Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Send in the Clowns

(Deadline is past and an acquaintance on Twitter advised me to treat myself to something special. So I am - I get to sit, let my mind wander, listen to my iPod and write!)

I hate award shows.

I didn't always hate them. For a while it was fun to see a once-in-a-lifetime showcase by those vying for the honors. But some time in the late '80s it became obvious that awards shows are less about artistic achievements and more about a mutual admiration society hosting its annual public circle jerk.

The best awards/specials performance is now and forever will be Michael Jackson's performance of "Billie Jean" at the Motown 25th Anniversary show in 1983. Every move, however slight, was smooth and perfect. Everything about his presence and performance underscored what he thought was important: the music. Right down to the last sequin on the socks. And that is what made Michael and all of his work so great: it was always about the music first. Everything around it, in the performance, staging, lighting, effects, etc was underscoring the music. There was no other agenda. Anybody remember the Michael Sembello song from Flashdance? There's a line that says "She has crossed into the danger zone/where the dancer becomes the dance". It was like that. He physically became part of the music. This Is It was an extended study in his approach to making this happen.

Not so much these days.

The tipping point for me was in the late '80s when I determined that award shows were a glorified fraud and it can be summed up in two words:

1) Milli
2) Vanilli

There is NO WAY in this time-space continuum that the entire industry, plus the Grammy Foundation itself, did not know that these two knobs were faking it. The only reason the Grammy award was pulled was because they were busted. The AMA awards stood and were never revoked. Hmmmmmm.......

So I lost interest. So did a lot of other people, because the ratings numbers circled the drain for years.

During this time, two things happened: first, MTV/Viacom decided to use the award show format as their sales pitch for new artists on video. Second, the "artists" (and I use that term more and more loosely these days) were less interested in music and more obsessed with just getting attention. Any attention. It didn't matter if it wasn't for music.

So instead of a showcase of the best performances and talent the best performers had to offer, you have a series of freak shows. That is what has given rise to Madonna, Kanye West, Britney Spears, and yes, AL (I'm using his initials here because you already know who I'm talking about and I don't want his nutjob fans who make the worst of Barry's fan base look sane camping out on my blog.)

Which brings us to the 2009 AMAs. You knew I was going there.

Per my usual, I didn't watch the show. I'm interested in music, not freak shows, and the AMAs had been the latter in my eyes for a long time. So when the non-news took up air time on the morning news programs, I rolled my eyes. Who cares? No matter how good a singer he was on American Idol, his focus is not music - otherwise his performance would have focused on that and not just grabbing attention any way he can.

I was relieved when Barry answered on the Joy Behar show (paraphrasing) "I was hoping he would perform a really good song. He missed an opportunity. I just want to hear some really good music, as for the rest of the stuff, I don't give a shit."

YES!! Thank God, someone else thought the same thing I did. I thought I was alone in the universe on that one.

Music is only truly moving when it is the only motivation; when the performance in all of its facets has one focus. Michael Jackson did this. Barry does this (I talked about it in my posts on the LV shows last year). Ditto Bette Midler. (Try and catch her performance on Johnny Carson back around 1973-ish on YouTube.) But there are just too few anymore who are willing to make that commitment. American Idol can be a launch pad for a serious career for some; for others it's a "Look Ma, I'm on TV!" idiotic moment. For most, it's a few days off of work.

There's a very fine line that separates the true diva from a douchebag. The true diva may be demanding of their staff and colleagues when creating a work of art, but they don't demand any more perfection of anyone else than they do of themselves. They always deliver the goods. And it's always about creating the art. The douchebag is the one who may not even be able to sing or perform, but they're making a spectacle of themselves just to get any attention for their own reasons. Even if they can perform their spectacle is all over the place and is disconnected from the music. At worst, they're a liar because they lure you in with the promise of a wonderful creation forged of talent and skill and creative genius, then switch to God-only-knows what's really on their minds. Even prostitutes are more honest than this.

I was about to give up on finding anything new and just keep over-analyzing the artists I've enjoyed my whole life. And not watch award shows. (Duh.)

Then I heard about these guys opening up for Barry at the Hollywood Bowl:

Straight No Chaser is all back-to-basics. They make music. They have fun. They're not idiots. Stiletto was smart enough to play the PBS card again and get their Christmas special on. So if you're losing hope in the music scene today - let this lift your spirits.
Maybe there will be more interest in serious musical creativity with that new acapella contest show on NBC. A girl can dream....

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