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Word Up From Down Under With Rufus Wainwright
Rufus Wainwright

Photo: Matt Kent/WireImage.com

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Word Up From Down Under With Rufus Wainwright

GRAMMY-nominated artist interviewed in Australia by Noise11

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(The Word Up From Down Under is an ongoing series featuring interviews conducted by Australian music channel Noise11 with artists while they are traveling through Australia.)

GRAMMY-nominated artist Rufus Wainwright recently conducted a brief tour of Australia, including stops at the Sydney Opera House, and two concerts at Hamer Hall in Melbourne. During his stay, Wainwright was interviewed by Noise11, an Australian music channel featuring breaking news, interviews, performances, and more. Wainwright discussed touring, his latest album, Out Of The Game, and working with GRAMMY-winning producer Mark Ronson, among other topics.

"With this album I think it was more about surrendering and just letting other people do what they wanted to do," said Wainwright. "I've been so entrenched in my productions, previously … but for this album I was just like, 'I'm going to sit back and let everybody do their job and enjoy themselves.'"

Placeholder for invalid migrated embed (See migrate logs for details).The son of GRAMMY winner Loudon Wainwright III and singer Kate McGarrigle, Wainwright has been described by Elton John as "the greatest songwriter on the planet." Wainwright released his self-titled debut album in 1998. In 2007 he scored his highest charting album with Release The Stars, which peaked at No. 23 on the Billboard 200. In 2008 Wainwright scored the first GRAMMY nomination of his career for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for Rufus Does Judy At Carnegie Hall, a recreation of Judy Garland's famed GRAMMY Album Of The Year-winning concert album.

Released in May and produced by three-time GRAMMY winner Ronson, Out Of The Game, peaked at No. 35 on the Billboard 200. The album features special guests such as Wilco's Nels Cline, the Dap-Kings, Sean Lennon, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner. The iTunes bonus track "WWIII" premiered exclusively on GRAMMY.com in April. Wainwright is currently in the midst of a global tour, with dates scheduled through May 2013. 

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Leonard Cohen's Holy Standard

With more than 360 recordings, Leonard Cohen's spiritual "Hallelujah" has evolved into a universal modern-day hymn

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

It is rare that a song can so deeply permeate the popular zeitgeist that it is played at moments of deep communal grief and universal gratitude. A few standards, such as "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "A Change Is Gonna Come" or "Let It Be," come to mind, but Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," with its signature mix of a beguilingly simple melody and artfully ambiguous lyrics, has somewhat incongruously risen to standard status.

"Hallelujah" began its improbable journey in 1984 when Cohen — a legend among the musical literati for such songs as "Suzanne," "Bird On A Wire" and "Famous Blue Raincoat," but still a relatively obscure poet turned folk musician — was about to turn 50. He pored over the words to the song for many years, filling two notebooks, writing more than 80 verses and recording two versions with almost completely different lyrics. When "Hallelujah" was finished, his record company, Columbia, turned down the album it was to be featured on, Various Positions. The album was subsequently released in 1985 on the indie label PVC Records.

In the nearly three decades since, the song has become a modern-day hymn, played everywhere from ground zero, the Vatican and the Super Bowl to earthquake and hurricane relief benefits and memorial montages at awards shows. The song, which is also broadcast at 2 a.m. every Saturday night by the Israeli Defense Force's radio channel, has even inspired the book The Holy Or The Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley And The Unlikely Ascent Of Hallelujah, authored by Alan Light, former editor in chief of Vibe and Spin.

"I couldn't think of any other song that had this long and extended path to becoming a standard, as opposed to coming out and being a big hit and everyone knowing that it's a very special song," says Light. "'Bridge Over Troubled Water' was a huge hit when it came out and everybody got that. This one took 15 to 20 years to get to that place. It's not like there was one big moment, not at the creation, or one cover that did it."

