With Grammy power, comes Grammy responsibility

It’s music’s equivalent of the Super Bowl, World Series, Wrestlemania, Battle of Endor, etc. I could analogize long enough to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, but the point is clear. The Grammy Awards are the biggest event on every musician’s calendar.

Those lucky enough to walk out of the 50-year-old event with an accolade gain immortality in the industry. A Grammy Award is a one-way ticket to stardom for a musician and a bid farewell to all the normal people they knew and loved before they were able to tag the phrase “Grammy Award-winning artist” onto their records and likely become nauseatingly wealthy.

As everyone’s favorite Uncle Ben always said (before he was capped by some two-bit prick in a “Spiderman” comic many moons ago), “With great power comes great responsibility.” And you better believe the Grammys wield an awesome amount of power, a power that I feel was slightly misused in the rock and alternative categories at the 2008 show.

Bruce Springsteen, the Foo Fighters, The White Stripes and Slayer. These four artists have become household names, claiming iconic status in the rock ‘n’ roll, ’90s alternative, college rock and metal arenas respectively. Those same leviathans of the industry were the only artists to claim awards out of nine possible categories in the rock and alternative fields at this year’s show. Did they deserve them? One could easily make an argument in their favors, but in reality, did they need Grammys to bolster themselves? And more importantly, did they need to win multiple times?

Let’s start with everyone’s favorite Dave Grohl project, the Foo Fighters. Grohl’s band of grunge-rock stalwarts picked up their fifth and sixth Grammys this year for Best Rock Album (“Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace”) and Best Hard Rock Performance (“The Pretender”). The band’s previous discs, “There Is Nothing Left to Lose” and “One By One,” picked up best Rock Album in 2001 and 2004 respectively. Or as I like to call them, “The Colour and The Shape II” and “The Colour and The Shape: This Time It’s Personal.” I love this band, but they haven’t changed a bit since 1995. Do we need to recognize them for repeatedly employing the same sound that already won them awards in ’01 and ’04, and catalyzed their post-Nirvana rise to prominence?

There were other contenders equally if not more deserving, and needing, of Grammy love. Tool’s “The Pot,” one of Maynard James Keenan’s best written songs, should have been given more than a second thought for Best Hard Rock Performance, while Wilco’s beautiful early summer release “Sky Blue Sky” should have easily bested “The Pretender” due to its wealth of enjoyable tracks and the continued evolution of the Chicago group’s pleasant, introspective sound. The weight of a Grammy Award would have cemented Wilco’s place in musical history, but instead, they wind up as one of those little indie bands that could. but didn’t.

How about Slayer taking the Best Metal Performance category? Like Slayer needs help scarring and screeching its name into history as a band you have to worship if you want to be a true longhaired thrash metal aficionado? Shadows Fall, an outfit that boasts some of the best metal guitar work available today, was up in this category but was also overlooked.

The White Stripes’ victories were less disheartening, except for one. Jack White’s wonderful mainstream fiasco, lovingly dubbed “Icky Thump,” somehow managed to trump Arcade Fire’s “Neon Bible” for Best Alternative Album. Excuse me, but are you absolutely fucking kidding me? If you haven’t heard “Neon Bible” yet, stop reading this and go, because the CD will change your life, even more so than the band’s prior release “Funeral.”

This album is structured perfectly, rising and falling in all the right places, all building up to the orgasmic crescendo that is “No Cars Go,” probably one of the best songs I’ve heard in the 20 years I have been on this earth. Every mainstream rock-loving college kid who claims to like some semblance of “indie-rock” has fallen in love with Jack White through either the Stripes or the Raconteurs, and he picked up two other awards on the night. Arcade Fire was left out in the cold.

It all comes back to that “great power, great responsibility” thing. There was nothing wrong with the Foo, the Boss, the Stripes and Slayer picking up Grammys. The problem was that they picked them up again, and they picked them up en masse. The 2008 Grammys were publicized as a marriage of music’s past, present and future. Yet the stars of the next 20 years were shut out by a panel ready to reward and praise those who needed it least. I pray in 2009 that they get their act together because by deterring extremely talented young acts like Arcade Fire, we may see music quickly divorced from its future.