Music Critics Must Die: Awards Show Season
Going behind the scenes and inside the shenanigans, Scott G peers through the smoke and tries to avoid the noise as he accompanies Giannetta Marconi to the Los Angeles Music Awards.
I have covered the Grammys as a journalist. I have attended advertising industry shows (Beldings, Lulus, etc., and was a judge at the Clios one year). I even won a few times at the old Los Angeles Music Awards (LAMA). All of this was fun, but exhausting.
It had reached the point where I didn’t feel like getting gussied up to drive to another long evening of too loud music and incomprehensibly boring acceptance speeches. But I got talked into it by three people.
First, the new president of the LAMA thought I would be an ideal journalist to see how they had “smoothed things out” from the disorganized messes of the past couple of years. Next, the rock photographer Snook assured me that we would have a great time watching the “train wreck.” And finally, Giannetta Marconi asked me to accompany her since she was a nominee.
Off to Darkest Hollywood
So okay, I said. It took only two phone calls and the exchange of six e-mails to garner the information that the press passes would be at “the media table.” After first following my checklist (business cards, cash, printout of invitation, ear plugs), Giannetta and I set off for Darkest Hollywood.
Klieg lights were out front of the Music Box Theater near Hollywood and Vine, making the place quite easy to find amidst the mixture of glittery neon and gritty squalor that marks much of the 90028 area of town. And parking was a relatively low eight bucks when we arrived (I’ve seen parking rates climb to more than $100 as space runs out and curtain time approaches).
We strolled past a hundred or so people in line and began a 20-minute saga of obtaining three wristbands each (silver, yellow, and green). In my head, I multiplied those minutes times the 500 or so people who would be attending and figured that anyone arriving close to showtime still hasn’t made it into the event.
Doing the Red Carpet Dance
As a nominee, Giannetta was able to “walk the red carpet” and be interviewed by smiling, friendly people who had no idea with whom they were talking. I got to be the arm candy, holding up her album at appropriate moments. I think I handled that task fairly well for a first-timer (don’t shake the album cover, don’t bump the microphone, don’t block anyone’s face, and tilt the album downward just slightly to avoid the glare from the lights).
One of the interviewers turned out to be Monique Lukens (AKA Unique Monique) of the “Dancing Under the Influence of Electronica” program broadcast on WLFR and Shoutcast. Small world (I was on a show featuring tracks from my “Crazed + Dazed” album a week or so earlier). Now I know why those carpet walk events on TV seem to be such a strange mixture of “who are you?” and “let’s do lunch!”
As we mingled on the carpet, it was apparent that the steadily-lengthening line leading to the media table was mainly full of people who should have been in the Will Call line on the other side of the theater entrance, guaranteeing that a stream of disgruntled people continually filed past the front of the theater.
Eventually, we went into the lobby, had our picture snapped a few times, and attempted to enter the theater. No dice. None of our three wristbands entitled us to enter prior to the start of the show. WTF?
This didn’t concern me, but what if Giannetta’s category was first? I asked several people (including the press director and the president of the show) for a schedule, but got the same answer from all of them: “I don’t have one with me.”
The show began with a few hundred of us locked out. Five minutes went by. Then 10. The security people on the doors wouldn’t let anyone in without a purple wristband, which was for those who had ordered the $100+ dinner. We went to the door farthest from the lobby and engineered our way in (those of us in front smiled adoringly while flaunting our press credentials and those in the back encouraged angry ticket holders to press forward, “scooting” us through the portal).
We made it inside! I almost wish we hadn’t. An open door at the side of the venue allowed overpowering fumes from nicotine addicts in the parking lot to clog lungs and nasal passages. The event and the theater itself should be fined for this breach of the codes from the Board of Health.
Stupid is as Stupid Does
Meanwhile, the public address system blasted nearly incomprehensible barking from an emcee in jeans and a baseball cap. The man claimed to be the host of both a radio show and a television program, but clearly no one in broadcasting would ever hire someone this ineffectual.
None of the nominees’ names were mentioned during the course of the proceedings. The emcee in the cap read the winners’ names for category after category, the monotony broken only by a succession of artists playing one song each. It soon became evident that every performer during the evening was the winner in their category. So much for suspense. It was so painfully obvious that people in the audience were predicting the winners 100% of the time.
Locked Out Again
About an hour into the show, when my fellow journalist Natasha Rhodes went to the lobby for a few moments, she couldn’t return. The security people on the doors refused to let her back in without a purple wristband. Photographer Snook went out to see what was taking her so long and they wouldn’t let either of them back in, so he called me on my cell phone and I went out there to find Natasha happily interviewing artists who had paid for their tickets but who were being told they couldn’t attend the event. Apparently, the security people were never told that the doors could be opened to anyone with a green wristband once the pre-show dinner was concluded.
We forced our way back into the show just to prove that we could. Why? You may well ask. Not for the lack of pageantry, not for the drunken speeches, and not for the music. The performances consisted primarily of one Generic Noisemaking Group after another, all playing the same crushingly loud sludge-pile song. Or so it seemed on a sound system that was obviously rescued from the bottom of a stagnant pond. One comment I overheard: “I’ve seen people playing guitar outdoors at the Third Street Promenade with better sound than this.”
Then, suddenly, everything changed. Sherry Petta began singing a soft jazz number with a band that actually knew how to play its instruments. She performed an original composition, “Waiting,” that would have been right at home on a lovely album from Getz, Gilberto, Fitzgerald, or Krall. Dynamics! Tone! Phrasing! Melody! It was marvelous. Along with Pete Gitlin (guitar), Dave Henning (piano), Andy Ziker (drums), Steven VonWald (saxophone), and Ryan Roberts (bass), Sherry Petta was an astral beacon of musicality.
It should be noted that the emcee spent a portion of Petta’s performance in the aisle of the theater, talking loudly with one of his “sponsors,” a bail bonds operator.
Slouching to a Conclusion
After a few self-congratulatory diatribes from the producers of the LAMA (they appear to have very high opinions of themselves), the noise returned in the form of the “band of the year” or some such designation. And how was their caterwauling, untuned wailing, and monotonous thumping any different from the other no-talents that preceded Ms. Petta? Not a jot.
One terrific running joke during the evening was watching the two trophy girls present the winners with a large multicolored plaque (it resembled an oversized Texas belt buckle in a gilt frame), then wiggle their way into the shot as LAMA’s official photographer, Jim Steinfeldt, snapped an image or two.
A second running joke was watching the two trophy girls retrieve the plaque from the previous winner so it could be held up in the photo of the next winner. And so on. I’m not certain what people took home, but not the award.
Were there any good things besides Sherry Petta? Well, none of the promised celebrities (including Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins and “TV sensation and guitar virtuoso Charo”) showed up, so we were spared their embarrassment. And the lighting, by Sean Lyons, was excellent.
But the event was a delightful mess. I asked one of the theater staff if they had ever seen anything this disorganized. “Not so far in my career” was the reply. Finally, allow me to pass along what one noted music writer had to say about the show: “Maybe it will finally die a silent and long overdue death.”
[tags]LA Music Awards, Grammy, Clio, Giannetta Marconi, Monique Lukens, Snook, Natasha Rhodes, pop music, college radio, rock[/tags]