British R&B-soul singer Adele swept this year's Grammy Awards with six awards, including the top three awards for album, record and song of the year. But her wins were somewhat overshadowed by all of this year's tragic losses— Whitney Houston, Etta James, Amy Winehouse... and so many more. I wondered if singer/songwriter Don McLean was sitting somewhere in his home knowing that the lyrics to his infamous song, American Pie had been playing out throughout this entire year.
In the autumn of 1971 Don McLean's elegiac American Pie entered the collective consciousness, and over thirty years later remains one of the most discussed, dissected and debated songs that popular music has ever produced. A cultural event at the peak of its popularity in 1972, it reached the top of the Billboard 100 charts in a matter of weeks, selling more than 3 million copies; and at eight and a half minutes long, this was no mean feat. But this was no ordinary song, either: boldly original and thematically ambitious, what set American Pie apart had a lot to do with the way we weren't entirely sure what the song was about, provoking endless debates over its epic cast of characters. And these controversies remain with us to this day. But however open to interpretation the lyrics may have been, the song's emotional resonance was unmistakable: McLean was clearly relating a defining moment in the American experience- something had been lost, and we knew it. And we know it today as much as we did back then.
The 54th Annual Grammys were undoubtedly filled with magical moments but perhaps one of the finest moments was Jennifer Hudson's moving tribute to Whitney Houston. Hudson, I believe, was the perfect choice for the tribute as she had also suffered several losses in her life and truly understood the meaning behind the words to I Will Always Love You.
The evening began with a prayer for and tribute to Whitney Houston. "There is no way around this," host LL Cool J told the crowd in the Staples Center and TV viewers after an opening number by Bruce Springsteen. "We've had a death in our family. So at least for me, the only thing that feels right is to begin with a prayer for a woman that we loved. Although she is gone too soon, we remain truly blessed by her musical spirit." LL Cool J said. And then producers played a clip of Houston singing from a past Grammy show.
The next moving performance came when Bonnie Raitt and Alicia Keys took the stage together to pay tribute to the late Etta James. They performed a beautiful piano and guitar rendition of Sunday Kind of Love before presenting the first Grammy of the night— best pop solo performance— to Adele for her emotional single Someone Like You. "My life changed when I wrote this song, and I felt it before anyone even heard it. I just felt it," Adele said in her first acceptance speech. "Seeing as it's a vocal performance I need to thank my doctors I suppose who brought my voice back." Adele also understood the deeper pain involved in experiencing a loss, albeit not a tragic death.
The 54th Grammys was destined to be a somber look at our collective mortality. Whether or not we are famous and talented musical performers or not, we will inevitably shed this mortal coil for something known or unknown, depending on your theological perspective. But I would prefer to end this commentary with what would have to have been the most experimental [and somewhat tedious] moment of the evening- which was Nicki Minaj's eclectically symbolic performance art which I think even Lady Gaga wouldn't have been able to translate. As far as anyone could tell— it involved an exorcism, elaborate stained-glass CGI, a large group of both male and female monks, a really creepy priest and levitation, but alas... no raw meat... at least none that we noticed.