The Grammy Misadventures of Madame Auerbach
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):