Who Will Save Rock ‘n Roll?


Don’t let the cowboy hat fool you, I’m a rocker at heart.

My iPod is stuffed with AC/DC, Nirvana, Zeppelin, Jane’s Addiction, Cracker, Tom Petty, Social Distortion, and dozens of other bands that shoot from the hip and aim for the crotch.

So for me, this year’s Grammy Awards was a hit-or-miss of bi-polar proportions. Real and fake, young and old, it was all on display. From the emotional and triumphant return of Adele to the staggering failure of Nicki Minaj, this awards show was all over the map like a dyslexic cartographer with a taste for the crank.

On the one hand, youth was served by nominees such as Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Adele, and Skrillex (wasn’t that the name of Optimus Prime’s arch enemy?), to name just a few artists who are younger than some of my underpants.

On the other, liver-spotted hand, we had AARP Magazine cover boy Bruce Springsteen shuffling across the stage alongside Tony Bennett, Paul McCartney, Glen Campbell, and Joe Walsh. Hell, even the geriatric Beach Boys stopped suing the shit out of each other long enough to perform “Good Vibrations.” These days, the only good vibrations those guys feel are when they drive their Rascal scooter over a cattle guard.

Like most people born before betamax, I grew up listening to Glen Campbell. He, perhaps more than anyone else in the building, was richly deserving of his Lifetime Achievement Award.

Long before he hit it big with late-sixties gems like “Gentle On My Mind” and “Wichita Lineman,” he was a hot-shit session guitarist, and a member of the West Coast’s legendary Wrecking Crew, the crackerjack studio band that played on hundreds of top hits throughout the sixties. Hell, he even toured as a member of the Beach Boys at one point. So, on this night of extravagant, overwrought, and super-indulgent production numbers, Campbell seemed utterly at home onstage, thoroughly enjoying his well-earned moment in the spotlight. Good on ya, Glen.

Indeed, the geezer faction acquitted themselves quite nicely on this Grammy night.

Tony Bennett crooned alongside Carrie Underwood, thankfully not singing “Jesus Take the Wheel.” Tony was probably thinking, “Jesus, bring me a martini.” Campbell sounded robust and seasoned, Joe Walsh strangled his Les Paul Special in his inimitable goofy style, and Springsteen was his usual Rock Statesman self. I did feel bad for Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Sitting stiffly behind his keyboard, he looked more terrified than the poor bastard who had to tell Lemmy that he wasn’t allowed to smoke hash in the balcony.

And then there was the uncomfortable and frequent appearance of Chris Brown, who just three years ago was roundly ostracized by the music community for beating the shit out of his on-again, smacked-again girlfriend, Rihanna.

I guess as far as the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is concerned, any type of reprehensible behavior can be forgiven, as long as you record a top-selling album. Oh, except for downloading free music, which is punishable by life in prison.

One refreshing bright spot is that we weren’t subjected to a flaccid, past-their-prime and past-their-bedtime Aerosmith performance. When the tribute to Glen Campbell began to unfold, I was prepared to cringe as the Alzheimer’s-stricken legend took the stage. But as he proved to the world, the old guy can still belt it out and work a room like nobody’s business. He had the entire Staples Center crowd singing along to “Rhinestone Cowboy,” with the exception of most black folks in the audience who just looked bored or scowled at the camera. I’m not being racist; you watched the same show I did. Let’s go to the videotape.

Sheer talent and poise were at the fore when a composed and radiant Adele took the stage before a breathless crowd and proved that her once-in-a-generation pipes have not only survived surgery, but she sounds better than ever. The endearing rasp at the edge of her voice is gone, but she has learned to sing without the Cobainesque yowling that shredded her vocal cords in the first place.

Her juggernaut album, “21,” swept every category for which it was nominated, and Adele began to wear a visible path in the carpet between her seat and the stage. Here on the couch, Barb was shocked that Adele’s speaking voice was so different than her singing voice. I wasn’t surprised. I mean, I’ve never heard Amy Winehouse speak, but I’m sure she sounded exactly like Triumph the Comic Insult Dog.

Adele carted off a shit-ton of trophies this year, leaving pop chart heavyweights like Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga grasping at air.

Gaga is a fascinating character, and it was fun seeing all the extreme close-ups of her in the audience, looking like she had just fallen off the trapeze.

