Greil Marcus

Greil Marcus

A weeklong electronic journal.
Feb. 25 1999 6:30 PM

Greil Marcus

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Often I write with comedy records on: old Firesign Theater and Monty Python LPs, or lately CD reissues of Robert Klein albums from the '70s. Unfortunately, I don't know any comedy albums with Grammy Awards parodies. I watched the first two hours of this year's show, went out to see a band, then came back at 1 a.m. and ran the rest on tape.

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"Jennifer, you look sick," Jimmy Smits said to Jennifer Lopez, his co-presenter. She did, too. Someone had done his best to make her look like Madonna, who was doing her best to look like Vampira. "I'll take that as a compliment," Lopez said. "Watching this show makes you question your own self-worth," my wife said, after the android Ricky Martin performed an acrobatic version of "Vuelve" without sweating. "This is so slick I feel like I need to take a bath. With soap. To get the oil off." But in fact the Grammys don't do slick very well. The Oscars know how to overdo, to get Bataille-deep in excess, expenditure, and waste; everything at the Grammys seems rented or made out of cardboard. Looking like Papa Bear with Goldilocks in his stomach, George Lucas came on to present a segment on movie music. A montage ran: Judy Garland singing "Over the Rainbow," Kevin Bacon grinning in Footloose. For a few seconds a spark of life came through, but the film-to-film clips were so short, their focus so fuzzy, their color so faded, they canceled each other out. But it must have brought somebody in under budget.

Still, the Grammys have it all over the Oscars in self-congratulation, or false humility, which is the same thing, unless it's vice versa. Oscar winners aren't humble: For a moment, they rule. You don't see any movie stars bending over like arthritics--because no one can be bothered to align the cue monitors with the microphones--to say "I want to thank God, and of course my manager," as if they're proud of their perspicacity in choosing both. Grammy winners live on borrowed time. They don't even own their little gramophone horns; "The Academy" keeps title. They don't even get to pawn them when the moment passes.

To compare the Grammys with the show I went out to see would be a setup; comparing the Grammys with an abandoned car in the bad part of town would be a setup. What was interesting about the Scavengers--a reconstituted version of the Avengers, a San Francisco punk band that broke up 20 years ago--was that inside the nightclub there seemed to be no sense whatsoever that, simultaneously, a musical event attended to by a billion people (so one had been told) was even taking place. It was like renting Pandora's Box on Oscar night and never thinking that Louise Brooks got robbed in '29. A small blond woman next to me was singing every word of every song as well as the singer was; the guy in front of me, 5 feet 6, 250 pounds, a rolled '50s collar and a sweeping DA, slammed left and right without actually injuring anyone. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to get knocked around in a punk crowd--how much fun it is to push and shove without any ill will. Then I went home and fast-forwarded to Lauryn Hill: "Thanks to God for honoring me with this huge responsibility," she said, as if he'd taken time from his busy schedule to fix the balloting. But then, she talks to him, I don't.