Squaresville…the unanticipated essay about the grammy awards
When I was a kid, my grandparents liked to watch the Lawrence Welk show on Saturday nights. My parents weren’t fans, but they would tune in during the week to check out Perry Como and Andy Williams to hear them croon their middle of the road pop music. And of course on any Sunday night you’d find our entire family sitting in front of the Dumont for the Ed Sullivan Show…who could showcase Elvis, Beatles or the Stones sandwiched between a puppet and an opera singer, or a juggler and Allen and Rossi. There would be something for everybody jammed into those sixty minutes which is why they called the format a variety show.
Variety shows died out a long time ago when the suits figured out that the name of the game is demographics, and that there’s no need to provide entertainment for everybody…just those people who spend the most money on the least amount of things that can be created, marketed, targeted and sold off to achieve the highest profit. I doubt that they were the first, but all you need to do is recall The Monkees and you get the idea.
“Hey Max…get me four kids with long hair.”
When I was about twelve years old, I’d never watch the same things my parents did on television. Not only was it culturally against the grain to be caught residing in Squaresville, but my generation rejected the whole show business thing in favor of something more real…organic you might say. Well, sort of. The reality is we were being ripped off without realizing it. After the Beatles broke, the record labels came up with hundreds of “Hey Max…get me four kids with long hair” bands to sell to us, and Broadway co-opted an entire generation with Hair which was not unlike today’s Green Day musical that you can see six nights a week for a couple hundred of bucks a ticket.
Somewhere in my mid to late teens I began to develop my own musical taste, or at least was able to have an internal aural definition as to what I liked and what I didn’t. That each year when the Grammy awards were televised I would watch to see if any of my favorites would appear or take home an award was sort of a given, because even though they always disappointed me, there was usually something I could take away of value. It was at minimum a variety show, and sometimes it would actually go far out of it’s way to showcase many types and styles of music. You could count on a classical segment, a salute to a broadway show or movie soundtrack, the obligatory jazz thing and maybe some sort of retrospective of an historical nature. And they might have a comedian hosting it, which could be good for a few laughs.
I don’t know when, maybe ten or fifteen years ago, I realized that the Grammys not only didn’t represent my type of music, they stopped even pretending that they were inclusive. They ratcheted down and targeted an extremely specific audience, one that spends their dough on a very narrow type of pop music. It’s simply math…if the top 100 albums equal 88% of all music dollars’ spent, and the top twenty account for about 75%…just go after the sure thing. Tailor the show to those folks who spend that 75% with artists they like, and padded with ads from sponsors they will support. It’s not necessarily a crime, it’s just the way it works. And so around that time, I stopped watching most of it. Although with Tivo I was able to record and speed through in forty minutes a three hour show. That worked.
My teenagers are music junkies and have zero interest in the Grammys. We all watch the Oscars and Emmys together, and for the past two years we’ve enjoyed the Golden Globes even more because everyone gets drunk and you just never know what might happen. So it’s not the award show setting they can’t get into, it’s that the Grammys are the equivalent to what the Lawrence Welk Show and Perry Como and Andy Williams were for me…Squaresville.
So they opted out last night with one kid gaming while watching the Simpsons, and the older one having a Skype conference call with three friends to talk about new music they’ve discovered. My wife was busy doing what teachers usually do on their days off…she worked…grading 240 notebooks. And I sat downstairs in front of the television and chose to tune into the awards even though I knew from the internet who had won and who had lost already (I’m on the west coast), and I also knew that Pete Seeger who won an award would not be mentioned nor shown on the screen. We got Will Smith’s kid instead.
There was one performance I wanted to see, or actually three. Mumford and Sons, the Avetts’ and Dylan. Shortly before, when Neil Young was nominated in some ridiculous category and the camera showed him with Pegi smiling and waving in the front, I almost gagged on my almonds. Oh Neil…why were you there? But that question got lost as soon as Dylan stood in front of the youngsters (who in my humble opinion each did well on their own) and I watched in pain and anguish as the mighty has fallen. If it’s better to burn out then fade away, Dylan has accomplished that.
I was told by a friend in Boston that Mick Jagger’s set was worth hanging in for. No, I couldn’t take anymore. I turned off the TV, didn’t even bother to hit record. Figured that this morning I’d You Tube it…and I did and of course got a legal eagle notification that the video was removed at the request of the content owners. The network I guess, maybe the RIAA who own and run the awards. Not to fear…this is the internet and if you can watch a revolution you can find Mick. And I did. I watched it.
Squaresville…I’m finally over it.