Stealing New York's Heart

Sept. 11 hangs over Grammys, but big winner Norah Jones, Bruce Springsteen and even Eminem buoy the mood.

February 24, 2003|By Tom Moon | Tom Moon,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

They were the Norah Jones Grammys.

The understated 23-year-old singer and pianist, who was virtually unknown this time last year, won five major honors last night at the 45th annual Grammy Awards: Album of the Year and Pop Vocal Album for Come Away With Me; Best New Artist; and Record of the Year and Female Pop Vocal Performance for "Don't Know Why." The album also garnered prizes for its engineers, producers and Jesse Harris, who wrote the Song of the Year, "Don't Know Why."

They were the 9/11 Grammys.

The Rising, Bruce Springsteen's song cycle about the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, won three major awards, appropriately held in New York for the first time in five years. Alan Jackson's similarly themed "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" took the prize for Best Country Song.

They were, at times, the antiwar Grammys, though Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst didn't do the movement any favors when he stopped reading the hard-rock nominees to say, "I hope we are all in agreeance that this war should go away as soon as possible." Durst is a former Navy seaman.

And they were the rudderless Grammys. The ceremony's no-host experiment is one a major awards show isn't likely to repeat soon. Though CBS said the decision was made to highlight the personalities of New York, the multiple faces created a confusing parade of performers and presenters. Just when you needed a host's raised eyebrow or smirk, along came another celebrity. Without a steadying presence - even one as unsteady as Rosie O'Donnell, who was host in 1999 and 2000 - the telecast drifted and rolled.

Other big winners Sunday night were the Dixie Chicks, whose three awards included Best Country Album for the bluegrass-tinged Home. Artists who won two awards included Eminem, whose The Eminem Show was named Best Rap Album; England's Coldplay, whose A Rush of Blood to the Head won for Best Alternative-Music Album; acoustic-soul singer India.Arie, who won for Best R&B Album for Voyage to India; and rapper Nelly, who took the honor for Male Rap Solo Performance for "Hot in Herre").

The telecast was clunky at the start. Having Dustin Hoffman introduce Simon and Garfunkel would have made great sense in 1967, when they were celebrating their work in The Graduate. But in 2003, it made the Grammys seem like a rerun. When Hoffman returned, his hipness was forced and gaffe-filled. He called the Boss "Bruce Springstreet" and referred to No Doubt's hit as "Say Baby" instead of "Hey Baby."

Luckily, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel - who along with Etta James, Tito Puente, Johnny Mathis and Glenn Miller received Lifetime Achievement awards - were tremendous. Looking older but wearing the same boho coffeehouse garb of long ago, the folk-rock duo sang "The Sounds of Silence" with a silky familiarity. It was the first time Simon and Garfunkel, both 61, had performed together in public in 10 years, but it didn't sound that way: Changing the arrangement ever so slightly, the two harmonized beautifully.

The show soon settled into its usual plod of performances and long-winded acceptance speeches. Though the telecast ran 3 1/2 hours, only 11 awards were given on-air. The remaining 93 were distributed before the start of the show.

Perhaps the show's producers limited the number of awards so they could control the acceptance speeches: Offscreen, several artists, including Flaming Lips lead singer Wayne Coyne, expressed dismay over the looming war in Iraq.

On screen, things were less controversial. John Mayer, 25, did some fast free-associating when he picked up his award for Male Pop Vocal Performance for his song "Your Body Is a Wonderland." "I pride myself on being bigger than the moment ... and this moment is kicking my ... This is very, very fast," said Mayer, who was also up for Best New Artist. "I promise to catch up."

Accepting his honor for Best Rap Album, Detroit rapper Eminem traded his customary confrontational patois for some old-fashioned hero worship.

"I made a list of MCs that inspired me to bring me where I am today," said the rap powerhouse and star of the film 8 Mile. His The Eminem Show sold nearly 8 million copies to become the album of 2002. He rattled off several of the MCs who helped shape his sensibility, among them Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Kool G Rap, Rakim, Dr. Dre, the members of NWA, Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., and Jay-Z. "Thank you, 'cause I learned from all of you," he said.

A similar generational nod informed the emotional presentation of the Legend Award to the Bee Gees. After the obligatory film montage, 'N Sync took the stage to sing, in reverent a capella, a medley of the harmony trio's five decades of hits. Barry and Robin Gibb accepted the award on behalf of their late brother, Maurice, then gave the award to Maurice's son, Adam.

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