The Grammy Misadventures of Madame Auerbach

Keena Dan and Mary

Caroline, Dan and Mary at the Grammys

My sister Mary Auerbach, French teacher at Woodridge High School and mother of The Black Keys’ Dan, gives us a blow-by-blow of her recent trip to the Grammys, where the Keys picked up a little hardware for the trophy case.

So, not being a tweeter or much of a social networker, I’ve decided to use my brother’s blog to respond to all the wonderful Akronites who’ve asked, what’s it like to be at the Grammys? (The “GRAMMY Grammys,” as my friend Julie put it.)

Let’s begin in the middle – and if you want to really hear about all my lame preparations in anticipation of attending this year’s Grammy ceremonies, you can catch that on my facebook page.

When our son Dan and his bandmate Patrick of The Black Keys were nominated for four Grammys this year, my half of Dan’s parental unit decided it might be a nice idea to actually attend the ceremony in Los Angeles. My husband Chuck opted out of the garish event, deciding to remain true to the alternative roots of our son’s band, even though the doting dad had predicted a Grammy eight years ago. I decided to attend with my sister Caroline and her two girls, Hazel and Pearl.  A girls’ weekend for a mom who has four brothers and two sons. Yippee!

Hazel and Pearl

Hazel and Pearl, Grammy-bound

Preparations aside, let’s just say that after two months of gearing up, I found myself with two days off my teaching job, flying to 80-degree LA on the day before the Grammys, fresh from the slushy streets of Akron and the crunchy ice that’s been underfoot for seemingly a lifetime. I was immediately blinded by the intensity of… what do they call it? Oh yes. The sun. I was literally blinded. So much so that this seasoned international traveler found herself immediately at the wrong baggage carousel – and in the wrong terminal! None of the airport staff could help me, but my younger sister (from Boulder CO) not only found me but picked me up in her rental car and ferried me to the proper place. My lone bag was sitting in the “found luggage” room and god knows how I had found it. Welcome to LA.

I got a Grammy schedule from Dan’s manager, and we GPS’d our way to the boutique hotel in West Hollywood where Dan had reserved a suite for us. “What suite?” they asked. “Oh, for today, not tomorrow?” Four hours later we moved into our rooms, and god knows how they found a suite at the last minute on Grammy weekend. “God knows how” became the catch-phrase for our stay.

We proceeded (very fortunately, it turns out) to front-load ourselves with food. And where was Dan? Meeting with a “megastore” – the first of many business-related responsibilities he had warned me about. Our post-arrival lunch spot, just around the corner, was chosen by Dan’s very foody wife Steph, in an effort to get us off to a good start in LA. But the charming little cafe was so jammed with customers and fast-moving, tray-laden waiters that we literally cowered against the walls (for an hour, with a three-year-old in tow) and opted for take-out. Then we hoofed it back to the hotel in time to gobble it down in our rooms just before leaving for – early dinner. My capable sister had set up reservations in the only nearby restaurant that was offering them, at the only time available. We met up with my younger son Geoff (renamed “Thank God for Geoff” after the weekend) and his girl Katie, who cruised over in a convertible they had rented. We had arrived. We had eaten. We were ready for Grammy day. Possibly the longest day of my life.

Geoff and Katie

Geoff and Katie

The front-loading ended with room-service breakfast on Sunday. Dan and daughter joined us. Then it was time for “hair and make-up” for Dan and Steph. We girls did our own hair and make-up, in which I had been diligently tutored by fashion-minded friends in Akron. My hippie sister winged it, and her girls needed no help whatsoever. We carved aside an entire hour to get dolled up, and then set off at noon for the three-hour pre-show, which would be immediately followed by the three-hour telecast. That’s more than six hours of interminable self-congratulation and waiting around! We brought our books and of course several pairs of shoes, jammed into a giant bag. My friend Ann had advised, “Don’t you dare wear flats. Just bring a bottle of 800 mg. ibuprofen!” I also threw in a bag of almonds… We were ready for a long day.

