The Grammy Awards mainly serve as a way for the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) to promote and congratulate itself. Nevertheless, if the sheer number of categories (109) has cynics referring to the ceremonies as "No Musician Left Behind," it also occasionally directs attention to performers who deserve it for reasons besides the sales and headlines they generate.
The 2011 nominations for the 66-year-old Jeff Beck, for instance, signal more than the make-up calls with which NARAS sometimes confers belated recognition. He has, after all, won five times before. And the variety of his 2011 nominations-for Emotion and Commotion (Best Rock Album), "Nessun Dorma" (Best Pop Instrumental), "I Put a Spell on You" (Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals), "Hammerhead" (Best Rock Instrumental )-suggests that NARAS voters listened closely.
As well they should've. Emotion and Commotion finds Beck aging gracefully and at times barely aging at all. He was 12 and immersing himself in American R&B when Screamin' Jay Hawkins first released "I Put a Spell on You." By covering it now, Beck confirms Wordsworth: The child, or at least the adolescent, really is the father of the man.
Vying with him for Best Pop Instrumental is "No Mystery" from the Best Contemporary Jazz Album-nominated The Stanley Clarke Band, the latest long-player by the veteran jazz bassist Stanley Clarke.
In NARAS-speak, "Contemporary Jazz" means "electric" and usually "fusion," the latter of which has fallen into disrepute due to the occasionally self-indulgent and outsider-alienating virtuosity of the genre. But from the mass-appeal funk of "I Wanna Play for You Too" to the solo showcases "Bass Folk Song No. 10" and "Bass Folk Song No. 6," Clarke puts the "inclusion" in "fusion."
Even more mainstream friendly is the jazz-lite guitarist Larry Carlton. If his mid-'80s religious conversion put him on many a Christian music fan's map, his predilection for slickness and melodies that wouldn't sound out of place accompanying footage of Hawaiian sunsets has sometimes eased him off the jazz map altogether. Hence, Take Your Pick, Carlton's album with the Japanese guitarist Tak Matsumoto, is up for Best Pop Instrumental Album. "Neon Blue" is the sunniest track, "Jazzy Bullets" the track whose title is most likely to alarm the civil-language crowd.
Nothing, however, runs afoul of the mainstream's newfound affection for verbal civility than the international smash by Cee-Lo Green that was bowdlerized into airwave playability as "Forget You." In fact, the song's actual title (and refrain) comprise the single most inflammatory imperative sentence in the English language.
On its website, NARAS expurgates Green's song with asterisks. But, unless you're Victor Borge, asterisks are unpronounceable. So how the presenters at this year's Grammies will announce the song's eligibility for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Urban/Alternative Performance, and Best Short-Form Music Video should be interesting.
More interesting is that the song came out during the same year that the author of The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, died. In one of the novel's episodes, the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, repeatedly encounters the title of Green's Grammy-nominated song on the walls of his younger sister Phoebe's school and fantasizes about killing whoever had written it because "Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it" and "wonder what the hell it meant."
He considers erasing the graffiti but doesn't because "[i]f you had a million years to do it in, you couldn't rub out even half" of them.
Caulfield was right, even prophetic. Unfortunately, thanks to Cee-Lo Green-and the Grammies-you can't bleep out even half of them now either.