Sunday, February 10, 2013

Metal at the Grammys

The word "Grammy" will earn a groan from anyone who takes music appreciation seriously, and if I add "metal" to this sentence, most of you will stop reading all together. Yet Chris Weingarten's spot-on New York Times piece on the Grammys this week reminded me that maybe the most laughed-at awards show in American entertainment has one truly great metal moment.

People who can't name two Jethro Tull or Metallica songs know the story of how the first-ever metal Grammy went to the mandolin and flute-wielding Tull over Metallica. But Metallica's performance that night, the first time they were seen by millions of viewers, is almost as strange.

Playing "One" in what looks like half of a steel cage, Metallica don't sound much like the juggernaut that they were in the 1988. An unassuming James Hetfield tries not to eye the camera and lets out one expletive, either out of nervousness or subversiveness. You don't see him in his element until the second movement, which he introduces with a Nick Cave-worthy scream. I wish I had reaction shots from the viewers who had just watched Whitney Houston and Linda Ronstadt.

A few years later, when Metallica won their first Grammy, the Recording Academy remained noticeably clueless about metal. In the minute before Metallica accept their award, we see Robbie Robertson's praises of metal greeted with silence from the audience, Megadeth's name being mispelled and individual songs thrown into a category with full-length LPs. At least Lars Ulrich, in one of his last ever underdog moments, had the graciousness to thank Jethro Tull for not releasing an album that year.

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