Like other Cohen compositions, the thematic dichotomies of hope and doubt and sacred and profane — or the holy and the broken as alluded to in Light's book title — run through "Hallelujah."

"The fact is," Light says, "that despite all the misunderstandings over the lyrics, or maybe because of them, 'Hallelujah,' like Springsteen's 'Born In The U.S.A.' before it, has been co-opted by the larger public, which bears evidence of an even greater subtlety in the seeming dichotomy of the song. We continue to faithfully sing the words, even though we don't know what they mean."

In 1991 John Cale of the Velvet Underground recorded his interpretation for a Cohen tribute album, which was subsequently used on the soundtrack for Basquiat. Cale's version attracted an aspiring young artist named Jeff Buckley, who heard it and recorded a transformative version for his 1994 album, Grace. Bob Dylan was also one of the few people to recognize the song's qualities early on, and sang it live in concert frequently. In 2001 Rufus Wainwright's cover of the song was featured on the soundtrack for the animated film Shrek.

"Hallelujah" has since appeared in TV shows such as "The O.C.," "The West Wing," "ER," and "Scrubs," and graced the repertoire of more than 80 artists as diverse as Bon Jovi, Imogen Heap, Bono, Justin Timberlake, and Willie Nelson. In December 2008, a rendering by "The X Factor" winner Alexandra Burke and Buckley's version were No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on the British singles charts, marking the first time in more than 50 years that the same song held the top two spots. Cohen's original recording broke into the Top 40 the same week. Canadian GRAMMY winner k.d. lang sang it at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Vancouver in 2010, giving the song a global stage.

"Everybody wanted to talk about it," said Light regarding his book research. "Whether it was Bono or Bon Jovi, they didn't need to be persuaded or convinced that there was something important going on here. Clearly every single person had thought about it [and] were aware of the legacy and being part of the chain of the performance."

Now, more than 360 recordings and thousands of performances later, "Hallelujah" is so ubiquitous that even Cohen himself politely requested a moratorium in 2009. However, as further testament to the song's ambiguous power, we have perhaps only to witness Adam Sandler's off-color parody at the 12-12-12 Hurricane Sandy benefit concert.

"Then with the Newtown [High School] shootings one week later," Light reflects, "the song was right back where people needed it to be. It was at the memorial; it was at the SNL opening. This is still the song that can perform that task."

Cohen, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Recording Academy in 2010, has said of the song's meaning: "It explains that many kinds of hallelujahs do exist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value."

Light adds, "I think that at the heart of it there is this sense, as Leonard says, that it really is getting over the obstacle and challenges that life presents to you, even when you're at your weakest and you've been torn to pieces, that you look to the skies and wonder at being alive and appreciate what that is and be thankful. I think in a lot of these uses, that's what is really there."

(John Sutton-Smith is a music journalist and TV producer who helped establish the GRAMMY Foundation's GRAMMY Living Histories oral history program, currently comprising almost 200 interviews.)

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Rock Solid Composition

Veteran rock/pop musicians are charting new courses in the realms of Broadway, film and ballet

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

Duncan Sheik jokingly remarks that he sometimes looks at making records as a young man's game, and asks rhetorically if he should bother anymore. While the GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter just turned 40 last November and released his most recent album in 2008 with Whisper House, he is also fresh off his recent success on Broadway with the groundbreaking musical "Spring Awakening."

Established artists have long ventured outside their comfort zones of the rock and pop idioms, including Elton John, Billy Joel, Danny Elfman, and Trevor Rabin, among others. Whether it's scoring for films, writing for theater or composing classical music, Sheik represents a new crop of veteran rock and pop musicians diving into personally uncharted waters in an effort to expand musical horizons.

Following a GRAMMY nomination in 1997 for his hit "Barely Breathing," Sheik established a connection with lyricist Steven Sater in 1999 that ultimately led to the duo working on "Spring Awakening." It took seven years to get it to the stage but the hard work paid off. "Spring Awakening" broke conventional theater protocol with its exuberant, emotional songs dealing with themes of young love and blossoming sexuality and played for two years on Broadway, spawning a GRAMMY Award in 2007, eight Tony Awards, and more recently four Laurence Olivier Awards.

Sheik feels the show, which is currently on tour in the United States, clicked because it reached an audience in his generation that felt disconnected with traditional musicals that did not speak to them. "When 'Spring Awakening' came along, it was really embraced because I think everyone was wanting to open up their palette a little bit," says Sheik. "It was really an amazing feeling to be embraced in that way by the theater community. We got lucky in that we did it at the right time. People were really ready for it. Now [Green Day's musical] 'American Idiot' is coming along, and [singer/songwriter] Regina Spektor is working on something."

Sheik and Sater have another musical, "The Nightingale," also in the works, while Sater has been collaborating with System Of A Down singer Serj Tankian on a modern musical version of the ancient Greek tragedy "Prometheus Bound."

As a founding member of the GRAMMY-winning New Jersey rock band Bon Jovi, classically trained pianist David Bryan has also emerged on Broadway. Following some film score work in the early '90s and securing a publishing deal in 1999, Bryan started collaborating with different songwriters. In 2001 the book for the '50s rock/R&B musical "Memphis," written by Joe DiPietro, crossed his desk and he decided to undertake writing the music. It took the duo eight more years to get the show to Broadway, but the show has garnered positive critical acclaim and is in the midst of an open-ended run. All the while Bryan and DiPietro cranked out another collaboration, "The Toxic Avenger Musical," which showcased a more modern rock sound and became a recent off-Broadway hit.

"The best part is that everybody [in the upper echelons in theater] is about 70 or 80 years old, so they call me 'the Kid,'" quips the 48-year-old Bryan. He and DiPietro, whose goal is to become "the modern Rodgers and Hammerstein," are currently working on "Chasing The Song," which takes place chronologically after "Memphis" in the South in 1960 before the Beatles emerged. "'Chasing The Song' is [about] that small window of time when everything was about the songwriter, before bands wrote their own songs," explains Bryan.

Another artist with a classical background is Kip Winger, who rose to fame in the late '80s with his eponymous platinum rock band. A ballet dancer in his teens and a self-taught musician, starting in the mid-'90s Winger supplemented his musical growth with serious composition study. His first classical piece "Ghosts," was written for a ballet choreographed by the renowned Christopher Wheeldon and debuted in San Francisco in February to positive critical reviews. "The coolest thing about this for me was that the big rock radio stations wanted me to come in and promote it," says Winger. "So here I am on a morning drive show on the biggest station in San Francisco, talking about the ballet. I never expected that."

"Ghosts" will make its debut abroad in the ballet "Brilliant Steps" in May in Hong Kong, performed by Tan Yuan Yuan — who Winger says "is like a national treasure in China" — and Damian Smith.

Considering Winger is known by his fans for his hard rock songs, he has been slowly opening up minds on both sides of the aisle. "I understand that a lot of people don't know what it is that I do, and especially our band," Winger says of both his outside projects and his band, which released a new album, Karma, last November. "I'm not one of those people that can continue to repeat myself and play the same song over and over again. I'd rather just be this eclectic weirdo that's following the artist's way...I'm basically just a student of music."

Jonny Greenwood, guitarist for the eclectic GRAMMY-winning rock band Radiohead, has become increasingly known for his film score work, starting with the 2003 documentary Bodysong. According to Mac Randall, author of Exit Music: The Radiohead Story, Greenwood first began playing viola as a child, played in youth orchestras, studied music in college, before going on to craft string arrangements for Radiohead beginning with their 1995 album The Bends. "It's quite possible, if Radiohead hadn't turned into what it did, that Jonny Greenwood would have gone on to be a composer," says Randall.