As you all know by now, Grammy night is all about spectacle. A two-man band from Akron is not exactly spectacle. The event organizers decided to shave off as many awards from the telecast as possible in the search for continually higher ratings. Gaga! Bieber! Mick! Bring ’em on. In the meantime, the four categories for which the Keys were nominated would be dealt with at the “pre-show,” held next door to the Staples Center. We were hoping, though, that perhaps the Alternative Rock Album award might find some broadcast time. In fact, at one point during the handing out of 98 Grammys at the pre-show, Dan’s publicist excitedly told me that award had been moved to the telecast. No such luck.

Instead of paying $60 for a taxi, we took our rental car to the LA Convention Center, where the parking lot required a permit. So of course we started to whine as we searched for side-street parking within high-heel range of the center. Caroline soldiered on, making a U-turn into a place marked “Barney’s Warehouse Sale Parking.” It was a practically empty parking garage under the far side of the center. We were almost afraid to ask if we could park there for the Grammys, but the attendant sheepishly waved us in. He knew the $100 parking lot on the other side was a total rip-off. He just forgot to tell us we needed to be back by 8 p.m.

We hiked through the Center – several football fields’ worth of hiking – to the back door of the pre-show theater. “Thank God for Geoff” met us there with tickets in hand and bullied the five idle scanner guys into getting us in the back door. “Look at all those shoes,” one of them said.

Brothers

Brothers

Arriving late at the pre-show, we found a grinning and daffy Mike Carney, who had just won a Grammy for the design of Keys’ “Brothers” album. He had endured the podium acceptance and the media room grilling and was still somewhere on a cloud. He needed a hug. I fulfilled my duty as a surrogate parent.

Our entourage was seated quite far in the back of a very dark room. We weren’t allowed to bring a camera… curses! Dan and Pat showed up in tuxedos, and their young ladies were stunningly beautiful. Steph was over six feet tall in high heels. Brother Geoff wore his tie in a “Merovingian” knot – like the evil twins in the Matrix, he said. Keys’ management was hovering. Would Mike win a Grammy, and not the guys whose album he’d designed? But they won two – and we cheered wildly as they went up to the podium, reminding me of the many graduation ceremonies I’d attended where that sort of thing was frowned upon. Other band entourages stomped out. Wildly dressed people swarmed about. Country singers with guitars brocaded on their tuxedos stood out. I met the great bluegrass musician Del McCoury, who Dan had performed with on Friday night at the Troubadour. And my heart went out to Neil Young, who was there to pick up his first music Grammy. Unbelievable.

But where was the food? Water bottles everywhere, but nothing to eat. And my feet were starting to hurt. I decided to stick with the flats (sorry, Ann) for the trip to the Staples Center for the telecast.

My God, the Staples Center. Hazel and Pearl took off to explore and peek at outfits, and Geoff and Katie left for a brief drink with friends. We all badly needed a break and couldn’t attend the red carpet at 4. Caroline and I stood around outside, wondering why the doormen (and women) were so insistently herding people indoors. Were they taking their duties too seriously? Bizarre outfits, seas of long dresses, even kimonos flowed past us. Rappers in massive suits, someone in five-inch platform tennis shoes. Still, no food in sight.

Del McCoury

Del McCoury, Grammy nominee

Caroline and I had taken the more expensive tickets and left the rafter seats to the others. Our special seats had a special entrance, but it took us awhile to get there through the crowd. The auditorium was gasp-out-loud huge. It was packed with people hurrying to their seats. Huge screens with moving graphics only made us feel dizzier. Where were Geoff and the girls? The doors were closing! We were being locked in the Center with no food! No one could leave and return, and no one else could enter. But the rest of our group made it in at the last second. It was 4:45 and the telecast was about to begin, hence the herding. I reached for my bag of almonds while watching the people in the box seats eat all the food they could handle.

Dan, Pat and Mike were dragged to do some red carpeting, but their luscious ladies were barred. What up with that? Dan especially liked Jimmy Kimmel. His Mexican waiter interviewer (a Kimmel show regular) was about to ask a question when he saw Kim Kardashian. He ran off after her, leaving the boys staring at an empty mic. Ah, the Grammys.

