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Antiwar sentiments saved for backstage interviews

February 24, 2003|Jessica Hundley | Special to The Times

NEW YORK — Artists were mostly silent about the war in Iraq during this year's Grammy telecast, but backstage the politics were turned up loud.

"Am I the only guy who said something about the war on the televised show?" asked presenter Fred Durst in wonder. "I'm happy that I did. I'm glad to be alive and I love my son and I just want it to go away," added the outspoken lead singer of the rap-rock band Limp Bizkit, as he made a stop in a backstage press room.

With the awards ceremony moved from Los Angeles to a New York City still healing from the effects of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, opinions about the war and the power of music were in the air, even as a late-afternoon freezing rain put a damper on the red-carpet glamour.

The first artist of the evening to talk directly about the threat of war was the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne, who was celebrating the group's prize for best rock instrumental track. Wearing a Dr. Seuss-type bandage just below his left eye, Coyne smiled mischievously and told gathered reporters, "They asked us not to make speeches about the war, so I thought I'd wear this as a reminder that there are problems and pain happening out there in the world."

As the skies started to darken, Grammy stalwarts such as Rod Stewart and Bruce Springsteen began to appear and the glitz of the televised event finally kicked off.

By the first commercial break, the press room hungry for celebrity was rewarded with the post-performance appearance of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, who were thrilled to talk about New York. "We're New Yorkers and we haven't sung together in 10 years," said Simon. "To have a reunion in our hometown, singing the song that was our first hit, it's one of the highlights of my career."

New York continued to get props throughout the evening from artists including Tony Bennett, who declared, simply, "It's the Apple, the greatest city in the world."

For many of the performers, showing love for New York City seemed more positive than bringing up the war.

"I didn't want to pick that particular bone tonight onstage," said Sheryl Crow. "But I think that we know it's on everyone's mind. No one wants to rush into a war. Peace is what's important."

The evening was not all antiwar protests and solemn tributes to New York City. The loudest backstage accolades went to spoken word comedy album winner and presenter Robin Williams, who arrived backstage with a slew of one-liners and his usual frenetic energy. Harvey Fierstein, the star of Broadway's "Hairspray," sashayed into the room wearing an ensemble that Williams had earlier compared to a pinata. No Doubt drummer Adrian Young arrived in a matching skirt and bra set wearing just his "huggers" beneath, which he graciously flashed for the crowd.

Norah Jones' comments were brief, but her wins spoke volumes about the mood of the recording academy voters. Many artists noted the new emphasis on heartfelt singer-songwriter ballads and soulful R&B as a shift to more emotional and stylistic material, compared with the boy-band bubblegum of years previous.

"There's always room for the bubblegum factory," said R&B winner Raphael Saadiq, "but I think there's a lot going on in the world, a lot of strife. What people need to hear now are some healing sounds."

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