Last night, the 20th annual MusiCares Person of the Year dinner produced several memorable comments, not the least of which came from 83-year-old Tony Bennett, at whose table I was lucky to sit. Upon hearing the Red Hot Chili Peppers launch into a dissonant version of honoree Neil Young’s “A Man Needs A Maid,” Bennett told me: “Tonight proves to me there’s room for everyone.” He meant it, too. That’s a mensch!
Neil Young, who was seated with his’family a few rows in front of us, must have picked up Bennett’s’good vibrations. When it came time for Young to accept his award, it was Bennett — one of the few musicians in the room who didn’t perform last night — he cited. “Look at Tony’Bennett,” Young told the star studded crowd at the L.A. Convention Center. “He rocks!”
And the crowd was pretty impressive. Country star Keith Urban, who eventually played Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free’World” with John Fogerty and Booker T., brought his movie star wife Nicole Kidman. ‘Matthew McConaughey and his baby mama Camilla Alves were seated on the opposite side of the room, maybe to keep things evenly weighted. I spotted John C. Reilly sitting with director-producer writer Judd Apatow and actor Jason Schwartzman. Ray Liotta rolled around the room, hair standing straight up.’ There was Jeff Beck (with British legendary producer Harvey Goldsmith) and Beck (just Beck). Famed producer Phil Ramone was seated at the Bennett table, along with Bennett’s three children (manager son Danny and wife Carrie, singer daughter Antonia, and son award winning produce Dae Bennett) as well as Mitchell Davis (son of Clive), and Jay Krugman. I think I saw reclusive bearded Rick Rubin come in with Gina Gershon. Also: Jeff Lynne and Joe Walsh.
Elvis Costello worked the room, wearing a sort of Gaucho hat and black suit. Later he performed a lively early Young song called “The Losing End.”
Jack Black emceed the show, soon getting the idea to help raise money for MusiCares — which helps indigent musicians — by auctioning off his shoes and other items. When he decided to put up a sign from the stage with a Neil Young quote, he brought back the evening’s professional auctioneer. The man obviously thought his work was done earlier in the evening after the formal auction of items (Elton John paid $12,000 to sing with Brian Wilson). The man was now looped, which was pretty funny. He sold the sign — which Young offered to autograph — for $40,000.
The sign read: “Just do what you want to do, don’t listen to anyone else.”
That philosophy came through in Young’s songs, which were performed by a huge number of music stars. The outstanding moments included Elton John, Leon Russell, T Bone Burnett, Sheryl Crow and Neko Case on “Helpless.” This was especially poignant because Russell has been very ill of late. He and Elton have just laid down tracks for an’album they are making quickly with Burnett. Later, all of them joined James Taylor for Young’s “Heart of Gold,” which Young and wife Peggy enjoyed so much they very sweetly’rested their heads on each other’s shoulders.
Other performers and songs included: Wilco’s sensational rendering of “Broken Arrow”; Ozomatli’s stunning “Mr. Soul”; Dave Matthews, “The Needle and the Damage Done”; Jackson Browne, “Don’t Let It Get You Down”; Jason Mraz and Shawn Colvin, “Lotta Love”; Ben Harper, “Ohio”; “Tell Me Why,” Norah Jones; “Comes a Time,” Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Patti Griffith; Lady Antebellum, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”; Stephen Stills with Sheryl Crow playing accordion on’”Long’May You’Run”; ‘and Crosby Stills and Nash doing “Human Highway.”
So: can Clive Davis’s amazing pre Grammy party top this? We’ll see! And then, on to the Grammys, and the Sam Moore show at the after party. The record business is alive at least for this weekend!
**P.S. I’ve been writing of late about Leon Russell. Originally in Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, Leon played with Delaney and Bonnie before going out on his own. His authored songs include “A Song for You,” “This Masquerade,” and “Superstar (Don’t You Remember You Said You’d Be Back One Day Baby).”