“This is not your father’s GRAMMYs,” host Ellen DeGeneres told the crowd at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles during the 38th Annual GRAMMY Awards, and how could it be with Alanis Morissette taking home GRAMMY Awards for Album Of The Year and Best Rock Album for Jagged Little Pill as well as Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song for “You Oughta Know”— a song that could make some fathers blush.
Considerably less blush-inducing was Hootie & The Blowfish who won Best New Artist and Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group for “Let Her Cry.” Elsewhere, GRAMMY winners ranged from distinguished musical veterans including Frank Sinatra (who won Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance for Duets II, his first win in GRAMMY competition since the 9th Annual GRAMMY Awards in 1966) to edgier acts like Nine Inch Nails (Best Metal Performance for “Happiness In Slavery” from Woodstock 94) and Nirvana (Best Alternative Music Performance for MTV Unplugged In New York).
This would prove to be an especially interesting night for acceptance speeches as well. Morissette went out of her way in repeated appearances to make clear that she did not feel winning the awards meant she was better than the other nominees, but rather an acknowledgement of the connection her music had made with so many listeners. However, the unofficial award for most ambivalent GRAMMY acceptance speech of the year had to go to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder when the band won Best Hard Rock Performance for “Spin The Black Circle.” As Vedder said, “I just wanted to watch the show. I don’t know what this means. I don’t think it means anything. That’s just how I feel…you’ve heard it all before. My dad would have liked it, but my dad died before I got to know him...Thanks, I guess…”
Yet it was still another acceptance that was most memorable on this evening. When Joni Mitchell’s Turbulent Indigo was named Best Pop Album, the singer/songwriter seemed genuinely surprised, and remarked that she and her co-producer and one-time husband Larry Klein “made [the] album in the state of divorcing.” Klein, for his part, struck a warm and witty note when he added, “I’d like to thank Joan who is, I think, the best songwriter around these days, and thank her for 10 years of instruction.” Klein then quickly added, “...in the art,” lest there be any confusion about Mitchell’s lessons.
Of course, there was also no shortage of great musical art on display here, including three Lifetime Achievement Award recipient tributes: honoree Dave Brubeck performing a gorgeous rendition of “Blue Rondo A La Turk” with the help of newer jazz greats Roy Hargrove on trumpet and Joshua Redman on saxophone; a stunningly soulful salute to Stevie Wonder by D’Angelo and Tony Rich on dueling keyboards; and a unique pairing of soulful Brits Annie Lennox and Seal (the latter won Record and Song Of The Year as well as Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for “Kiss From A Rose”) to honor Marvin Gaye. The night also offered a more subdued version of “You Oughta Know” by Morissette with her band and a string section, and Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s opening, gospel-tinged rendition of “One Sweet Day.” Even more uplifting was a gospel segment introduced by and featuring Whitney Houston, along with CeCe Winans and gospel great Shirley Caesar, who together brought the assembled GRAMMY congregation to its feet.
There was much talk on this GRAMMY night about recent cuts in music programs in schools, highlighted by Richard Dreyfuss, star of Mr. Holland’s Opus, a recent movie that touched upon the importance of music education. Bobby McFerrin also spoke powerfully to this problem, telling teachers to grab a boom box and expose young minds to music by all means necessary. “Don’t wait for some kind of grant to fall from the sky,” he explained with the sort of clear passion for music that GRAMMY night has come to define.