(Straight From Nashville is a weekly column written by CMT.com managing editor Calvin Gilbert.)
The Grammy Awards and its ancillary festivities have come and gone, and what have we learned?
On the positive side, Brandy Clark delivered a powerful performance on the awards show that could be a career-changer.
On the negative side, Kanye West once again proved he should never be underestimated in his ability to alienate damn near everybody except his family and die-hard fans.
And on the WTF side, Bob Dylan showed why remaining a recluse might not be such a bad idea after all.
Although Clark was nominated for two Grammys, the award for best new artist went to Sam Smith, and the best country album honor went to Miranda Lambert’s Platinum, not Clark’s 12 Stories. While these may have counted as losses, Clark had a stellar opportunity awaiting her at the Grammys by performing “Hold Your Hand” with Dwight Yoakam. And she seized the moment exactly as her artist and musician friends knew she would.
In a night filled with the usual bombast and carefully-orchestrated collaborations intended to be remembered as “Grammy moments,” Yoakam was clearly content to assume a secondary role as the vast majority of TV viewers became aware of Clark for the first time. And if those viewers were impressed with what they saw, they were also reminded that important moments can consist of nothing more than a great song being performed by two very talented people singing and playing acoustic guitars.
As for Kanye, a lot of people thought it was a joke when he jumped onstage and appeared to be ready to interrupt Beck’s acceptance speech for album of the year. West seemed under control during his solo performance and another segment with Rihanna and Paul McCartney on “FourFiveSeconds,” so he could have easily pretended later his intrusion into Beck’s big moment was nothing more than a silly prank that was misunderstood.
Just like Taylor Swift should have done, according to West, after he felt that Beyoncé was slighted at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
As for the latest incident, here’s what West told Ryan Seacrest:
“So the voices in my head told me go, and then I just walked up like halfway up the stage,” he said. “You know, what I really wanted to do is just joke around about what had happened before, but I just really didn’t want to take away from Beck’s moment or the time he’s having to talk.”
The key phrase in his quote is probably “the voices in my head.”
Nonetheless, he and Swift were photographed together at the Grammys, and West also told Seacrest they plan to record together. It will be interesting to see if this ever actually happens. And while we all need to have a more forgiving spirit, you almost have to think West unexpectedly brought up the possibility of recording together, and Swift said, “Oh, sure, that’s a great idea! … Have a nice life.”
But when it comes to West, he had plenty of musicians criticizing his Grammy behavior while coming to Beck’s defense, including a Facebook comment by a legendary West Coast session and road musician who concluded, “I can only say that Kanye is one of the biggest piles of minimal ability s**t to disgrace this business.”
Kanye pulling a Kanye is to be expected, but Dylan seemed to offer the biggest surprise during his speech as recipient of the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year honor two days before the Grammy telecast.
In a 30-minute speech, Dylan acknowledged the support and inspiration he received from several artists, producers and songwriters, including the late Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and rockabilly pioneer Billy Lee Riley, but also claimed “Merle Haggard didn’t think much of my songs.”
For whatever reason, he also singled out recent Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Tom T. Hall, apparently basing his opinion on an interview he’d read decades ago when Hall allegedly said he didn’t understand the basis of “Country Road,” a song by a new singer-songwriter named James Taylor.
After Dylan’s speech became big news in the industry, Haggard tweeted, “Bob Dylan I’ve admired your songs since 1964. ‘Don’t Think Twice Bob,’ Willie and I just recorded it on our new album.” Hall, whose wife Dixie died recently, hasn’t commented and isn’t expected to.
At age 73, the astounding thing from Dylan’s speech was the revelation he’s obviously a lot more thin-skinned than most of us would have ever imagined. It tends to support the theory that all artists have some degree of neurosis and insecurities.
On the other hand, Dylan was reading from a written speech and had given everything some thought before sharing specific opinions and observations about some of his fellow artists.
Agree or disagree with those opinions, at least Dylan has a body of work that earns him the right to say what he thinks. When Kanye West can point to a life of similar accomplishments, maybe we should finally pay attention when he once again tells us an award should have gone to Beyoncé.
Not that a person of her talent, influence and wealth needs his help.