Norah’s Night

A quiet, repressed evening at the Grammys.

Norah Jones loaded down with metal

Bruce Springstreet, as Dustin Hoffman called him, is still enraged and rapturous for reasons we can’t know. Music has not failed him. Music has nearly failed Paul Simon and almost entirely Art Garfunkel. But, as they opened the Grammys (CBS, 8 p.m., ET) on Sunday night, that note of desolation made their reunion almost as good as Bruce’s full-throated performance of “The Rising” later in the program. Hello, darkness their old friend. Singing, still, with their pale faces projected wide on the big screens in Madison Square Garden, Simon and Garfunkel again found their melancholy harmony.

It was a night of unabashedly easy listening. Set off against the familiar awards-show swaths of feathery Ramada-lobby blue and violet décor, a polite but sad audience sat through a repressed ceremony, at which the soothing Norah Jones won practically everything that wasn’t reserved for men (record, album, song, female pop performance, new artist).

Performers had been gagged from protesting the war, and showmanship at the 45th Annual Grammy Awards seemed by extension to be generally inhibited. But without outbursts or even all-out light shows, the program seemed frankly to illuminate some of pop’s mysteries during a year that has been, in the words of Jones, “really weird.”

First off, the recent day-late-dollar-short admiration for the Bee Gees is almost insulting. (Barry and Robin Gibb got the Legend Award; Maurice is dead.) What’s more, having ‘N Sync deliver a tribute barbershop medley destroyed the band’s chance at gaining posthumous credibility any time soon.

The ubiquitous cover by the Dixie Chicks has steeply cut into my enthusiasm for “Landslide.” During the Grammys, I finally realized why: Stevie Nicks’ iconic song about loneliness should not be sung by a trio. And speaking of trios, three voices seem brittle: Sheryl Crow’s, Faith Hill’s, and Eminem’s.

I still like the Nelly-Kelly Rowland duet. It just makes a night better. Same with “Sweet Baby James,” James Taylor’s old elegy for WASP life, which brought the hall to its feet. (Maybe winter makes saps of us all.)

Now the first of December was covered with snow
And so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston.
Lord, the Berkshires seemed dreamlike on account of that frosting
With 10 miles behind me and 10,000 more to go

But it was Fred Durst’s geeky violation of the gag order that really established consensus: “I hope we’re all in agreeance that this war should go away as soon as possible.”

Yes, we are. And yes, Norah Jones may be pop’s teacher’s pet, getting props even from old geezers who like her torch-song sound. She could have played the Eisenhower White House. But she is lovely and hits the notes, and who, at the start of her career, while she is so spectacularly unfailed by music, would dare to complain about her yet?