February 12, 2013
I recognized going in that there was a conundrum afoot. Timing is everything, of course, and with the complete overlap of the Grammy Awards and Downton Abbey, I knew I’d be putting my TV remote, known hereabouts as the "gizmo," through its paces.
Having missed last week’s Downton episode due to Super Bowl-affiliated shenanigans, my plan moving forward involved catching both the replay from last week and the new one that was scheduled to follow it on Sunday night. Then it occurred to me that my current favorite soap opera would be going head to head with the Grammys.
I should mention here that I currently find myself DVR challenged. Let’s just say that my cathode-ray-tube-era television set would not be unfamiliar to the likes of Philo T. Farnsworth, the 1924 Brigham Young High School grad who went on the invent the medium. My plan is to offer it to the Smithsonian once I upgrade.
So already being hip to the fact that the lead-in to Downton Abbey with its recap of the previous episode would occupy a bit of time, I opted to go with the opening live-performance segment of the Grammys, but with the gizmo at the ready. Bruce Springsteen’s opener last year had reset the bar and I wasn’t about to miss whatever they had in store this time around.
Did I mention the fact that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and its more visible arm, the Grammy Awards, long ago cast my demographic adrift to fend for itself. Seldom do our kind find ourselves familiar with more than a few of the nominated artists or their creative output.
This is to be understood, in that, for the most part, we do not consume music product at anywhere near the same rate as, shall we say, younger generations. Not that we are as distanced as our parents found themselves when Elvis arrived. At least blues-infused rock and roll remains somewhat in the mix.
Well, suffice to say, the Taylor Swift opening extravaganza, as good as it may have been, couldn’t keep me from drawing my gizmo like a six-shooter and heading to early 20th century England for my Downton Abbey fix. Admittedly, I had been jonesin’ to catch up with the upstairs-downstairs goings on with the Crawley family and the servants who tend them.
Long a fan of PBS fare, especially their mystery programming, I had an occasion to scope out the premiere episode of Downton Abbey a few years back and became immediately smitten with the characters and plotline. Now, almost through its third season, that plot has thickened and simmered and boiled over and characters have come and gone and returned to the fray at will.
While showing scant respect for tradition, the 20th century and the ill-mannered steed it rode in on sets about running roughshod over social conventions that go back centuries. As is most always the case in these matters, the younger set is less chagrined than the older. Where’s that gizmo?
So off I go, back to the Staples Center, where members of the Recording Academy continue to pat each other on the back to the rhythm of Dave Brubeck’s "Unsquare Dance." I had promised myself not to miss Mumford & Sons’ performance. Seeing a banjo on stage, at this point, would not only be historic, but somehow validating.
Then there were the multiple-Grammy-winning "Black Keys" jamming with a Mardi Gras-bedecked Dr. John (winner in the Blues Album category) and the always joyful Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Back at the ranch, the faithful get introduced to Rose, a wild and sultry teenaged flapper niece with strikingly dissimilar standards than those taught at Downton. Ah, now this is more like it! A bit more trash added to this milieu wouldn’t hurt a bit.
Returned to the Grammys in time to catch T. Bone Burnett, Mavis Staples, Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes) and Mumford & Sons salute the late Levon Helm with a soulful take on "The Weight." I came in at the end of a previous tribute to Bob Marley, however, when I misplaced the gizmo after Mr. Bates received his release from prison and returned to Downton.
On the Grammys, Bates would have probably been nominated in the "Best Blues Solo Performance by a Valet Doing Hard Time on a Bum Rap" category. On Downton Abbey, Tom Morello, who appeared briefly in a show-closing rap romp with LL Cool J and Chuck D, would have made a marvelous Tom Branson, the Irish nationalist and radical.
Somehow, I feel caught up on both disciplines, confident, even, that I could pass a pop quiz on each. Bring it on!
Nah! Who am I kidding? Once you get beyond young Rose and Alicia Keys, it’s all pretty much blurred together.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.