Greenwood composed the score to the 2007 Oscar-winning Paul Thomas Anderson film There Will Be Blood. "In some ways it had a more traditional movie score sound, but at the same time it was also very thorny," adds Randall. "It was a real touch of classical music in a movie, which you really don't hear so much of anymore.

"I actually had a conversation earlier this week with Alex Ross, who is the classical music critic for The New Yorker and also a big Radiohead fan," says Randall. "He told me that in the classical world Jonny Greenwood is very well-respected. People take him seriously."

Yet another artist stepping out is Rufus Wainwright, who recently composed his first opera, Prima Donna, with a storyline about a prematurely retired opera singer. The opera, which contains "inspired touches and disarmingly beautiful passages" according to The New York Times, will make its London premiere April 12 and is scheduled for a North American premiere at the Luminato-Toronto Festival of Arts + Creativity in June.

While the aforementioned musicians all plan to continue with their day jobs, they also aim to continue diving further into their non-rock projects and hope their fans will come along for the ride.

"For the people who have the ambitions and can actually back them up, it's great," observes Randall of this growing rocker-cum-composer trend. "It is a new avenue to move into, and maybe it's one of those things that might get fans more interested in non-pop music. You never know. It could pull some people along if it works."

(Bryan Reesman is a New York-based freelance writer.)

 

Joni Mitchell Tribute 'Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration' Coming To Theaters

James Taylor and Joni Mitchell

Photo: Vivien Killilea/Getty Images

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Joni Mitchell Tribute 'Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration' Coming To Theaters

The iconic folk singer celebrated her 75th birthday in style last year, and now, for one night only, you can watch how it all went down

GRAMMYs/Jan 10, 2019 - 05:06 am

Joni Mitchell's 75th birthday celebration last year welcomed a number of GRAMMY-winning performers, including Emmylou HarrisNorah JonesChaka KhanDiana KrallKris KristoffersonLos LobosGraham NashSeal, and James Taylor(Not to mention the performing GRAMMY nominees: Glen HansardRufus Wainwright and 61st GRAMMY Awards nominee Brandi Carlile.) Now, Trafalger Releasing is set to release a movie of the tribute concerts — The Music Center Presents Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration — to theaters on Feb. 7.

Variety’s coverage of the night’s performances said, “Carlile had the bravura vocal performance of the night, effortlessly hitting the high notes of 'Down to You' in a casually octave-spanning fashion few others on the bill would have been down with attempting.” She also joined Kristofferson for a duet of “A Case of You.”

Tickets are now on sale for the Feb. 7 showings. A soundtrack album will be released via Verve on Mar. 1

A Woman Of Influence: Joni Mitchell, Looking Back From 75

Watch Lido Pimienta, Poppy, Burna Boy & More Perform In Full 2021 GRAMMY Awards Show Premiere Ceremony Video

Lido Pimienta

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Watch Lido Pimienta, Poppy, Burna Boy & More Perform In Full 2021 GRAMMY Awards Show Premiere Ceremony Video

Witness the entire 2021 GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony, with music from Burna Boy, Lido Pimienta, Poppy, Terri Lyne Carrington with Social Science, and more

GRAMMYs/Mar 16, 2021 - 12:16 am

Every year, ahead of the GRAMMY Awards show airing live on CBS, the majority of the golden gramophones are presented at the Premiere Ceremony. Always a lively event, it also features stellar performances from nominated artists. The 2021 GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony was no different, and took us around the world with music from Burna Boy, Lido Pimienta, Poppy, Igor Levit, Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, Terri Lyne Carrington with Social Science, Rufus Wainwright, and a star-studded cast paying tribute to Marvin Gaye with "Mercy Mercy Me."

Watch the 63rd GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony in full below.

Check out all the complete 2021 GRAMMY Awards show winners and nominees list here.

10 Must-See Moments From The 2021 GRAMMY Awards Show, From Anderson .Paak To BTS To Megan Thee Stallion