(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Note: This is positively, absolutely the last time I will ever mention You-Know-Who as involved with You-Know-What and He-Whose-Name-Shall-Henceforth-Never-Be-Uttered.
So what can we say to the starry-eyed teenager who gets mugged by a drunk at the big prom and has her dream stolen? That it’s all relative and it’s just a dream after all? Or that all the big proms are just make-believe themselves? Or that they are truly special and that this one just happened to be hijacked by a jackass?
There’s no doubt that this prom mattered — immensely — to that teenager. And perhaps that’s why the spoiler just wanted to stomp on such idealistic dreams: because he himself is no longer capable of such idealism or even of dreaming at all.
In any event, in the wake of the sordid event at the MTV Video Music Awards, both the hopeful teenager and her protagonist learned pretty quickly who their friends really are. That may well be the only true lasting lesson to come out of VMA-gate.
Awards shows are of themselves a load of bollocks. Everyone in show business will tell you that. But they are essential because they’re the glue that keeps the big illusion patched together. They’re the duct tape that holds this big backdrop up and carries the message to the fans that it is, after all, a big deal — maybe the biggest deal of all. The spotlights, the glamour, the tinsel, the elegant fashions, the dazzling and shining men and women who get themselves buffed and polished to such an unnatural degree to provide a fantasy for the fans. The endless speculation in the press and on TV and cable and online as to who will win and especially who should win and who should not win. Everyone needs that fussy but grand ritual. And, generally, the shows are a lot of fun.
But, in the end and in the big picture, what do awards shows really amount to? Ask all the people who have never won the big ones, who didn’t grab the most important yardsticks of their profession, all the ones who didn’t pile up the all-important Grammys or Oscars or VMAs or CMAs or the Golden Whatevers.
Quick, tell me who won for best female video at last year’s VMA awards. Who won the last Oscars for best actor and actress? Who won the most CMAs last year? Who won the big Grammy last year? These awards are just yardsticks for measuring success, and they’re just as perishable as are so many careers.
Here are some actors and actresses who never won Oscars for acting: Johnny Depp, Richard Burton, Lauren Bacall, Robert Redford, Steve McQueen, Cary Grant, Clint Eastwood, Michelle Pfeiffer, Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Leonardo DiCaprio.
And here are some Grammy non-winners: Neil Young, Buddy Holly, the Who, Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Queen, Jimi Hendrix (he was awarded a lifetime achievement award long after his death) and Diana Ross. I never heard any complaints from any of them over such an oversight.
The one award that I myself treasure most is a trophy, which is admittedly a bit shiny and garish and just a tad tacky. But it’s inscribed, “To My Hero,” and I cherish it because it was given to me by a special someone for no particular reason at all. But maybe that’s just me and my view of awards. That’s not to say that awards and awards shows aren’t important. Show business could not survive without them.
As someone who has served on a fair number of awards committees, I can say that, overall, the people who put these things together try to do an honorable job and honestly try to honor true merit. But, sadly, there are exceptions. Some people are tacitly rewarded for good deeds done and favors awarded, and others are similarly punished for deeds considered out of bounds.
The arc of a career is a huge consideration in bestowing awards. Who deserves a big push up the ladder? Who is deemed overdue for a gold watch and a gentle shove out the door? Who has an undisclosed terminal illness and should get an award before it’s too late? There’s much tit for tat, not to mention block voting by studios and record labels and that sort of thing. Certain people are deemed timely for a certain award, and others are judged to be past their sell-by shelf date and are discarded to the ash heap of awards show history. As they say, it’s not rocket science. It’s a dash of stardust and an equal bit of sawdust.
I still find it fascinating that the two best accounts of the story of how ambition and fear fuel and run show business are two novels that have been around for several decades. The drama and ruthlessness of naked ambition in What Makes Sammy Run, by Budd Schulberg, has not been eclipsed since. And The Day of the Locust, by Nathanael West, ends in a surreal (but these days very believable) riot at a movie premiere.
So, Taylor, treasure your award. But I think and sense that you are too much of a realist to believe that you are only about awards.