Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Stranger in a Stranger Land"

That’s the title of a famous Robert Heinlein science-fiction book. It’s also the way I feel as I get ready to watch the Grammy’s tonight. I won’t actually watch it all, start to finish. I’m going to DVR it. That’ll save me a lot of time and irritation. But I would like to know something about the State of Music these days.

When I was Creative Director on Budweiser, we did a lot of radio spots using recognized artists. Trouble was, I didn’t recognize half of them. And this was back in the mid-80’s. For instance, in 1988 we did Bud spots with The Nylons, Squeeze, Beat Farmers, Dave Edmunds, Ricky Van Shelton, Outloud, Jamaica Boys, Wilson Pickett. And a few others. I knew Dave and Wilson. Fortunately I had young guys in my group who knew what was going on. 

I looked at the list of nominees for this year’s Grammy’s. “Who are these people?” I wondered. Here’s an example. Fun. is one of them. No, that period isn’t a typo. It’s “Fun” with a “.” at the end. Must mean something, I’m sure. Then there’s Mumford and Sons. Very big, I know. But I have no idea what they sound like. Or how many sons there are. Or who or what Mumford is. To me it sounds like a spin-off of an old Red Foxx TV show. 

Then there are the nominees for “Best New Artist.” They are The Alabama Shakes, Fun., Hunter Hayes, The Lumineers, and Frank Ocean. I never heard any of them sing or play or shake or whatever they do. There are, however, some names I’ll know. Taylor Swift, Bruce Springstseen, Adele, Rihanna, Beyonce. Which makes me wonder: What is it with these one-named people? I don’t know when that all began. Maybe with Prince? Or maybe with Liberace. Now there was a musician for you, white piano and all. 

Other single-name nominees are Miguel, Usher, Estelle, Tamia, and Nas. I assume these are people, not groups, but who knows? I will, after tonight. I know the name Megadeth but the concept creeps me out. I also know Tom Waits and used to like him, don’t know what he’s doing now. I’m sure his voice hasn’t smoothed out.

Tell you the truth, the only category I’m comfortable with is Jazz. Those are real people, first and last names. Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Ahmad Jamal (yes, he’s still alive and recording, obviously), Pat Metheny, Bob Mintzer, Arturo Sandoval, Lluciana Souza, Bobby Sanabria (good latin big band jazz), Brad Mehldau. We’re well past the time of Monk, Prez, Bird, Miles, Duke. But they all had two names. These were nicknames.

I like what Lou Reed said about jazz. “If it has more than three chords, it’s jazz.” Also like Miles’ comment: “Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”

I’m sure jazz won’t get much air time tonight. The name of the game is ratings. Still, I’ll be watching and listening, remote in hand, thumb on the “fast forward” button, trying to soak up as much of today’s musical culture as possible, before moving on to “Downton Abbey” and “Justified.” 

Here’s a link to the Grammy nominations. Be careful, though. You might just end up a “Stranger in a Strange Land.”  But that’s cool. 2013 Grammy Nominations


  1. I've never heard of any of them either...and I have young kids in the house. My 11 year old won't listen to anything newer than the the 1970's.

  2. Hey, Hoser--

    You might really like Mumford and Sons, if you stray from jazz occasionally into the folk territory. Lots of harmonizing, lots of banjo.

    By the way, Heinlein's "Stranger" was one of my favorite books in junior high. He paved the way (for me) for Asimov...

  3. Nice post, I'm not watching or tivo'ing the Grammys but will read about it and may look up some of the winners on Rdio. It costs $10 / mo for access to ~ 15 million songs. That's how I play & find music now, besides tuning in KDRP out of Austin. All "streaming", no more MP3 downloads, no physical media. One thing I miss about having kids around is when they'd clue me in to "their" music. The Arctic Monkeys, for example, reminded me of the old Beatles. As for the one name acts, I think Cher more or less started it. Liberace doesn't count since he and his candelabra each had four syllables. There seem to be more and more monosyllabic band names too. Spoon is a good one I heard via my kids. I wonder what band pioneered that?

  4. Fun.(fun,period, like you.) I don't know half the nominees either. Give me that old time rock and roll.

  5. I think it's OK not to know many of these names. The artists you mention Gerry, in order to be successful, need to strike a chord with someone or some group. Whether they're singing about lonliness or jealousy or anger or delight the meaning is the same ... the voice of youth and for those seeking expression in a world that frustrates them. Rejoice in your connections Gerry - they're a Blessing! Joe Delmore