I must say I was nicely distracted by the spectacle, and we were never bored – annoyed at times (Bieber, anyone?), but not bored. I don’t tweet, but I texted almost continuously to give my Akron family and friends one degree of separation from the Grammys. Brother Tim was having a viewing party with Chuck, and I sent him a few photos taken by my lame phone camera (which he of course tweeted right away). The light show was astounding – and, as reported, almost seizure-inducing for the band Arcade Fire. Cindy Lauper made her way to Dan’s row just before a performance started. She was forced to crouch down, so Dan briefly offered her his seat. And that’s how Steph appeared on the telecast, clapping with Lauper after one of the acts. I hope it wasn’t Bieber.

Steph and Cindy Lauper

Screen shot of Steph, Cindy Lauper and Ray Lamontagne on TV

The stage production was amazing, and from farther back it was really magical. Hundreds of people would scurry backstage to set up during commercials, with never a hitch. Megastars who typically don’t take orders from anyone arrived exactly where and when they were needed. Despite a few minor screwups – like Christina Aguilera almost falling off the stage and the Avett Brothers mic stand falling over – the whole event had a Cirque du Soleil-like precision and flair.

Sheer screens, flames, people hoisted into the air, Lady Gaga’s egg thingy… It was all pretty astounding. My favorite act was the intense Eminem, with Rihanna flowing gently on a film screen above him. But the most amazing thing was the sound. Not even the best home theater could possibly capture the effect of being that enveloped in sound. The place was huge and it literally vibrated, but without killing your ears.

We stuck it out until the very end, then remembered how hungry we were. Dan was long gone, and Geoff left shortly after him (probably had a nose bleed) but made sure we were on the guest list for the Warner Records party.

The next hour was spent trying to find a street entrance to our parking lot (the upper entrances were locked shut after 8 p.m.). So we were late for the after-party and, at that point, close to starving. Some celebrities, having fulfilled their record company obligations, were already leaving. Thankfully, someone met us at the door with sliders and a fizzy wine drink. I scarfed down the burger (in my elegant dress and high heels) before I even got to the party room, where we were greeted by even more trays of food. I took off my shoes and chowed down, leaving the celebrity search to the young ‘uns. Geoff saw Juliette Lewis, Beyonce/Jay Z, Lenny Kravitz, Jane Lynch (“We loved you as Constance in “Party Down,” Geoff told her, to her utter delight) and Jeffrey Ross. But the highlight was when long red-haired Pearl met snowboarding celeb Shaun White. “I have red hair. You have red hair. We should be friends.” We took a picture, and they look like twins.

Pearl and Shaun White

Pearl and Shaun White, twins

Dan was there for a little while, but soon left for the hotel with Steph. They flew to Vegas the next morning, and the show goes on. The flight home was all sunshine and clear skies – with the pilot tilting the plane each way after takeoff to give us a better view. I loved seeing the LA skyline… behind us, of course.

Thanks to Ann, Jenn, Amy and Laura and Meg for the shoes, make-up, hair and jewelry contributions. Thanks to my work friends, who had me walk a 12-inch paper “red carpet” as a going-away touch. Thanks to Chuck for staying home and letting me do my Grammy thing, and for his premonitions…to Dan for winning, to Geoff and Jeny for helping, and to Katie, Steph and Sadie for the fun times.

Thanks most of all to the “girls” for a great fun time, especially that Buddhist wannabe and master of competence, my sister Caroline (aka Keena).

For those of you who missed the Keys accepting one of their Grammys (in other words, virtually everyone who didn’t attend the Grammy pre-show):

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21 thoughts on “The Grammy Misadventures of Madame Auerbach

  • Rick Saunders, 16 February 12:14 am

    That was fun. Thanks for allowing us to live vicariously for a bit.

  • TheTits, 16 February 5:21 am

    I work in pop music. Do you know how hard it is to really see Beyonce and JayZ chilling out together? It is like having two immediate GRAMMY ceremonies.

  • Jane Moses, 16 February 8:44 am

    What a great article. Enjoyed the adventures and the pictures. Pearl and Hazel are beautiful. Thanks for sharing this. Am so proud of Dan and Patrick. They have worked so hard and it paid off. Leave it to Chuck to predict this. Aunt Jane and Uncle John would be so proud and they would have probably been right there with you…at least Aunt Jane would.

