If the 50th annual Grammy Awards telecast from the Staples Center in Los Angeles is anything like previous shows, it may well seem like it's 50 hours long.
Spare yourself the agony: Read on for my minute-by-minute (or thereabouts) account. If anything really interesting happens, you'll be able to catch the replay on You Tube anyway.
7:02 p.m.: Alright, here we go: The show kicked off with a disembodied female voice intoning, “It’s Grammy’s 50th birthday, and everybody’s coming to the party!”
Sure enough, things got rolling when the Chairman of the Board himself, Frank Sinatra, held forth on the glory of vinyl recordings in some old black-and-white TV footage. Sinatra was one of the music industry old guard who launched the Grammys to champion “good” music in contrast to that juvenile delinquent scourge of rock ’n’ roll.
Or, as Ol’ Blue Eyes said while fondling a golden gramophone: “Why do you get one of these? Not for selling a million records; you get rich for that. This is for the art of recording.”
Ironically, the Grammys seem to like Sinatra better now that he's dead. In 1994, when he rambled on a bit while accepting his Grammy Legend Award, the producers infamously cut to commercial when he was still in mid-sentence.
Now, in 2008, they’ve resurrected Frank to duet with Alicia Keys. We've been there and done that before: Remember Natalie Cole's duet with her dead father?
7:10 p.m.: Following a bizarre Carrie Underwood performance that took place on what seemed to be the set from “Rent,” Prince prepared to award best female R&B vocal to Keys for “No One.”
“Frank Sinatra looked good for 150, dude,” the Purple Wonder cracked.
7:20 p.m.: Unlikely collaboration of the night number two: Rihanna sang her smash hit “Umbrella” while fronting the reunited Minneapolis funk band the Time.
What did the Time have to do with anything in 2008, much less Rihanna?
Former Time band member Jimmy Jam happens to be the chairman of the board of Grammy sponsors the Recording Academy. And the Grammys have always loved nepotism almost as much as Chicago politicians do.
7:32 p.m.: “Tonight we honor the power of the Beatles,” Tom Hanks announced, preceding yet another Baby Boomer nostalgic tribute to “all those four lads from Liverpool have meant to us.”
First, as the (minimally) remixed version of “A Day in the Life” played on digital audio tape, the cast of “LOVE by Cirque du Soleil” did their trapeze-dangling and overwrought pantomiming thing. And then, as generic images of combat and race riots flashed behind them, we got a gospel version of “Let It Be” by Carol Woods and Timothy T. Mitchum from the movie musical “Across the Universe.”
The lads from Liverpool deserved better.
7:34 p.m.: The first of the Grammys' "Big Four" awards, Best New Artist, went to Amy Winehouse. Fresh out of treatment for drug and alcohol dependence and initially denied a visa, she couldn't make it to the States. Presenters Cyndi Lauper and Miley Cyrus accepted for her.
7:50 p.m.: It’s shaping up to be a big night for Chicago hip-hop superstar Kanye West. Even before the telecast began, he claimed best rap solo performance for “Stronger,” best rap performance by a duo or group for “Southside” with fellow Chicago rapper Common and best rap song for “Good Life.”
At first, West was more impressive visually than musically during his big showcase performance, looking as if he stepped out of the movie “Tron” while delivering “Stronger” with backing from the French techno duo Daft Punk. But then, as a string section sawed away behind him, the artist proceeded to pay tribute to his mother, the late Chicago educator Donda West, during a stripped-down and especially heartfelt version of “Hey Mama.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, as the roving television cameras made clear.
7:57 p.m.: Strange pairing of the night number three: John Legend and Fergie. After slaughtering an undeserving tune -- and looking as if they’d both like to kill the producer who put them together -- they presented the Grammy for best compilation soundtrack album.
Obviously in a Beatles-loving mood, the prize went to "LOVE." Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova were robbed, and I’m not even that big a fan of “Once.”
Maybe an Oscar will make them feel better a few weeks from now.
8:08 p.m.: After she was introduced by Cher -- who had a great line when she cracked that she “started singing when Lincoln was born” -- Beyonce tried to drop as many names of female greats as possible into a tuneless homage to “women at the Grammys.” But this was merely an intro to Tina Turner, a firebrand as always, even though she wasn’t singing anything remotely related to the year in music just passed.
The segment ended with Beyonce returning and trying to hold her own beside Turner as she roared her way through “Proud Mary.”
Memo to Ms. Knowles: You've got a way to go before you can keep pace with the former Anna Mae Bullock.
8:12 p.m.: The cadaverous-looking Andy Williams, host of the first Grammy Awards telecast way back when, was hauled out of mothballs to present the second of the night's "Big Four" awards: the songwriter's prize for song of the year.
