MTV presented the Video Music Awards this week, and as Muhammad Ali said about the Vietcong, I ain't got no quarrel with Taylor Swift and the rest of the ceremony's army of pitiless, desperately clawing pop mercenaries. No one wears a dress sown of meat like Lady Gaga, and it's nice to know that Justin Bieber can play the drums. Kanye West did nothing to prove that the president was incorrect about West's being a jackass, and Usher reminded us that he can dance. What fun! The only disappointment in the event, for me, was the fact that Taylor Swift was allowed to be heard singing off-key again. Every other performance in the show was electronically processed or prerecorded. Is there no one on Swift's staff who knows how to turn on auto-tune?
I don't even mind not being invited to vote for the awards. I have only once been asked to contribute to the nominations for the Nobel Prizes. Had I been consulted by MTV, I might have suggested a few of the videos I've found on YouTube over the past year and loved, even though none of them has a thing to do with contemporary pop. I present them here not in argument with the VMAs, but in contrast to them. My nominations for the anti-VMAs, by category:
Best Duet by Jazz Geniuses of Different Eras Finding Common Ground in Palpable Mutual Affection: Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie, "Umbrella Man"
Best Duet by Frank Sinatra and an Uncredited Master of the Great American Songbook at the Piano: Frank Sinatra and Harold Arlen do an Arlen Medley
Best Swing Dance Number Ever: Slim and Slam with Whitey’s Lindyhoppers in “Hellzapoppin’”
Best Argument Against the Craze for Manic Young Men at the Podium: Stravinsky conducts the last two movements of "The Firebird"
Best Obscure Video in an Archaic Genre That I Just Happen to Like: The Whippoorwills (featuring Roy Lanham on guitar), "Hard Life Blues"
Most Unshakeable Blues Performance: Son House, "Levee Camp Blues"
Best Demonstration of One Composer's Admiration for Another: Duke Ellington Plays Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom"
Best Show in Harlem Hosted by an Idol of the Tea Party: Dinah Washington with Louis Jordan and His Orchestra, "What a Difference a Day Makes," Introduced by Ronald Reagan