46 / CHRONICLESnPOP CULTUREnFillet of Soulnby Gary S. VasilashnEntertainment industry awards showsnare, almost by definition, public orgiesnof televised backslapping. Still, TVnviewers stick with them, not so muchnto discover what the best movie, TVnshow, or record is—for each viewernalready knows what’s best—but innorder to see personalities in environmentsnthat put them out of characternand in competition with other celebrities.nDuring, say, the telecast of thenMiss America pageant, there’s no panningnthe audience. But during annawards show, audience shots are oftenna highlight of the presentation.nThese thoughts were engendered byna viewing of the Dick Clark-producednAmerican Music Awards. The AMAn(and let there be no confusion with thenmedical organization—although thenaid of a few physicians could havenbeen helpful to an industry sufferingnfrom outsized egos) has been aroundnfor 14 years. It’s not quite the Grammys.nStill, it had a contingent of performersnthat will rival the show thatnresults in little gold stickers on albumnjackets.nThis year’s hostess was Diana Ross.nDiana has gone from being the leadnsinger in a popular soul trio to a lonelynmainstream voice looking for a style.nIn her opening number, Ross spent anninordinate amount of time with hernskirt being blown up around her waistna la Marilyn Monroe in The Seven YearnItch. Later in the show, Ross did antribute to Billie Holhday, whom shenportrayed several years ago in LadynVITAL SIGNSnSings the Blues. Perhaps some daynRoss will play herself as a member ofnthe Supremes, which is the best thingnshe could do, next to retiring.nThe entertainment segments betweennthe presentations were, by andnlarge, so poorly done that it is amazingnto think that the entertainers would benwilling to put up with such shoddiness.nAmerican automakers aren’t thenonly ones with quality problems. Fornexample, Robert Palmer, the man whonspent over a decade making goodnmusic and being ignored, performednhis “hit single” “I Didn’t Mean tonTurn You On.” Palmer wasn’t singing;nonly his lips were moving. Even henseemed embarrassed. Janet Jackson,nwho resembles brother Michael to andegree that brings cloning or crossdressingnto mind, also did a lip sync,nbut in her case, there was so muchnaerobic dancing involved that no onenwould have wanted to hear her huffingnand puffing, anyway. The best livenperformance came from the countrynside of the awards triumverate (i.e.,npop-rock, soul-rhythm & blues, andncountry), with the likes of GeorgenStrait and the Judds. The Judds’ performancenof Presley’s “Don’t BenCruel”—part of a ceremony markingnthe 10th year since the passing of thenKing—had the Jordanaires, El’s backupnsingers, standing mute behind Wynonanand Naomi. I think they wishednthey were somewhere else.nBut there were more fundamentalnproblems to the AMA. As one whongrew up in Motown, it is difficult tonwatch Diana rise only to mediocritynand to hear Marvin Gaye praised fornsuch trivialities as “Sexual Healing”n(cf “Ain’t That Peculiar”). What isnworse is that the music industry seemsnincapable of defining the differencesnnnbetween pop-rock and soul-R&B. It’snreally not that tough to hear the difference.nFor example, when the late OtisnRedding did “(Sittin’ on the) Dock ofnthe Bay,” that was what would nownbe called a pop-rock song. LionelnRichie could have—and may haven—patterned himself after that. Virtuallynall the rest of Redding’s music isnsoul-R&B. James Brown also continuesnto create soul-R&B. The test isnwhether the music can cause even antone-deaf listener to break out in a coldnsweat.nPerhaps it is the effect of the late,nunlamented Great Disco Boom of thenlate 70’s. Former soul-R&B performersnfound that they could reach a biggernaudience through the disco sound,nwhich translated into record sales.nWhen the boom became a bust, thesenperformers had to take the edge off ofntheir music if they were going to retainntheir mass appeal. This should not benconsidered a phenomenon restrictednsimply to soul singers hustling after thendisposable income of the mainstreamnwhite middle class. In much the samenway, there were (and are) the countrynmusic crossovers, including WillienNelson, Dolly Parton, and KennynRogers.nBut at least the country contingentnat the AMA kept its ranks in order.nPerennial favorites Alabama and thennew dynamic duo, The Judds, pickednup their share of plexiglass pyramids.nBut consider these results. In thenpop-roek category, the favorite albumnwas “Whitney Houston” by WhitneynHouston; the favorite female vocalistnwas Whitney; the favorite video singlenwas “Dancing on the Ceiling” by LionelnRichie; Lionel was also namednfavorite male vocalist. Meanwhile,nover in the soul-R&B area we findn