Now that all the musics have been stuck in a blender and whirled around, we need to listen fresh. Was that Fishbone or Blind Lemon? The Honeydrippers or the Sugar Hill Gang? Merengue or meringue? The distinctions don't matter anymore; the taste is all in the mix.
So the Grammys' unholy joining of
Metallica with Lady Gaga was an attention grabber. Pairing Gaga with Marilyn Manson would have felt a shade too close, just as Metallica's album with Lou Reed turned out to work only on paper. Gotta have more contrast -- like, er, ebony & ivory.
Gatallica had a chance because of both artists' adaptability. Despite their name, Metallica have grabbed more ears with tuneful balladeering; Gaga changes her looks and beats every hour. Could they wrap their flexible limbs around each other?
Nominally, Metallica held home court -- it was their band and their song (the thrashy "Moth Into Flame"), and the sheets of flaming pyro maintained the heavy theme. Metalmen and pop empress could both dig the lyics about celebrity immolation, though, and the stage setup skewed Gaga-ward, with a back-row gang of Radio City dancers pretending to be chaotic metal moshers, shades of David Winters' "Hullabaloo" hoofers interpreting "Satisfaction."
Making no attempt to sound metallic, Gaga belted out the aching minor-key melody with characteristic soulfulness and physically launched her ass onto the palms of the waiting audience, who, after a creditable crowd-surf, tilted the petite diva neatly back onto the boards, where she crouched and gave us a smoldering tiger glare like, "Hey, that got me off more than flying on wires at the Super Bowl."
Equally impressive: Gaga's unmetal dancing -- man, that bitch can writhe. Amid all the performance's other conflations, the greatest achievement was injecting some sexuality into thrash metal.
My other favorite Grammy moment arrived in the unusually long (bad year, 2016) memoriam for fallen musicians, where John Legend and Cynthia Erivo performed an appropriate and deeply felt rendition of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows (What I'd Be Without You)." Good, too, to see producer/songwriter Greg Kurstin get some major credit, finally for his work with Adele.
Mainly, though, I wasn't listening. It's not that I despised the Grammified music; it just warn't made for me, any more than "Satisfaction" was made for my parents.
No, I was waiting for the Metallica-Gaga experience, so I just watched the Grammys with the sound off until they showed. What did I listen to instead? Bob Dylan's "Time out of Mind," marking its 20th anniversary. I picked that because it represented another distinctive fusion: producer Daniel Lanois creating a rootsy, sensual authenticity with the unapologetic aid of every technological trick at his disposal. Seems it can be done. But I had to choke off the fogey pridefulness that crept up on me when Dylan sang, hoarse, indifferent and expecting to die from a heart disease he eventually survived:
Gonna sleep down in the parlor
And relive my dreams
I’ll close my eyes and I wonder
If everything is as hollow as it seems
Some trains don't pull no gamblers
No midnight ramblers like they did before
I'm just trying to get to heaven
Before they close the door.