Monday, February 14, 2005

The Vision Thing

When Ray Charles' Genius Loves Company came out late last summer, most of the reviews I saw said it was OK. Nobody was calling it the album of the year, or using very many superlatives at all. It was merely the first studio album from Ray in eight years, and was notable more for its guest-star power than for anything else: Norah Jones, Bonnie Raitt, Elton John, Van Morrison, etc.

So Genius Loves Company's sweep of the Grammys last night has the feel of a lifetime achievement award given more for a body of work than for a specific work of art. The Grammys have done this before--most recently when Carlos Santana's Supernatural was honored in 1999, and most notably when Eric Clapton's egregiously bad "Tears in Heaven" won Record of the Year in 1992. That bit of treacle--tragically inspired by the death of Clapton's young son though it was--is not remotely the equal of any track you could pick at random off Layla and Other Love Songs, but that didn't stop Grammy voters from treating it as if it were "Layla" itself. In the case of both Santana and Clapton, desire to make up for previous Grammy snubs met the opportunity to do so--and if either man had recorded a chunk of the Los Angeles phone book at that moment, they'd likely have gotten Grammys for that.

In other words: Artists the Grammys ignore in their prime, but who ascend to legendary status anyhow, often find themselves honored in the breach by the Recording Academy--which is a neat little commentary on what Grammy awards are worth to begin with. The only people who need Grammys for validation are those who can't validate themselves purely through their music. To artists with vision, they don't mean a thing.


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