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Small Signs of Life in the Grammy World

The music industry, whose economic status roughly mirrors that of Greece, is finally making once-unthinkable cutbacks in entitlements. The finalists for this year’s Grammys were announced this week, and some hugely popular acts who by tradition would have been guaranteed nominations were shut out of the top categories. With the weakening of the corporate oligarchy of the old-line record companies, the nomination process has loosened up a bit for the good. A day before the finalists were announced in a prime-time concert special, the Grammy organizers’ latest innovation in compensation for the awards’ diminishing importance, the Gold Derby handicapping website predicted that the top nominations were most likely to go to the R&B singer Adele, who had the best-selling album of the year, 21; to Lady Gaga, for Born This Way; to Paul Simon, a longtime Grammy favorite, for his So Beautiful and So What; to Tony Bennett, another Grammy veteran, for Duets II; to Taylor Swift, a recent Grammy pet, for Speak Now; and to Kanye West for his broadly acclaimed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Only Adele and Lady Gaga from that list received nominations for Album of the Year, along with the Foo Fighters for Wasting Light, Bruno Mars for Doo-Wops & Hooligans, and Rihanna for Loud.

Paul Simon’s name appears nowhere on the Grammy’s roster of more than 300 finalists in 78 award categories. One can only wonder if Simon’s drolly serious album, a late-life take on mortality, failed to appeal to the Grammy nominators; if he is paying for the album’s weak showing in the marketplace; or if, after all his years of Napoleonic acting up, he no longer has enough friends in the industry to vote for him.

There are a few heartening nominations, reminders that the Grammys have the capacity to recognize creative as well as commercial accomplishment. Bon Iver, the band project of singer-songwriter Justin Vernon, was nominated for several of the top awards, including Record of the Year and New Artist of the Year, and he’s not awful. He’s mopey and droning, but not unlistenably so. Deeper in the nominations list, there’s some outright excellence. Radiohead and Megadeth both got worthy nominations; The Book of Mormon is on the list; Swedish House Mafia, masters of Nordic synth-product, were nominated for Best Dance Recording; Sonny Rollins and Fred Hersch were both nominated in jazz categories (Hersch, twice); the heart-wrenching Paquita La Del Barrio is short-listed for Best Regional Mexican or Tejano album; George Crumb was nominated for “The Ghosts of Alhambra” on The Complete Crumb, Vol. 15; and Terri Lyne Carrington, the percussionist and bandleader, was recognized for one of the most under-appreciated vocal albums of the year, The Mosaic Project.

I feel sort of bad for Paul Simon, even though he already has a nice Grammy collection.  Since we won’t get to see him do a valedictory Grammy performance, at least not this time, here’s a clip of what we’ll miss: Simon and the band he toured with to promote So Beautiful and So What, in a typically seamless performance of the title song.