The winner: Amy Winehouse, whose much-publicized self-destructive behavior doesn't seem to be working against her with Grammy voters. By this point, she had claimed two of the "Big Four," as well as two prizes handed out before the show: best pop vocal album for ''Back to Black'' and best female pop vocal performance for "Rehab."
8:25 p.m.: Performing outside the Staples Center, the Foo Fighters bludgeoned their way through “The Pretender,” one of their generic and pandering post-grunge pop tunes. They weren’t hurt by being accompanied by the “My Grammy Moment” award winner, but they certainly weren’t helped by the orchestration that came courtesy of Led Zeppelin legend John Paul Jones.
8:38 p.m.: Kanye West claimed another Grammy -- best rap album for “Graduation” -- and climbed to the podium still dressed in his sci-fi stage wear, and with the word "Mama" cut into his hair.
“It definitely feels good to be home here at the Grammys,” West said. “We snuck in about four or five years ago, and now we’ve basically made this our new place of residence.
“A lot people say hip-hop is dead… I wanted to cross the genres and show people how we can still express ourselves with something fresh and new.”
West proceeded to joke to Common, also nominated in that category, that he should time his albums better so they don’t have to compete. He twice chastised Grammy producers for playing music and trying to cut short his speech, he thanked everyone for their prayers and support after the death of his mother and then directly spoke to her.
“I know you’re really proud of me right know and you wouldn’t want me to stop. You’d want me to be the number one artist in the world…. We won this!”
9:02 p.m.: Arrgh, that damn commercial again! This has to be the millionth time I've sat through that!
Oh, wait. Sorry! Actually, that was indie chanteuse turned big-time sell-out Feist performing "1-2-3-4" live at the Grammy telecast.
Less boring, though not really any better was the late Louis Prima's partner Keely Smith being joined by Kid Rock for a romp through "That Old Black Magic."
I've given up asking why. I'm just trying to make it to the end of the show.
9:25 p.m.: What? What? I wasn't nodding off, I swear! I was working on the official story for the print edition, honest!
9:31 p.m.: Oh, no: It's the dreaded jazz and classical pandering portion of the show!
Must not sleep... must stay awake.... Must not sleep... must stay conscious...
9:46 p.m.: Winehouse just performed "You Know I'm No Good" and "Rehab" via satellite from London.
I'm sorry, but given Winehouse's by-all-accounts fragile condition, I for one find it absolutely impossible to enjoy "Rehab" and it's "no, no, no, no" refrain anymore. And I never liked it all that much in the first place.
9:50 p.m.: Winehouse just won record of the year. Surprise, surprise; could that timing have been fortuitous?
That gave Ms. Beehive 'n' Eyeliner three of the "Big Four" prizes, leaving only album of the year -- and setting up a big showdown with Kanye West.
10:15 p.m.: In yet another attempt to make good to rock giants inexplicably slighted in the past, John Fogerty performed with Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.
With legends like that in the house, why oh why did we have to endure so much mediocre crap for the last three hours and 15 minutes?
10:20 p.m.: Did I really just hear will.i.am attempting to sing snippets of "Mack the Knife," "Strangers in the Night" and "Don't Worry Be Happy"?
I like the guy, and even I am mortified for him. Maybe I'm hallucinating...
10:25 p.m. Only five minutes left. Almost there. Almost there...
10:28 p.m.: No way! No how! I don't believe it!
The night's most prestigious award, best new album, just went to mainstream jazzbo Herbie Hancock for his stultifyingly mediocre tribute to Joni Mitchell, "The Joni Letters." There can be only one explanation: Kanye West and Amy Winehouse split the loyalties of voters even remotely attuned to popular music and the creative cutting edge,while the country vote went to Vince Gill and a few hard-rock diehards threw their ballots away by voting for the Foo Fighters.
That left a big honking gap for the old-school, narrow-minded, thoroughly out of touch "good music" snobs to honor Hancock, a long-time favorite who's won 10 Grammys in the past, and who also claimed best contemporary jazz album this year.
Hancock is a Chicago native who left early in his career and who's never been associated with the Windy City the way West has. Deep down, even he has to know that "Graduation" was a much more influential album and a much bigger creative accomplishment than "The Joni Letters," and thus much more deserving of being remembered as the album of the year.
Honestly, 10 years from now, is anyone going to remember 2007 as the year that gave us a jazz tribute to Joni Mitchell?
Once again, the Grammys have gotten it monumentally wrong. All due respect to Mr. Sinatra, but that stuff about honoring "the art of recording” is a crock.
Ah, well -- at least the Grammys are over. Until next year.