Thursday, November 17, 2005

Watching the Twangys

I don’t know why I watch awards shows. They’re awful on every rational level. Maybe it’s because they seemed more dynamic when I was a kid, when seeing Tom Petty and Axl Rose sing "Free Fallin’" together at the MTV Video Music Awards felt strangely exhilarating (I never said I was a particularly bright kid). Or longer ago, when staying up late to watch Cher accept the Oscar for Moonstruck carried a tinge of the illicit.

I normally limit myself to the Oscars and sometimes the Emmys these days. As a music fan, I can’t stomach the Grammys, which always ends up awarding Best New Artist to some poor mid-visibility band that just recorded its tenth album, and frequently turns the big awards, like Record of the Year, into a grotesque battle royale between antithetical forces, like Tony Bennett, Whitney Houston, and Limp Bizkit.

My attraction to these proceedings is vestigial, and I understand that, but I can't fully shake it. I'm even occasionally prompted by my imp of the perverse to watch something that I have no earthly interest in, like this week’s Country Music Awards, which took place in Madison Square Garden in midtown Manhattan –- akin to broadcasting the Vibe Awards from the Fort Worth Stockyards. But in fact, the venue is one of the reasons I tuned in, figuring that the cognitive dissonance created by the marriage of event and site would produce some enjoyable moments -– and sure enough it did, like when Mayor Bloomberg came out and declared New York America’s “greatest town,” and then they cut to Alan Jackson looking like he had a raccoon trapped in his small intestine.

So there were some laughs. Plus, I’m not reflexively anti-country music. Living in the south, you inevitably get exposed to the best of it along with the worst. If I had gone to college in Middletown or Providence, for instance, I doubt someone in my freshman dorm would have turned me on to Lyle Lovett, who’s now a favorite of mine. I own records by Kelly Willis, Iris Dement, Alison Krauss, Laura Cantrell, Johnny Cash, and others who you’d have to classify, on some level, as non-ironic country. And I respect (though I’m not as familiar with) people like Dwight Yoakam. (I’m not including the somewhat country-influenced –- like Whiskeytown, Son Volt, Richard Buckner, and others -– who compose a formidable bloc in my collection.) But of course, aside from Krauss, these weren’t the people who dominated the awards show. No, it seemed the awards show was more interested in squeezing women who look like 1950’s housewives into dresses three sizes too small and not giving them near enough back-up accompaniment to disguise their limited vocal range. (There are many exceptions in the genre, no doubt -– LeAnn Rimes, for one, can flat-out sing. And others, like Lee Ann Womack -– whose latest album sports an admirably classy throwback design -– and other women not named any variation of Lee Ann are fine, but done no favors by the aforementioned lack of accompaniment.)

The CMA, as it’s called in the biz, was also more interested in men like Big & Rich, a duo who I remembered reading about a while back –- I vaguely recalled they incorporated midgets and rappers into their act, making them far and away one of the edgier country outfits. (If you’re prepared to see what edgy looks like in country -– or, rather, if you think you’re prepared; you’re not prepared -– then go here.)

They sang a song called “Comin’ To Your City,” which was the listening equivalent of drinking orange juice right after brushing your teeth, and which included the line “And then in Phoenix, Arizona / we drank way too much Corona.” (Forgive me if that’s not the exact wording; I’ve been slowly blocking out the experience in therapy –- kind of Coal Miner’s Daughter meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

For most of the night, I was able to safely divide myself between Discerning John, who appreciated Krauss’ performance and little else, and Mocking John, who appreciated (more than he can say) Big & Rich & Many Others. But there was one scary moment when I was caught in a no-man’s-land between the two safe territories. That’s when I found myself reasonably enjoying the vocals of the lead singer of Rascal Flatts. The song and the band itself seemed pitched almost exactly between Quality and Horror, and the performance sent my head spinning, not to mention my moral compass. Come to think of it, it was the kind of thrilling, soul-searching, character-forging moment for which we’ve come to rely on awards shows.

To top off this down-home week, tonight I’m going to an advance screening of the new Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line. I’m on a roll, y’all.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was at a Dallas Cowboys game when Big & Rich sang the national anthem last season. They were both dressed in campy cowboy outfits that were a bit over the top. They did a fairly good a capella version of the national anthem. But they stood about 2 feet apart, and turned to face each other, and proceeded to over-emote as they sang looking directly into each others' eyes. And as if that 2 feet wasn't close enough, they both leaned in so close that at times, I thought they were going to touch their faces together. Very homoerotic. And then at the song's climax -- "O'er the land of the Freeeeee[extend endlessly]" -- where real singers show off their chops -- both Big & Rich leaned back as they strained with effort to being the song to fruition ... and leaning back sent their hips forward. So it was like they were touching their crotches together.

When it was over, the guy next to me asked, "Did I just see that?" To which I replied, "If you ever sing the national anthem to me like that, you better at least buy me dinner first."

And since that apparently wasn't enough, Big & Rich came back at halftime and sang their hit song (at the time) "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy."

So to sum up, I won't be seeing Brokeback Mountain in the theatre, because I already saw it in Texas Stadium.

-- The Comish (sic)

5:44 PM  

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