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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Sometimes a Grammy is Just a Grammy

All over Twitter and Facebook today, virtual jabs have been tossed back and forth between those who think Chris Brown winning for Best R&B Album equates to the Grammy Award’s tacit approval of Brown’s physical assault of his then-girlfriend Rihanna three years ago … and those who think it’s time to move on, already. The question is, does an awards show like the Grammys have a responsibility to be be the moral judge of the choices and mistakes a performer makes in his or her personal life?

I guess that depends on your view of what the Grammys represent. The point of the Grammys, much like the Oscars, is to reward and recognize the work of artists in their given fields. A Grammy isn’t an award recognizing the guy who’s the best boyfriend, or who most respects women, or who isn’t a misogynist. And also like the Oscars, sometimes people who have personal issues — even reprehensible ones — are recognized by their industry colleagues for their work. Drug addicts. Alcoholics. Narcissists. And yes, men who hit their girlfriends.

Roman Polanski’s been nominated twice, and won once (for The Pianist, in 2002) since his 1977 arrest for the drugging and rape of a 13-year-old girl. Maybe you think the Academy, when it awarded Polanski the Oscar, was condoning the rape of 13-year-old girls, or rapists generally. Or maybe you think one of the things the Academy does is recognize the best directors of any given year, and that in 1981 and 2002, its membership simply considered that Polanski, regardless of his personal issues, was among the best in his field at directing films. Chris Brown, for all that he was a violent asshole on the night he beat his girlfriend in 2009, would appear to at least be trying very hard to change the underlying causes of his behavior and to take responsibility for it, which is more than you can say for Polanski. Polanski fled the country. Brown pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years probation. By all reports, he’s been following the terms of that probation. You can agree or disagree with the sentence he received three years ago, you can think our justice system is misogynistic and desperately in need of reform. But that has nothing to do with the Grammys and whether Brown’s album was deserving, musically speaking, of the win.

I’m not condoning domestic violence, and I’m certainly not out there Tweeting, “Oh please, Chris Brown, beat ME!” like those foolish girls who probably don’t have a clue what domestic violence looks like. But I am saying, you have to separate the personal life of the man from his professional life, which is what the Grammy Awards recognize.

Brown has been punished for his crime within the law. He was 20 years old when his assault of Rihanna happened. In the three years since, the courts have acknowledged what appears to be his sincere desire to change. He hasn’t (so far as I know) repeated his crime. People screw up, but people can change. Our entire system of justice is built around that principle, is it not? We have a graduated scale of punishments. The punishment for felony assault is not life in prison, or the death penalty, nor is it, “You can never work in your field again, or be acknowledged for doing your work well.” Chris Brown is a musician. That’s his job. The Grammy he won recognizes his achievement at that job, not his excellence as a person.

As to whether he deserved a Grammy on those merits, well, that’s another debate entirely.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon