Backstage at the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards offered a typical buffet of soundbytes as winners and presenters filed through the press room to field flying questions from quote-thirsty journalists. Few artists escaped without addressing the controversial Eminem/Elton Joh duet. Yet for all the pomp and hype surrounding the coupling, none seemed to think it the powder keg the media made it out to be.
Perennially vocal Rage Against the Machine, winners for Best Hard Rock Performance, fielded the issue predictably. "Controversy is good," said drummer Brad Wilk excitedly asserted. Guitarist Tom Morello elaborated, "To me it seems pretty straightforward. There are two opinions one can have about freedom of speech -- you're for it or against it."
On the same topic, Moby was typically well-spoken and long-winded. "I support Eminem's free speech. I oppose censorship in all forms. He's very good at what he does, but he's also a misogynist and homophobe and racist and anti-Semite. I'm thirty-three and can see through it, but I can't imagine that an eight-year-old in Idaho sees it as just a joke. A few years ago the Prodigy came out with a song called 'Smack My Bitch Up.' They were friends of mine, but I was horrified. If they put out 'Smack My Jew Up,' no one would have played it."
Sheryl Crow, victorious in the Best Female Rock Vocal category, took a more light-hearted approach to the fiasco. When asked of her album-in-progress, Crow said to expect, "Lots of profanity, lots of gay-bashing, a lot of anti-women statements. I think it's gonna be huge." Chiming in for Jesus, bassist Lonnie Chapin of Petra (winners for Best Rock Gospel Album), ominously asserted, "Whatever [Eminem] does, he will be judged accordingly." As for the storm's eye himself, Eminem chose to let his ovation-earning rip through "Stan" do all the talking. The Motor City rapper skipped the press room altogether.
Surprise Album of the Year winners Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan deflected questions in favor of entertaining themselves with clever quips. Becker held his Grammy aloft and noted, "If you put your ear up to this thing, you can hear 'East St. Louis Toodle-oo,'" a curious reference to the old Duke Ellington standard. Asked what the Grammy meant to him, Becker said, "We get a free trip to Disneyworld for us and our escorts, an extended weekend. All our breakfasts are covered as long as they're continental breakfasts."
Whereas their false modesty has annoyed in the past, the thrice-triumphant U2 (Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group, Record of the Year, Song of the Year) were genuinely humble in victory. Addressing his band's veteran status, Bono said, "There's a certain contour that's expected of a band - you do your best work and then you burn out. If you were a photographer or a screenwriter or a poet or a filmmaker in your thirties, you might just be getting the hang of it, but a lot of rock bands are burnt-out by our age. It doesn't feel like we're burning out."
Colombian songstress Shakira showed poise in her second language when asked if she feared our Latin fetish might soon fizzle, "I don't want to be part of the Latin explosion," she said. "What's left after an explosion? Ashes."
Strangely, fallen NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt was in the house, in spirit at least. U2's the Edge sported a "3" jersey at the event ("3" being Earnhardt's car number) and Dave Grohl, whose Foo Fighters walked off with the Best Rock Album trophy, discussed his plans for his newest guitar, a Dale Earnhardt Jr. model Les Paul. "I got it, I guess, five or six days ago," Grohl said. "Two days after I got it, I heard that his father had died. We're doing a couple more shows in the next month and I plan on using it just to let him know . . . I'm rocking it for [Earnhardt Sr.]."
And there was wit. Asked about his duet with ever-buxom Dolly Parton, country newcomer Brad Paisley (edged by Shelby Lynne for Best New Artist), admitted to near-temptation. "I pride myself on being one of those guys that doesn't do 'the look,' one of those guys that doesn't glance down at a woman's . . . I didn't do it. I'm proud of myself."
Despite losing to those doggoned Baha Men in the Best Dance Recording category, Moby managed to keep things in perspective. "My feeling is, if I'm gonna lose an award, I'd rather lose to a novelty act than a serious act. It feels like less of a slight. Last year I lost to Beck and Santana -- that actually hurt. But losing to the Baha Men? You can't help but laugh."
And for those weary journalists lingering in the press room after the show, waiting in vain for Mr. Mathers, instead there was electric guitar icon Les Paul. The octogenarian, having just been awarded a lifetime achievement Grammy for his technical prowess, was in fine spirits. Asked how he felt the first time he saw the Who's Pete Townshend smash a guitar bearing his name, Paul chuckled, "I loved it! Every time he broke one, he had to buy another one. What a stupid question!"
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