It is encouraging to see that Michael Jackson is still capable of something more than Pepsi commercials. That he didn’t pick up an award is, as many have suggested, a backlash against the success of Thriller. But the correlation is not as direct as it seems. The real problem is that Jackson is not the least bit reticent when it comes to enjoying his enormous success. He is the Malcolm Forbes of the music world: instead of collecting Faberge eggs and making grand tours on a motorcycle, Jackson builds a zoo in his backyard and travels with a monkey.
The rock industry likes to pretend that it is, if not quite penniless, at least as down-at-the-heels as its Reebokwearing fans. Jackson’s extravagance explodes this fiction, and his colleagues don’t like him giving the game away. Major donations to the United Negro College Fund rather than to the Sandinistas don’t help Jackson much, either.
O Grammys, where was thy Sting? Or Paul Simon? Or Bruce Springsteen? Or Smokey Robinson? All were big winners: Best Pop Vocal, Male (“Bring on the Night”); Record of the Year (“Graceland”); Best Rock Vocal (“Tunnel of Love”); Best R&B Vocal, Male (“Just to See Her”). None showed.
Certainly, excuses can be made to explain their truancy. Sting, who has caught flack for mixing rock and jazz, obviously figured he wouldn’t win. Simon’s “Graceland” was Album of the Year last year, and he wasn’t silly enough to think that a single of the same name would win in ’88. The Boss, the Hulk Hogan of rock and roll, was out on the road with the real Americans and couldn’t be bothered. Smokey had never won a Grammy before, so he undoubtedly decided to spare himself.
The only positive thing that can be said about this lack of participation is that it seems to indicate that there is no “$64,000 Question”-style fraud involved: the winners had not been tipped off. Still, it makes me wonder how important the awards really are to those who receive them. A gold sticker on the disc package is nice, and there are often Grammy winner specials at stores following the show, boosting sales. But as for the acknowledgment of one’s peers, it doesn’t seem to matter.
One scene with Bono, the singing scimitar of what USA Today calls the “social rockers” U2 (it sounds like new-wave tea dancing), was indicative. The singer, whose voice, views, and manner have a grittiness uncommon among the general run of today’s musicians, talked about “soul” during his acceptance remarks for Album of the Year, The Joshua Tree. Bono noted that without soul. Prince would merely be a “song-and-dance man,” and Springsteen just a “great storyteller.” And U2: “We would probably be getting better reviews in The Village Voice, but . . . ” and with that. Bono quickly jerked his gaze from the main floor crowd up to the balcony and said, somewhat penitently, “That’s a joke.” He lowered his head and muttered, “Sometimes they don’t understand.”
Although it would be inappropriate to make too much of this, it does seem evident—and odd—that the man who is so active in promoting Amnesty International, the organization that’s against repressive regimes, would feel it necessary to make an apology for an innocuous crack to the Powers at The Village Voice. Was he afraid that the paper would see to it that all U2 albums were pulled from the racks in New York before the start of business the next day? Well . . .
One of the more intelligent films by John Carpenter is Escape From New York. The movie posits that Manhattan, in the not-too-distant future, is turned into one big walled prison. Somehow, that seems about right.
New York had been without the Grammy ceremonies for 10 years, which makes sense, given the music industry’s base in L.A. But since New York wanted the show, it spent a few hundred thousand dollars to get it. Certainly, there were financial paybacks: restaurants holding postawards parties must have made a bundle. And the guys in Washington Square would have seen an influx of heavy demand. But I really wonder if middle-American rock fans were saying, “Hey, all my favorite musicians went there—I will too!” before booking a seat on Northwest and a room in the Hyatt for a weekend of economy boosting in the Big Apple.
Despite the accounting that was faster than a street-side three-card monte game. Mayor Ed Koch was beaming in the front row at Radio City. Sitting next to him was Cyndi Lauper, the Betty Boop of the Boroughs, who was once not only the New Artist of the Year Grammy winner but also something of a success. Fortune had turned. There she was, her hair peroxide blondey her dress cut low enough to test the physics of the strapless gown. She looked like a burned-out actress hoping” to win a few minutes on a casting couch.
If Carpenter made a movie of the affair—a Return to New York—he could cast Donald Pleasance as Koch and the ever-irrepressible Adrienne Barbeau as Lauper. (I vaguely recall hearing that Pleasance may be dead, but that wouldn’t make any difference; he’d still be great in the role.)
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