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THE GRAMMY AWARDS

Backstage, Eminem Controversy Takes Center Stage

February 22, 2001|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Love him or hate him, backstage at the 43rd annual Grammy Awards it was Eminem all the time.

Moby took off on the controversial rapper, after a nod to the 1st Amendment: "I support Eminem's free speech," said the dance/pop auteur. "I oppose censorship in all forms. He's very good at what he does, but he's also a misogynist and homophobe and racist and anti-Semite.

"I'm 33 and can see through it. But I can't imagine that an 8-year-old in Idaho sees it as just a joke. . . . A few years ago the band Prodigy came out with a song called 'Smack My Bitch Up.' They were friends of mine, but I was horrified. If they put out 'Smack My Jew Up,' no one would have played it. I went on TV and said so and people thought I was wrong. Same week I went to visit a friend of mine in the hospital who had been beat up by her boyfriend."

Christian rock group Jars of Clay, whose "If I Left the Zoo" was the winner for best pop/contemporary gospel album, gave the Eminem furor a positive, if not exactly supportive, spin.

"We need controversy," said singer Dan Hasseltine. "As we've traveled we've noticed kids are apathetic, and if you can stir things up, it's important. If controversy is the first step in getting people to believe, that's great."

On the same front, Lonnie Chapin, bass player in gospel rock's Petra, said, "We aren't anybody to judge him for what he does. Whatever he does, he will be judged accordingly."

Meanwhile, Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello supported both Eminem and the protesters.

"To me it seems pretty straightforward," he said. "There are two opinions one can have about freedom of speech--you're for it or against it."

And while he personally "completely disapproves" of what he considers? the misogynist and homophobic elements of Eminem's lyrics, he said he had no problem with the rapper being honored this night.

"I find it interesting that he's been singled out," he said. "There are several nominees tonight who have misogynistic or homophobic lyrics, but he's the only one that's being talked about."

Radiohead's Ed O'Brien said of fellow album of the year nominee Eminem, "We all feel he's made the most culturally significant album of the year, and it's a terrific record."

Bono, with U2 winning three awards for its song "Beautiful Day" (ironically?? from an album, "All That You Can't Leave Behind," that arrived just days after the deadline to be eligible for awards consideration this year), started his backstage press stop with this request: "Could we forget the Eminem controversy and say this? . . . Tomorrow, your president is meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair for the first time, and they're going to be talking about Africa and 23 million Africans who are HIV-positive and fairer trade measures so these people can take care of their own people."

Bono also addressed, a bit tongue-in-cheek, the $135-a-pop ticket prices for most seats at their upcoming concerts.

"That was my idea in particular," Bono said. "If you ask any U2 fans, we are famous for burning through money in our concerts and going home with none in our back pockets. . . . But the people who were making the most money at U2 concerts were the scalpers. We felt rich people have feelings too and are welcome at our concert."

Shelby Lynne, who took home best new artist honors--after a career so far spanning 13 years and six major-label albums--had no apologies, and no Eminem comments, either.

"It feels really good," she said of her win. "I feel like, uh, why not? I have been around so long that I can say that tonight feels new . . . and I can honestly look at this Grammy and feel like I deserve it, dammit."

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