The Award for Mediocrity, Again

Yearning for civil unrest from any '99 Grammy nominee

If any of these milk-hued heroes like Kid Rock, Eminem, Limp Bizkit or Korn had real balls, they'd tell the Grammy Awards to fuck off.

They'd gurgle 5.8 percent beer guzzled from cans and slur fizzy dialogue like "fuck Ricky Martin and Whitney Houston and the Backstreet shits" while appalled Grammy administrators (the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) look on with curt lips and receding chins.

"We ain't gonna be a part of anything that rewards mediocrity with ugly trophies or generous boosts to floundering careers," the milk-hued heroes would continue, quelling rumors that their badass personas are overcompensation for lily-hander denial. "Screw that, we have too much self-respect."

Over the years, less needy chest-beaters have defied Grammy pop star protocol. In 1978, a still-closeted Elton John was manly enough to renounce his award when he asserted that Elvis Costello was more deserving. Years later, passive stoner Eddie Vedder snubbed the Grammys in a way that explains Pearl Jam's absence from this year's nominees (despite the Grammy-ready hit cover "Last Kiss"). Jay-Z proved kids who buy records see the Grammy Awards as a snooze fest. He boycotted the 1998 Grammys but last week saw his new record shift more than 460,000 units to debut at No. 1 in the Billboardalbum charts.

Alas. Kid Rock, Eminem, Limp Bizkit and Korn can't be counted on to do anything of the sort. With no discernible thought toward communal effort or accountability, they are content to posture in a womb of heavy security and immense entourage. And they are assholes about it. What these cats really offer their fans is the smug pretense that it ain't just about looks, that a method exists. But their shallow music is only eclipsed by the dearth of ideas that float in the heads of band members -- particularly Limp and Korn. And there's a certain absence of cool, the one element most necessary.

There's no hint of contemplative thought, much less wit -- the stuff that made Lennon or even David Lee Roth interviews worth reading. During an MTV interview earlier this year, Limp's unwieldy front man Fred Durst explained that he speaks only what's on his mind, a fact, he said, that pisses off and scares a lot of people. But Durst is master at the one skill required to succeed in our culture: self-promotion. And his brand-new Bel Air digs are the direct result of said skill.

Durst and rat-faced Korn shouter Jonathan Davis can drone a boundless loop of ill-informed opinions and heartless banter. My theory: When their bands' built-in obsolescence devices soon kick in, Durst will contribute heavily to the Republicans while Davis will remain an apolitical drug zealot surrounded by porn chicks.

It was never so bad that contemporary rock stars have become your dopey neighbors whose all-day/all-night TV ceremonial is broken only when the need arises to overhaul a Chrysler motor at 4 a.m. on their living-room floor.

Besides the necessity of calling to truth the utter uselessness of the Grammy Awards, the aforementioned use it as an excuse to do what the famous do, which is hang with other famous people. And the kids buy into the notion that education is useless and illiteracy cool and that women should be called "bitches" and "ho's."

The National Academy was passively parasitic in selecting its nominees this year, stubbornly clinging to moth-eaten, air-wave-polluting honks (the rule's few exceptions saw Sgt. Pepper getting best album in 1967, an honor abraded when you consider Lionel Richie won the same award for 1984's Can't Slow Down).It was loath to reward anything of artistic or cultural significance.

Hipster tokens abound in the top categories, but this year's list of 98 total categories retains the familiar bloodless onslaught of commerce-driven slop recognized for the previous 40 years. A sorry litany:

In 1970, the year Hendrix, Joplin and the Beatles all expired, President Nixon went to record labels to ask them to knock off the release of so many records that referenced sex, drugs or both. That year's grand Grammys went to Simon and Garfunkel, whose "Bridge Over Troubled Water" nailed song, record and album of the year. The Carpenters were best new artist.

In 1980, the slumber-inducing Christopher Cross won best new artist, record of the year, song of the year and album of the year -- for "Sailing." That was the year Lennon died.

In 1990, Sammy Davis Jr. called it quits while Phil Collins snagged record of the year for "Another Day in Paradise." Mariah Carey was best new artist and snared best pop vocal female, on top of five other Grammy nominations. Song of the year went to Bette Midler. Back on the Blockgave Quincy Jones album of the year.

Among the most recent nominees, Kid Rock was nominated as best new artist (alongside Christina Aguilera, Macy Gray, Britney Spears, and Susan Tedeschi) despite the fact that his debut, the ignored Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast, was released a decade ago, and his career-launch pad Devil Without a Cause hit the bins in time for last year's Grammys.

Surely a worthy contender for the decade's worst record is Whitney Houston's My Love Is Your Love, nominated for best R&B album. What sours My Lovemore than its voice are the calculated stabs at cred common to so many Grammy nominees. On this disc, hipster token sisters Missy Elliott, Faith Evans and über-Grammy Lauryn Hill attempt to camouflage the fact that Houston is without wonder. R&B once meant music rich with soul and derived from folk-based black popular music. Yet song-for-dollar queen Diane Warren (responsible for scads of Milli Vanilli, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, DeBarge and other top 10s) authored or co-authored songs on three of the five nominated albums in the R&B category (Houston, TLC, Brian McKnight).

Sheryl Crow in 1999 seems demythologized of her dirt-street sexuality and beat Rickie Lee Jones brooding. Crow's now apparently relegated to that drab and sinless pasture where the Mellencamps and Pettys graze. Crow's 1999 Grammy nod is for best female rock vocal, for the 13-year-old Guns n' Roses white trash elegy "Sweet Child o' Mine." And that is a B-side at best. But she is Sheryl Crow, the female template of '90s Grammy Awards.

To best illustrate how utterly inert the Grammys are, Toto gets a nom in new classic rock category. And Black Sabbath appears in the best metal performance category alongside Lemmy and Motörhead (for its cover of Metallica's "Enter Sandman").

Buckcherry and Metallica see nods with Limp Bizkit, Korn and Kid Rock in best hard rock performance.

Grammy-ubiquitous Sting is here again (up in two categories -- go home, already). Springsteen (for a 20-year-old song). There's Donna Summer, Cher and Emmylou Harris, too. The latter corps makes Madonna (tabbed for "Beautiful Stranger") seem young. Token "juvies" are Sarah McLachlan ("I Will Remember You") and Alanis Morissette ("Thank U").

Some call it a comeback, but NARAS must love Santana (10 nominations) for nearly topping the five million mark with Supernatural. NARAS smells commercialism and diversity.

Latin music -- the type penned by Yank Desmond Child ("Livin' la Vida Loca"), who also wrote KISS, Aerosmith and Bon Jovi hits, or by German-born Italian-Ugandan Lou Bega -- makes me want to pull a header straight into the nearest wall at 60 mph.

At least a worthy nomination reared in Tom Waits' Mule Variations, even if it is in the category for best contemporary folk album.

Contact Brian Smith at his online address: brian.smith@newtimes.com

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