  • keena, 16 February 10:10 am

    Another shoe anecdote: Hazel and I made a quick visit to the Staples Center paramedics for some band-aids for her feet. She wasn’t their first blister patient that evening. I asked them (2 guys) to imagine if I said “Here, wear these shoes for 4 hours, and when you tell me you are in excruciating pain I will say ‘but baby, your legs look great!'” Needless to say, they found that pretty hilarious.

  • chuck auerbach, 16 February 12:38 pm

    I didn’t actually predict they’d win a grammy. I predicted that you would be a granma. Nice job!!

  • Matous, 16 February 3:57 pm

    Loved reading your post.
    I also attended the GRAMMY ceremony with my wife. It was our first time. As a graphic designer with CBS as a client, we were guests of the network, who were the hosts of the evening. Luckily we were given some pre-game knowledge of what to expect. Side note: one thing I wasn’t expecting was not to see The Black Keys receive their awards. As you stated, there is a pre-telecast awards event. We didn’t realize so many of the awards were presented there. It makes sense, as the main show is more of a spectacle instead of an awards presentation. So, anyway, we were told to get there a good hour and a half before the 4:45 cut off (show airs 8PM ET, so that means 5PM west coast). As we drove in to the downtown area, we noticed the heavy traffic. Being savvy locals (we thought), we took an alternative route. Yikes, every street was packed! After creeping inch by inch for 40 minutes or so, we found underground parking right under the Staples Center. A stoke of luck. Ascending the parking lot escalator brought us right into the thick of things. There’s Margaret Cho with her entourage… there’s producer Jimmy Jam…there’s a Japanese camera crew with the host in some sort of feather dress…you get the idea.
    We were advised to have a bite and a drink beforehand, and it worked out perfectly. As for dress, I wore a simple sport coat with open collar while my wife opted for comfortable slacks and her Ferragamo flats, so she was ultra-comfortable. As Howlin’ Wolf and/or Willie Dixon sez:, “built for comfort, not for speed”. Seeing so many women walking in their 6-inch stilettoes and the overall fashion was a show in itself. We hung out at the entrance just to watch the crowd.
    Almost waiting too long, we arrived at our seats with only a few minutes before show time. We knew there was no food allowed. It’s a TV show… they don’t want people chewing and slurping during their broadcast. Hey, this isn’t J Geils at the Akron Rubber Bowl… nomesayin’? Our seats were not like yours. No, the floor seats were something we would need binoculars to view. We were one row from the upper right wall… nose bleed. Even still, we agree with you about the sound and spectacle. The Cossette family has been producing these events since the ‘70s, so everything came off without a hitch. Sitting above the clouds, we could see the stages being set up while the other had its performance. Very tight. Amazing how they assembled the Cee Lo “Forget You” production in that limited time. And, as for stand out performances, we both liked Eminem/Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie”. Mick Jagger was great, but also really liked Cee Lo, The “Joleen” trio and Arcade Fire (although the bicyclists detracted for their performance… they didn’t need it). Sorry, but don’t get the Lady Antebellum stuff. Seems so generic. A friend noted that their award-winning song is very similar to an Alan Parson’s hit. My Sweet Lord! Anyway, loved reading your take on the night, and agree with many of your assesments.
    On yet another side note: Mary, I know your bro Tim. We went to Miami Univ together. One year-end while hauling everyone’s stuff back home with my dad’s station wagon plus U-haul, we busted an axle in Columbus. You saved the day by letting us stay over at your place. Thank you, uhhh, thirty-five years later (damn, time flies!). I wish I could have said hello to you in LA. Congrats on your son’s success. “Las Teclas de Negros” are very talented so it seems natural for them to keep ascending. Love their down to earth attitude. This was more than likely not their last GRAMMY ceremony.

  • Mary, 16 February 4:53 pm

    Oh. Too bad we didn’t know you were there… but thanks for the comments. And, wow, I have no memory of the Columbus good deed. You’re very welcome…
    I would have settled for food in the lobby. What little they had was whisked away just as I got to the counter. I get crabby when I’m hungry!

  • Dave Wilson, 16 February 5:14 pm

    Nice post! Too bad they didn’t get some richly deserved air time. I still think “Brothers” should have been nominated for best album, but glad Arcade Fire won in their absence.
    Hope the Black Keys play Akron again soon.

