The best view of the Grammy Awards from where I sat.

The coolest thing I learned last night in the media room at the 50th anniversary Grammy celebration had to do with a Woody Guthrie performance. Recorded on a spool of wire, The Live Wire – Woody Guthrie in Performance 1949 was found by an old Rutgers University alum in his Florida closet, explained producer Steve Rosenthal. To transfer the music from brittle copper thread – a mile and a half of it, a mere 1/3000 of an inch thick – to computer required the patience and precision of a watchmaker; the engineers had to move through the recording millisecond by millisecond and even out the sonic warbles, wows and flutters due to bends in the wire. But it was worth it. They unearthed one of America’s most articulate voices performing live. It was fascinating to hear about the process of pulling a voice, and music, off a wire found in a closet.

The second coolest thing that happened in the room, which held about fifty print reporters and had no view of the ceremony itself save a half dozen little TV monitors, was when Zachary Nipper, a shy thirty-something with mussed up hair, stood in front of the assembled press as designer for Saddle Creek Records out of Omaha. He had won the Best Recording Package for his work Bright Eyes’ Casadega, and he told us, all clicking away on laptops as he spoke, that this was his first time to Los Angeles, the first Grammy for Saddle Creek. The look of pride and wonder on his face – the dude from the great Saddle Creek label can add Grammy winner to his resume – was thrilling.

The press room at the Grammys. Feel the passion.

Not that you could tell by looking at the press people. We all sat at our computers, lined in rows like citizens at a council meeting (or worshippers at a church?), watched monitors and every so often looked away to interview a winner. None of us is very rock and roll. There’s not much conversation in the room. No music, no sense that what’s happening here has anything at all to do with that secret place in your head where melody demolishes thought in a rush of jiggling neurons. In fact, this is perhaps the least musical place in Los Angeles right now – except for when Morris Day walks in.

Day was wearing a gold tuxedo and stood next to hitmaker Jimmy Jam, a long-ago member of The Time. While The Time spent the 1990s playing the fair circuit, Jam was making hits for Janet Jackson. A few moments earlier, Jam had reunited with his former bandmates by strapping on his keytar and banging through “Jungle Love” and “Umbrella” with Rihanna. Day, of course, consumed the stage. Looking fit, nipped and tucked, the Man in Charge explained his regimen. “The reason I’m still healthy is a good healthy sex life. We think young.”

More to come…

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