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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2003/02/24
by Mike Gruenberg


In My Life
There are defining moments in our lives that clearly indicate that a passage of time has occurred. For some of us, these life-altering mileposts are fraught with fear and loathing. Although, there are others who cheerfully accept their inability to stop father time or alter the course of history and simply go with the flow. Many of my peers boastfully speak of the fact that they are in better shape today than they were twenty years ago. They go on to say that they are glad that they are not amongst the younger generation of today. I would venture to say that they probably are in better shape than their parents were at the same age, but for them to think that they can physically compete with those twenty years younger is really preposterous. I further contend that if there were a magical way to return to a younger age, the majority of my peers would jump at the chance.
For me, a defining moment in my life was reaching the age of thirty. Aside from the fact that this age truly represented adulthood, I later realized that the reason for this upset was due to the fact that throughout my teens and twenties I was taught to believe that you cannot trust anyone over thirty years of age. Today, I take great comfort in still listening to the music that I enjoyed in my youth. It’s a comfort that brings familiarity and good feelings about the past. Time is truly the healer of past remembrances. We tend to forget the bad stuff that happened because we probably can’t remember (or don’t want to remember) what happened or it’s just easier to dwell on the positive elements of the past.
One of my favorite musical activities over the years has been following the festivities related to the Grammys. Trying to determine who would be chosen as the Artist of the Year or Record of the Year was great fun. Once the winners were announced, I would inevitably go out and buy the selected winners’ albums the next day if I didn’t have it already in my collection. However, somewhere between yesterday and today, a defining moment occurred that changed my positive attitude towards the Grammys. Perhaps it’s the way the event has followed suit in emulating the Super Bowl or The Emmys. Maybe it’s the commercial excess that has made this event of honoring our rock stars more of a party than a true celebration of the music.
It’s not so much the over commercialization of the event that has changed my attitude. After all, we are deluged with the commercial excesses. While recently watching the NBA All-Star Game, I was struck by the incredible expenses connected to the activities surrounding the event. It’s great to celebrate Michael Jordan and his colleagues, but let’s just play the game and use some of the money spent on the lavish parties for more humane purposes.
This year, the Grammy ceremonies and events will be once again held in New York City. The city is quite proud to have snatched the location away from Los Angeles where it was held for the last few years. CBS-TV, which will broadcast the event, has publicized this fact and the event for many weeks. The local newspapers are filled with stories of what parties the record company moguls are organizing for their roster of performers. Sounds like great fun for all and yet I am turned off by the commercial circus this event has become.
John Lennon once said that he was glad the Beatles broke up when they did because it would break his heart to see the band members get old and become a Las Vegas lounge act. I guess for me, a lot of what Lennon said applies to my distaste for the direction of this event and others of the same ilk.
For example, Rod Stewart has released a new album where he is pictured wearing a tuxedo with his bow tie loosened sitting next to an old time microphone. He is singing Frank Sinatra style tunes. Rod, the quintessential rocker is now a crooner? Where’s the spandex? To me, seeing Rod dressed, as a lounge singer is sacrilegious! I would prefer to remember Rod, as he was when he sang with The Faces and then released those great solo albums. It looks like the Lennon prophecy came true for Rod. Sadly, it looks like that same prophecy is coming true for some other rock stars.
The Rod Stewart example is exactly why I am having trouble relating to the Grammy’s. For me, I would always take great delight in watching the Grammy ceremonies and see the chosen winners accept their awards. In the early days of the Grammys, the awards were accepted by the artists dressed as themselves. Not any more! Rock music, the very anthem of anti-establishment is now honoring their artists who have slipped into the mainstream.
A defining moment that contributed to my changed attitude came a number of years ago when my hero, Eric Clapton won multiple Grammys which were capped of with his award for his poignant "Tears In Heaven" written about the untimely death of his son. An incredible moment in the history of the Grammys and yet I could only see Clapton accepting the awards wearing a tuxedo. Here was the man who found early notoriety playing the blues in John Mayall’s Blues Band. Who could forget seeing him pictured on the Mayall album cover reading the Beano comic book? Here was the man whose mournful drug induced lament over a lost love made "Layla" the classic hit it still is today. He is the man who along with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce made rock history with Cream. And yet, there he was looking quite mainstream in his tuxedo.
The bottom line is that I will continue to watch the Grammys. I will take great delight to see Bruce Springsteen, who thus far has not worn a tuxedo to other awards ceremonies, but always seems to show up at these types of gatherings wearing a suit and a funky string tie. I will be happy to see a group like Aeorsmith win an award. However, I will cringe if Steve Tyler shows up in a tuxedo. To put my thoughts in a modern day perspective, I know that rappers would find it odd to see Snoop Dog in a Brooks Brothers suit. I cannot imagine Eminem fans finding him accepting an award in a tuxedo as a satisfying experience. However, in the end, I will gloss over the hype, disregard the fashion police, keep my memories in tact and enjoy the show.

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