  • keena, 16 February 6:44 pm

    Yes, Jolene was terrific, for its impeccable harmonies, and minimalist production.

  • douglas, 16 February 8:15 pm

    mary, was happy to learn that the girlz weekend came off w/o a hitch. I was at 10,000 ft, on a ski hutte trip,on Sunday night thinking of ya’ll. Happier still, to learn the outcome (3 Grammy’s!) when I came out on Tuesday. And Chuck was right. You are a granma…..see ya later DN

  • Pat Hayworth, 17 February 2:08 am

    Loved your report of your Grammy experience, especially since we seem to have similarly ordered priorities — comfortable shoes, the availability of food, and, of course, a love of The Black Keys (not to mention our seemingly shared opinion of Justin Bieber!). I’m an old broad (71) who, although I was born and raised in Ohio, has lived in Brooklyn for the past 45 years.
    I only “discovered” TBK about 6 months ago, and have since become a fan. They are very talented, play real rock n’ roll, are unpretentious, seem to have a great sense of humor, and have a certain playfulness and, for the lack of a better word, a wholesomeness about them which is very refreshing. Good Ohio stock!!! I watched the Grammies mostly to see them and was disappointed that their category was not covered in the televised portion of the show. Was overjoyed when I found out that they won.

  • Julie Horn, 17 February 4:52 am

    Great play by play, Mary….got a bit from Stephanie before the show, spent the evening at my daughter’s house at our own Grammy party, talking (well, screaming and jumping) with Christine on the phone during the show! What an exciting night!

  • Mike, 17 February 10:25 am

    Totally surreal. Sounds like the kind of thing where you’re right in the middle of it and suddenly blink twice and consider “wait, I’m in LA, at the Grammy’s. Huh.”

  • Mary, 17 February 4:19 pm

    Hi Douglas, you hutte trippin guy, you. Yep, the girlz rocked. Speaking of, Pat, keep on rockin’. I thought the same about the Tighten Up video. Wholesome and fun!
    Julie H: glad you got hooked up for the excitement…
    Mike: I kept doing just that at the airport!

  • Eric, 18 February 10:57 am

    This is just great! Thanks so much for sharing! Been a Black Keys fan since ’06; their live shows are unrivaled. Simply put, they make timeless music I’m sure my grandkids will someday love. Their Grammy is long overdue. Again, thanks for sharing; to get this perspective of the Grammy experience is wonderful!

    Eric

  • Thank God for Geoff, 18 February 8:02 pm

    great article, ma!

  • Therese Vorraber, 25 February 10:49 am

    Marie Stein is a colleague and shared this blog with me.
    The story was great! Marie says hi Stephanie and Dan.
    Thanks
    Therese Vorraber

  • Emeline, 25 February 5:19 pm

    Bravo aux Clés Noires pour la quincaillerie, et bravo à Madame pour cet article plein d’humour ! 🙂

  • Wendy Crim, 15 March 2:01 pm

    Hello, I was just wondering if you ever taught french at Jennings Middle School? I read about your son Dan in the paper (already being a fan) and it caught my attention because my brother in law works with Will Carney on the CVSR and the name Auerbach kept sticking in my mind and then I remembered that is what my French teachers name was. So through good old internet I found this site. I am 32 and I would have had you in 6th grade, I believe. Glad your family is doing so well.

  • Mary, 15 March 6:15 pm

    Yes, indeed, Wendy. I must have taught you at Jennings all those years ago. Hope you, in return, are doing well also. I’m always astonished still to see how my students have grown up. Cheers.
    Madame

  • kathleen, 12 February 7:13 pm

    Thanks for sharing. It was so fun to read, even though i only discovered it over two years later. Unbelievable that the Black Keys wouldn’t make it to the broadcast show! Shame on the grammies!! However, its bittersweet, as i watched them get their awards last sunday. These guys ooze talent. (Dont’ get me started on the fact that the opening show was Taylor Swift. lame.) Ok, but the one thing I have to say is, just like it’s been said so many times before, behind every great talent, is a great mother. Reading your story just confirmed that. You must be over the moon. So happy for you, and thanks for giving us such a talented, creative mind. The Black Keys will stand the test of time. I’m eagerly awaiting their next album.

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