Backstage at the 2002 Grammys

As might be expected, U2 provided some of the biggest laughs and biggest thoughts of the evening. Describing the band as “pushing a rock up a hill” in 2000, Bono exulted in the fact that the band won seven Grammys (four this year and three for “It’s a Beautiful Day” last year) “for an album that we made in a desperate fashion.” He explained that the band was “desperate to be relevant rather than successful.”

Commenting on the success of their Elevation tour, Bono said “When this country takes you to its heart, it’s an extraordinary feeling … These have been testy times for America, so we know you didn’t take just anyone to your heart.”

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The pre-telecast awards showed a surprising strength for traditional country music — Allison Krauss, the Hank Williams tribute “Timeless,” Ralph Stanley and the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. When asked why this genre of music is doing so well now, T-Bone Burnett, winner for producer of the year and soundtrack compilation for “O’ Brother,” quoted the title of Bob Dylan’s Oscar-winning song: “Things have changed.”

Burnett said he was happier for Ralph Stanley winning for male country vocal perf of “O Death.” Stanley will also be the initial release from DMZ Records, the Sony-distributed imprint started by Burnett and filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, whom Burnett called “the most collaborative, intelligent, subversive artists I’ve ever had the chance to work with — never any tension, just creativity and imagination.” Stanley credited the pic and Burnett for “putting out music people have been waiting for and then putting it where people could hear it.”

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“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” helmer Joel Coen said, “We came to this music like a lot of other people. We were fans of rock ‘n’ roll and then discovered the blues, then country, and T-Bone (Burnett) was able to bring it all together for us.” Burnett said “This is contemporary music. It’s not roots music, it’s Southern music.” He continued that rock & roll was a technical innovation: The serial dramas went to TV so radio started to play rock and roll and race records.

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Nelly Furtado said, “There are still people who are interested in artistic integrity……it’s all about touring, building a career, if you do good work, success will find you eventually.”

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Robert Lee Castleman, who won the award for country song, said he’s been writing songs since the age of four and “just started making money at it.” The truck-driving songster said that the success of traditional country “probably means that I won’t have any major labels interested in my songs.”

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Earl Scruggs, who won a Grammy for his first solo album in 17 years, thought traditional country’s sweep of the Grammys validates “good music.” His son Randy added that “it’s about real music and real artists collaborating.” Their award-winning song, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” featured Steve Martin on banjo, prompting the elder Scruggs to suggest that you “shouldn’t underestimate Steve Martin’s picking.”

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Jimmy Jam lost out on the producer of the year award to Burnett, even though he and Terry Lewis produced Grammy-winning tracks for Usher, Janet Jackson and Sade. “I guess they respect our artists more than they do us,” he joked. But he also credited Burnett for “bringing back an artform that’s been ignored for too long.”

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Al Schmidt, who won for engineered album, non-classical, for Diana Krall’s “The Look of Love,” was quite forthcoming. Krall, he said, was “a peach” to work with in comparison to Barbra Streisand, whom he regards as demanding but knows what she wants, and Anita Baker, someone he dismissed as a “nightmare.” Schmidt and Krall have already begun work on a more jazz-oriented album.

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James Mallinson, who produced the double Grammy-winning (opera recording, classical album) “Berlioz: Les Troyens” by London Symphony Orchestra for the artist-owned label LSO Live, called the disc’s success a retort to major labels who have no classical music. “You can sell lots and lots of albums with no promotional budget at all.”

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The Angeles String Quartet took five years to record their award-winning “Haydn: The Complete String Quartets” — 23 hours of music on 21 CDs.

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John Flansburgh, one half of They Might Be Giants (winner in the category of song written for motion picture, television or other visual media for “Boss of Me” from the Fox series “Malcolm in the Middle”), thanked Diane Warren and Sting “for switching to decaf and giving us a chance.” He also told any band on a major label thinking of going it alone that he heartily recommends it. Since they’ve left Elektra, he said, “the offers have flooded in,” which include a song on the next Austin Powers soundtrack and the theme to “America’s Most Wanted.”

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Steve Lukather and Toto are celebrating their 25 anniversary with a new record due out in June. He recorded his Grammy-winning pop collaboration “No Substitutions — Live in Osaka” with guitarist Larry Carlton just for themselves. Fellow axeman Steve Vai heard the tapes and told Lukather it would be perfect for his Favored Nations label.

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Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, in an embroidered purple leather suit, won Grammys for rap solo perf of “Get Ur Freak On” and pop collaboration with vocals on “Lady Marmalade” (with Christina Aguilera, Mya and Pink). She called the evening’s rendition of “Lady Marmalade” “historic. You had four baby divas and then you get Patti LaBelle. What more could you want?”

She questioned why the rap awards were awarded before the kudocast. “I wanna be on TV so my momma can see.” Still, she said, she has two Grammys to take home, so she doesn’t care if she is on “at midnight with no one watching.”

Elliott said she dreams about the late Aaliyah all the time. “I know she’s not here in body, but she’s here in spirit. I like to think she’s looking down at us.” Regarding the possibility of Missy and Eve doing an album together, “We’ll bring all kinds of flava,” she says. She does want to work with the “Lady Marmalade” singers again. “People think that if you do it once you can’t do it again … they’re wrong.”

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On the fashion tip, Bootsy Collins arrived in a leather-and-leopard-print ensemble including his trademark star-shaped glittery glasses, while L’il Kim showed off a fringed green leather bustier and a 2.5-carat diamond ring, lent to her by Harry Winston so he “could rock at the Grammys.”

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Damian Marley said that winning a Grammy for reggae album is like a “win for the family … a win for me is a win for my dad.”

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