In order to protect “quality” and tradition against the rockers of the 1950’s, the Grammys were created in the mold of the Oscars. And on their very first night, their mission to promote and honour quality music was blown spectacularly. Check out this tale from my Uncle John’s desktop calendar:
Hey, at least Frankie won. But the awards remain as troubled today as when they began.
It’s nice to see artists and albums that you like win awards for their work. Ultimately however the impact is zero. How the music makes you feel is everything.