- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

February is awards month. As in Grammys and Oscars. Are you one of those shallow people who look forward to an evening in your sweatpants with a takeout dinner, possibly a dog or cat in your lap, your phone next to you so that when your friends call and scream during the commercials about so-and-so’s ugly dress/bad song/off-key performance/hideous dance number, you can scream back, all the while making sure you didn’t miss a thing?

I am.

In these dark recession days, the Oscars are a temporary escape from all the bad, bad news that keeps coming. One wonders if the producers and the celebrants are going to feel a need to tone down the glitz that naturally accompanies Hollywood’s biggest night. No Bjork swans maybe … but perhaps a monologue by this year’s host, Hugh Jackman, that acknowledges the pain the world is in but at the same time finds a way to say, “Hey, all the more reason to be tuning in to our party!” without sounding insensitive.

All the Oscar best-song nominees are great, but I think Bruce Springsteen was robbed by not receiving a nomination. He won the Golden Globe for his song “The Wrestler,” and well he should have. It’s a gorgeous and moving coda to a powerful and brilliantly acted film.

Often it seems that nominated songs have no more than a tenuous connection to the film they are in. In the case of Mr. Springsteen’s song, it is heard at the end of “The Wrestler” over the credits, and in the theater where I saw the film, not a single person moved from his seat until the song was done. It truly captures the essence of the main character and breaks our hearts in the process. It’s that lovely and important to the experience of the film.

As for the Grammys, after years of sagging ratings, this year’s show gained 2.5 million viewers over last year, and that’s a good thing because no matter what you think of these award shows, they are an opportunity for some special artists to be seen and heard. There are few chances for many of these performers to reach such a wide audience, and to be given a performance slot is a huge deal for the exposure and the sales bump it can bring.

I think the show has suffered since it made a semipermanent move to the Staples Center on the West Coast. This year’s broadcast didn’t change my mind. The venue is just too huge. The stages are miles away from the general audience, and between them are Grammy’s version of a mosh pit, full of sardine-packed fans instructed to wave their arms for nearly four hours.

For years, the awards show would alternate between New York and Los Angeles, taking place in more intimate surroundings like Radio City Music Hall. I will admit to being biased on this subject because I won my first Grammy at Radio City, and it will always be special to me for that reason. But the smaller audience did make a difference — it felt more like a marvelous gathering that you really felt a part of, as opposed to an enormous, cacophonous endurance contest illuminated by Vari-Lites on speed and spastic smoke machines.

As for this year’s show, what in the world were the Jonas Brothers doing in the best-new-artist category? My favorite musical moment was a tossup between Paul McCartney and Dave Grohl tearing up “I Saw Her Standing There” and Radiohead with the USC Marching Band.

I agree with those — on the telecast and elsewhere — who have called for President Obama to create a Cabinet-level post for secretary of the arts. It’s not necessarily going to mean a new and improved Grammy broadcast, but that is the least of our problems right now. Down the road, it could mean so much to so many, from the child just starting out with Suzuki violin to the teen who, instead of hanging out on the street, has an after-school music lab to go to five days a week.

In the meantime, the Oscars are approaching. I have to go wash my sweatpants, get my friends on speed dial, sort the takeout menus and prepare the TiVo. Can’t wait.

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