I DON’T USUALLY WATCH THEM

The last few years. Too discouraging, for too many decades, to see the artists I think deserve recognition snubbed for some social media sensation, autotuned automatons, cavorting Koreans. Remember PSY? Huge, HUGE, worldwide, a decade ago. Of course you don’t.

No Grammy for him, but also overlooked, over the decades were Diana Ross, the Doors, Tupac, the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Queen, Snoop Dogg, Janis, Jimi, Talking Heads, Public Enemy, the Kinks, even Katy Perry and Journey. Bob Marley? Zero nominations.

Two persistent slams against the Recording Academy: their voters are out of touch, because they do not reflect the listening audience. They are trying to change that, adding a lot more women and members of color. Interim President Harvey Mason gave a good speech recognizing past shortcomings and promising even more reform.

I’m no expert on Grammy politics or even the latest music. But here’s my armchair authority’s take on this year’s show.

IT WAS PRETTY GOOD

Better than I expected, navigating severe COVID restrictions. Trevor Noah, the funniest man on late night at-home TV, was a nimble and entertaining host. Beyonce finally became the winningest female ever with 28 trophies, and might have set the record for biggest hair. If you were wondering why an entire sentence of Harry Styles’ acceptance speech was censored, it was for one word. Yeah, that one.

What was more striking was the way some addressed BLM issues. Lil Baby hit it out of the park with his hit “The Bigger Picture,” depicting the police killing of Rayshard Brooks, bringing in guest stars like Killer Mike, and activist Tamika Mallory who preached, “President Biden, we demand justice … We don’t need allies, we need accomplices.”

“I CAN’T BREATHE”

By H.E.R. won Song of the Year, and Mickey Guyton became the first Black female country artist to perform on music’s highest-profile awards show when she sang her “Black Like Me.”

“It’s a hard life on Easy Street / Just white-painted picket fences far as you can see / If you think we live in the land of the free / You should try to be Black like me.” THAT is not going to be played on country radio, I immediately thought, and it isn’t, but it is streaming like crazy.

The annual tribute to artists we lost was particularly long and devastating this year. I’m very glad John Prine, one of the greatest songwriters ever, got proper notice, as so many lists unbelievably left him off or relegated him to a mere mention. The Bruno Mars-Paak tribute to Little Richard was good, but made great by the amazing drummer and piano pounder. Good Golly! Locals Haim rocked hard.

Although web bios for the Black Pumas’ Eric Burton tell it differently, on the Grammys he said he “moved from NM to CA in 2014. It took me two trains and two buses but I immediately headed for the SM Pier and started busking…” and that’s good enough for me. NM to SM and the Pier — I can relate. Their performance was outstanding.

THOSE PERFORMANCES ON ELABORATE SETS

The format of multiple stages, starting outdoors and utilizing the cavernous Convention Center across from Staples Center (including some pre-recorded performances they tried to pretend were happening live), allowed for some big numbers.

Speaking of venues, so glad these Grammys recognized the dire situation for that vital link in the music chain: the venues where artists can perform before real people, and fans can get so much more than they can from a recording or video. All the clubs, theaters and bars are hurting badly, and some have shuttered for good.

LA has so many that are known worldwide or have a historic place in music history, and the Grammys honored two locally, of the four they chose to profile: the Troubadour, with its amazing 64-year history of historic performances and collaborations, and The Hotel Cafe, a coffeehouse off an alley in Hollywood that catered to singer-songwriters in 2000, but has expanded space and reputation to draw big names to an intimate, homey atmosphere.

LOCALLY IN SANTA MONICA

I got a note from the Ruskin Group Theatre folks at the airport, asking for help.

“On March 23rd, City Council will consider assistance for arts tenants on city-owned property. The Ruskin needs the Council’s support to survive. Emails should be no longer than a page, and the framework can look like this:

“Dear Mayor Himmelrich & Honorable City Council Members,

“I am writing you today to ask that you help the Ruskin Group Theatre by providing rental abatement for the time that the theatre was forced to close its doors, and provide rent reductions going forward until they are able to open again to capacity.

“Second paragraph: Tell your story, what we have meant to you and why you want us to come back.

“Emails should be sent to council@smgov.net.”

NICOLE RECOMMENDS:

LISTEN TO “WAITING IN THE LIGHT” BY NAILAH HUNTER — In collaboration with Metro Art and Leaving Records, LA native and classically trained harpist, composer and producer Nailah Hunter recently released an original composition inspired by the morning light in Union Station’s historic Ticketing Hall. Written, composed and produced by Hunter, she combines harp, synth, found sounds, voice, and flute performance by Cadmar Fitzhugh to create a sonic landscape full of warmth and serenity.

Pre-COVID, Union Station was part of my daily commute: in the early morning, and right at the golden hour. Coming home I would occasionally pause to admire the shafts of warm light coming through the great, 40-foot ironwork-ornamented windows and hitting the polished tile and marble floors like a great Mission Moderne cathedral.

For such a busy thoroughfare, I have always been struck by how relatively quiet the main building is at most times. Perhaps it is its great height and expansiveness that allows sharp noises to reverberate and fade until they are part of the greater sonic ambiance. I feel this fluidity translated in Hunter’s interpretation, and it takes me back to being in Union Station as a child, when it seemed that much larger and more impressive. It takes me back to my commute, where I would see people waiting for their train in those great leather chairs, most sitting in silence or asleep, all waiting to go somewhere.

I recommend looking at a few photos of the Ticketing Hall (such as the beautiful ones taken by Farah Sosa for this release) to refresh your memory before listening, then taking a dedicated, mindful moment to sit and journey with this piece.

“Waiting in the Light” is one of four unique soundscapes that will be presented on digital channels in collaboration with Leaving Records over the course of 2021, and is available for free download or streaming from now until April 26.

Waiting in the Light A Soundscape by Nailah Hunter // Metro Art x Leaving Records by MetroArtLA


Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 3,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com