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The 36th Annual Grammy Awards : Grammy's Sorry State, Frankly Speaking : Forget the music--this year the spoken word gets the attention. So what was the deal with Bono and Sinatra? : Backstage

March 02, 1994|JOHN MILWARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEW YORK — What Bono said . . . and what Frank Sinatra didn't--or wasn't allowed--to say.

That was the backstage buzz at Radio City Music Hall during Tuesday's 36th Annual Grammy Awards show.

When Bono took the stage to accept the alternative album Grammy for U2's "Zooropa," the singer mused about the irony of a superstar band still being considered alternative. "We shall continue," he said, "to abuse our position and (expletive) up the mainstream" (his comment on the live telecast was deleted for the delayed West Coast airing).

Meeting the press backstage, Bono feigned surprise at the furor. "I say that every day," he said. He also added that "if alternative means progressive, I'm happy with the award."

As for Bono's speech presenting Frank Sinatra with a Grammy Legend award, the rock star admitted that he had a drink or two while writing his tribute to the world's most famous saloon singer.

Another controversy surrounded the quick cut from Sinatra's rambling acceptance speech. Mike Greene, president of the recording academy, said the singer was cut off not by the program's producers, but by Sinatra's own people. "They could see that he was having a good time," said Greene, "and felt that he would have talked for about an hour."

Whitney Houston, who collected three awards, conceded that Kevin Costner, her co-star in "The Bodyguard," had to persuade her to record Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You." "Kevin brought me this song," she said, "and I said, 'This is a country song.' But I kept singing it, and feeling it, and then I knew that this was the song."

Toni Braxton won two awards--best new artist and R&B vocal female--and beamed with pride. "It's hard for me to hold these awards," she said, "because I really want to get down on my knees and thank God." Though expected to win the new artist award, she seemed surprised to win the vocal award. "I can't believe I beat these singers," she said. "I mean, Whitney is my favorite."

Digable Planets was a surprise winner for best rap group performance. One member of the trio, Butterfly, was nonplussed when one reporter implied that they didn't deserve the award. "We're dealing with an established award ceremony, and people might not have been drawn to vote for people who'd been involved in controversy," he said, a clear reference to the hottest pair in rap, Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg.

"I don't know what Barbra's going to say," Tony Bennett said after accepting the Grammy for traditional pop vocal in ceremonies before the broadcast, and alluding to the fact that pundits were betting on Streisand's "Back to Broadway" over his own "Steppin' Out." Bennett's certainly on a roll, with a second Grammy in as many years, and increasing visibility among both baby boomers and their MTV-bred children.

The 67-year-old singer attributes at least part of his stunning revival to hiring his son Danny to manage his career. "Danny got me on (MTV) and 'The Simpsons' and I asked him, 'What are we doing?' His reply was, 'Trust me, just wait.' " The wait is over, as Bennett will soon be seen on 'MTV Unplugged.' Adds Bennett: "I thought the generation gap was with us forever, but it seems to be closing up."

Among the most spirited onstage moments was an all-star tribute to Curtis Mayfield that included performances by B.B. King, Bruce Springsteen and Bonnie Raitt. Mayfield, paralyzed from the neck down, appeared onstage at the end of the tribute.

"It lets me know that we're all the same in spite of ourselves," Mayfield said to the press of the fact that such a wide variety of artists relate to his songs. "And for me, the most exciting thing about tonight was having all my colleagues and peers standing around me singing 'Amen.' "

Staff writer Robert Levine and free-lance writer Steve Hochman contributed to the Grammy coverage.

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