Springsteen is upset -- and other Grammy highlights. Norah Jones tops the Boss, the Clash and Bee Gees get moving tributes, and the miniskirt returns, says Ken Tucker

By Ken Tucker
February 24, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST
Bruce Springsteen: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

Springsteen is upset — and other Grammy highlights

Some time Sunday night during the 45th annual Grammy Awards, I started a silent chant: ”No more-a Norah — please!” Best New Artist? Okay. ”Don’t Know Why” as Best Record? All right, though I would have gone with Eminem’s exuberant ”Without Me.” But ”Don’t Know Why” (written by Jesse Harris) beating out Bruce Springsteen’s ”The Rising” for Best Song, a songwriter’s award? Um, don’t know why…it won.

The sweep was complete with her clinch of the Album of the Year. Terribly sincere and terribly overrewarded, Jones became the Grammys’ Christopher Cross for the new millennium — a talented artist over-Grammied too early in her career. Oh well, at least Springsteen dominated the rock category, taking prizes for Best Rock Album, Best Rock Song, and Best Male Rock Vocal.

Airing from New York City for the first time in five years, last night’s Grammys did a peculiar but probably salutory thing: The show, which featured no host but which commenced with Dustin Hoffman introducing a barely reunited Simon and Garfunkel (did this famously acrimonious duo even exchange so much as a glance at each other during their entire ”Sound of Silence”?), de-emphasized the awards — whole half-hours seemed to go by without the bestowing of a trophy — and overloaded its three-hours-plus with live performances.

By far the best of these was the tribute to the recently deceased Joe Strummer: Springtseen, Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl, and Miami Steve Van Zant arrayed themselves across the front of the Madison Square Garden stage and raged through a stormy version of the Clash’s ”London Calling” that transcended its original punk-rock context to become a great stomp across the history of rock & roll.

Nothing else matched this, least of all the pairing of the British band Coldplay with the New York Philharmonic. We used to have a phrase for this sort of pretentious overreaching: pomp-rock.

But there were numerous excellent moments. Springsteen and the E Street Band made ”The Rising” erupt with a proper combination of force and abandon. And Eminem’s collaboration with the Roots on his ”Lose Yourself” benefited handsomely from the band’s live guitars and drums. I’ll also risk your wrath by saying I enjoyed ‘N Sync’s a cappella trot through a few of the Bee Gees’ greatest hits, which led to a truly touching moment, as brothers Barry and Robin Gibb saluted their late brother Maurice by turning the spotlight on Maurice’s family, weeping in the audience.

On a cheerier note, Harvey ”Hairspray” Fierstein in full drag, Rod Stewart in full camp dandiness, and an avid little dog were easily the night’s most frisky presenters — they made an adorable nuclear family.

Faith Hill and Sheryl Crow, in separate performances — Hill’s florid, Crow’s agreeably unfettered with the aid of Kid Rock — did their best to bring back the miniskirt. And three cheers to presenter John Leiguzamo for being a faster, funnier ad-libber than comedy-album winner Robin Williams, who reduced himself to a lame joke about rapper 50 Cent.

Anyone hoping for nourishing political commentary had to chew on the oafish Fred Durst’s limp biscuit of half-baked inarticulatess: ”I hope we are in agreeance [sic] that this war should go away as soon as possible.” I hope Durst starts reading both the dictionary and a few newspapers soon.

In the end, though, it all comes back to who won and who lost. Norah, good luck, kid — you’ll need it for that notorious sophomore jinx. Bruce, you wuz robbed.