Why you should care
Because you can’t Auto-Tune life.
Hard rock stalwarts and perennial iron men of metal AC/DC said it best when they sang, without a dint of irony, that “it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ’n’ roll.” Presuming I could comfortably duck saying that’s what I’d been trying to do since starting in music in 1980 (and I can), it’s ended up being more true than not. Even if there was never any serious belief that the “top” was anything I was ever going to get near, what with my penchant for decidedly non-radio-friendly music, it had been years of a steady diet of studios, records, riots, getting beat out of cash by promoters and thousands of miles spent in rusted-out vans as we pulled up to clubs whose owners thought “you were coming NEXT week.”
And with half an eye on how the other half lives, guys in hard-core bands in sort of a lazy way paid attention to what was happening at the music industry’s Big Game, the Grammys. To laugh at how little the Grammy folks clearly knew about metal or, surprisingly, how dead-on they were about some of our near-brethren like the Beastie Boys, most of us didn’t pay such, um, strong attention to the Grammy world. That was true for my band, OXBOW, right up until 2008, when we heard that our producer had been nominated for producer of the year for producing three significant records: one by the Shins, one by neo-jazz crooner Kurt Elling and one by, yeah, us.
You see, Joe Chiccarelli — he behind the boards for the likes of Morrissey, the White Stripes, Frank Zappa — had already won three Grammys and seven Latin Grammys. So it was not out of the question that he’d win again. And in a slather of anticipation and without the slightest blush of uncomfortability, guitarist Niko Wenner and I made the roadie drive to Los Angeles in a borrowed Mercedes, reconnoitered with Mark Thompson and Aaron Turner from our record label Hydrahead, put on the motley — some version of stage suits/quasi-tuxes — and made for our designated seats in fancy-pants laminates.
Finally, shifting uneasily in said seats, I looked around, struck with a thought. A big brother thought. My younger sister, a singer as well, whose time at New York’s Performing Arts high school had launched her on a fairly healthy career path of her own, would be geeked beyond measure to get a call from me, at the Grammys of all places.
“Maya?” The noise of hubbub making the crackle over my cellphone harder to hear.
“Hey! I’m at the Grammys! Haha … what do you think of THAT?”
“Wait. YOU’RE at the Grammys?”
“Yes!” I said. A tad too quickly. A skosh too triumphantly.
“I’M at the Grammys!”
And suddenly an awareness that the ambient sounds over our phones were the same ones in the air and I laughed. Had to.
“Wait. Where are you sitting?”
I hear her swiveling her head to spot the next nearest gaggle of celebrities, while I do the same.
“Um. I think near the guys in the Red Hot Chili Peppers.”
Then I realize that we’re sitting next to Yoko Ono.
Now, I’m a big Yoko Ono fan, BUT proximity is clearly destiny, and despite this and what should have been clear to anyone when they announced, “and for best producer of the year!!! … ,” I stood up in preparation for a march down past Yoko, down from the second floor and past about 60 rows right to the stage.
“ … Mark Ronson for Amy Winehouse.”
There is no way at all to cool your way out of standing when they’re NOT announcing your name. So straightening a pleat in my pants I cleared my throat and retook my seat. And called my sister. For maybe a little commiseration. A little understanding. This is all before I had really figured to ask what the hell she was doing at the Grammys anyway. The answer came soon enough:
See, she had a duet with Stephen Marley, Bob Marley’s kid, on his 2007 record Mind Control. A record that won the 2008 Grammy for best reggae album.
Which is why I blamed the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
In my earlier band Whipping Boy, we had played a show with them. A show that devolved into a riot with police involvement and some real or imagined high-handing of me, also known as “the singer of a band that was NOT headlining,” and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, also known as the headliners. This and a later incident on Sunset Boulevard, where bassist Flea in his baby blue Mercedes with the Jimi Hendrix sticker on the back may or may not have tried to run me down … well that said it all, and was all I needed for a one-sided vendetta that lasted through the years and totally baffling continued successes.
But in a bar later, when the doorman asked why we were dressed up and we told him, by the time we made it to a back booth where we’d be sitting, they had already larded up our table with free drinks. It was, after all, LA, baby.
“Better luck next time, bros. At least you got nominated.”
Calling Chiccarelli from the same back booth over some whiskey, he laughed and laughed.
“Well, that Amy Winehouse record is one hell of a record.”
It certainly was. It certainly is.