Scenes from the Radio City Music Hall Barrage:
Outside, star-hungry spectators lined the Avenue of the Americas as early as 6:30 on Wednesday, the night of the 23rd annual Grammy Awards presentation. By that time even the most obscure sound technician with access to a rental tux and a good barber elicited screams simply by emerging from a limo. Inside the hall, there was detached decorum.
A silk-clad woman, holding her ground at the side entrance, badgered Sari Becker for a backstage pass. "I'm Melissa Manchester's publicist," she explained in dignified tones. Becker listened sympathetically for a moment, a bemused smile budding forth. "That's a funny coincidence," she said finally. "I'm Melissa Manchester's publicist."
Rodney Dangerfield wandered into the press room, making snappy cracks about his award. "I'm sorry, Mr. Dangerfield," said a policeman, "the media people have already left." "That's the story of my life," said Dangerfield as he shuffled away.
It looked like smooth sailing for Christopher Cross, who was taking five awards with his first recording effort. But on each successive foray outside the 12-meter limit of fans and crew, he took another crash course on how rough the music industry's waters could be.
Cross, who one year ago was playing other peoples' songs at a fratenity dance in Austin, Tex., initially responded with humble ebullience to almost diffident questions about the success of his debut album. "I didn't want to presupposed," he said. "But now I feel like a part of the music community instead of just the new kid in town."
By the time he had taken Song, Album, and Record of the Year, there was a noticeable drop in the temperature backstage. "Who the hell is this guy?" rang out more than once, and one cynic christened Cross "next year's Debby Boone."
"I couldn't hum three bars of 'Sailing,'" confessed Newsday rock critic Wayne Robins. "I gave my copy of the album away."
"It's jealousy, pure and simple," numbled a member of Cross entourage. "It happens every time, and although I think Chris knew that deep down, I hope he was prepared for this."
In fine annual whine-time tradition, complaints resounded in the great hall. Many felt that while the rite purported to tell the story of America's year in music, what unfolded with myth -- a tale of pop poignancy and music-country muscle, the chill of victory and the agony of Gucci-clad feet.
If Wednesday's gala was any indication, American music was more daring in the days before barbershop quartets turned in their razors. Which is why there are far more scoobies and doobies than doo-wah-diddies in Grammydom. And why Pat Benatar's award for "Crimes of Passion" (the closest of the nominations to real rock) was shuttled into the pre-telecast, not-ready-for-prime-time ceremony.
The general feeling that the music industry was moving more toward a safe, middle-of-the-road stance put a tense edge on Wednesday's activities before, during and after the show.
Cross was not the only winner to feel the smart slap of Grammy success. Barbara Streisand, who enjoys an adoration in New York comparable to that of the pope in Rome, got an even cooler comeuppance. A handful of audience members walked out after she and Barry Gibb won their duo-performance Grammy for "Guilty."
Todd Rundgren, the essence of sarcasm when introducing nominees for Producer of the Year, seemed to lose his knack for irony when, in his backstage Q and A session, nobody Q'd.
Kenny Loggins interrupted his own blow-dry babble (sample: "This award is only on the periphery of the world I create when I write a song") to watch Irene Cara sing "Fame" on the screen behind him. After a telling moment in which the press watched winner spellbound by loser, Loggins allowed, "This award doesn't signify anything."
The grumbling carried on after the ceremony as well. Henry Edwards, once a rock critic for The New York Times, lamented the prevalence of L.A mellow-rock, and shook his head over the "marshmallow brains of the beautiful people." Edwards is something of an authority in these matters, having been the scripter of the ill-fated movie, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
There was even regionalism of a more specific nature since the Grammys were being held in New York for the first time in five years. Some people muttered about why Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" from his "Trilogy" album lost, not to mention the defeat of the wildly exciting "Fame," from the movie about a New York high school for aspiring artists.
But to aspire to the middle road is apparently essential to the pursuit of this award. Christopher Cross, who candidly terms his music "pop and roll," smooths out the rough edges, while Bruce Springsteen (a loser) sings about lust, alienation and unwanted pregnancy in a creaky, sometimes off-key growl that spells records in growing numbers.
Still, backstage there was bleak acceptance of the essential proposition. There was happiness over George Jones' win for Best Country Vocal Performance, disappointment for Irene Cara's loss with "Fame" and general dyspepsia about the Grammy's crasser-than-thou capitalism.
"But that's always the story," shrugged Brenda Parkins, a rock promoter. "Nobody cares because the Grammys are five years behind the times anyway. You just enjoy the party while it lasts.
"For some people it's enough to be nominated. Others win and are never heard from again."