Nicki Minaj arrives at the 54th Grammy Awards last Sunday.

Another young nominee who went away empty-handed was Nicki Minaj. No Grammys (maybe next year they’ll have a category for Biggest Booty), but she left millions of viewers scratching their heads over her budget-busting set piece for “Roman Holiday.” The inscrutable performance had her slamming Madonna-like religious imagery up against Gaga-style random weirdness, with a little lipstick porn thrown in for good measure.

I would say it was over-reaching, but that would suggest that I had some idea what the hell she was reaching for in the first place. I mean, it was so bad that we’ll probably be able to look back and identify it as the exact moment her career was destroyed. The woman has some talent, but I think it’s buried at the bottom of that big ol’ trunk full of crazy.

There were a lot of new faces onstage this year, but that was also kind of a mixed bag. The Civil Wars, whom I’d never heard of, played a minute of “Barton Hollow” before they introduced 22-year-old Grammy hag Taylor Swift. I couldn’t figure out if I was looking at Jack White, or Johnny Depp doing Jack White. Nice duo. Stupid name.

The most curious award of the night went to another “new” face, Bon Iver. Hey, Academy, doesn’t your insurance company give you a free calendar? Bon Iver put out their debut album FIVE YEARS ago. Not that anyone would know that, because their music is so diaphanous it quickly dissolves when exposed to air.

Another band, critical and commercial darlings Mumford and Sons, left the Staples Center without Grammy one. They’re a part of this new style of music I like to call “Creeping Mellow.” It’s an offshoot of the whole Ben Harper/Jack Johnson/Michael Franti brand of lazy-ass rock. It’s all about loving the earth while you’re twisting one up.

But Mumford and Sons (it sounds like they named themselves after a failed chain of discount furniture stores in the Southeast) add a banjo and some vests. Mumford and his sons, Precious and Fussy, apparently were not badass enough to join the Decemberists.

But at least they play instruments and sing. As a musician, I have an admitted bias against producers, DJs, and other industry movers who compile obscene fortunes by pushing buttons and twisting dials.

This was pretty well represented during the Grammys when erstwhile pugilist Chris Brown sang while DJ David Guetta manipulated recorded music behind him, grinning like an idiot. Then the excitement ramped up as the cameras swung over to DJ sensation Deadmau5, who manipulated recorded music while wearing a helmet-shaped bank sign. He might have been also grinning like an idiot; we’ll never know. Maybe I don’t get it, but I thought the music sounded like 5hit.

Which brings me to the main message I took away from this year’s Grammy Awards. Much has been made this week of the acceptance speech given by Dave Grohl when his Foo Fighters won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance. You’ve read the quote. It boils down to the idea that music should be made by humans, not computers. It should come from your heart and your head, not from a mathematical calculation or list of preset options.

The Foos recorded their album in Dave’s garage, using analog gear. No ProTools, no autotune, no samples, no manufactured bullshit.

Ironically, most of us normal folk can’t afford the boutique vintage tube compressors and two-inch tape machines required to capture that classic ‘70s analog warmth. We toil away in our own garages and basements with laptops and whatever digital recording equipment we can scrape together. But at the other end of that microphone cord is a man or woman singing their guts out and playing an instrument they’ve spent hundreds or thousands of hours learning how to play.

A computer isn’t a musician any more than a ballpoint pen is an author. It’s just a tool. To make Real Music, a human has to supply the melody and rhythm, and craft the words that will connect with the people who listen to their songs.

The emergence of dubstep, the increasing prominence of producers (Rihanna lists no fewer than 16 on her latest album), and the headlining fame of DJs make it pretty clear that endless dance remixes and the jittery pulse of electronica have captured the ears and allowances of America’s youth.

They’re welcome to it. This middle-aged, bemused guitar-slinger just has to shake his head and ask, who will save rock and roll?

Dave Grohl’s Grammy awards and his galvanizing acceptance speech suggest that, ironically, it might be the same guy who already helped save it once, twenty years ago, with a little album called “Nevermind.”


Wanna laugh ’til your sides hurt? These ought to do the trick: Who You Callin’ Pinhead?Snow Daze, and The Facebook IPO: What’s Not to Dislike?.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Bob Wire uses the same spray tanner as John Boehner.

Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers.