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MAYBE, JUST MAYBE: GRAMMYS, PARTIES AND THE “BUMP INTO”

The Grammys have always been vitally important to me, but this year they felt much less so. 

It’s not only because of the nominations stupidity but also the date change and—most of all—COVID-imposed restrictions that have deprived us of the social interaction these major events always supplied. 

What I call the "bump into” just doesn’t happen now, and I wonder if it will ever happen again. Saying hi to friends, meeting new people without a Zoom call, without an email to set up a time, just a chance to say hello again or for the first time, which happened so often and for so many years that we all took it for granted. 

It started in New York at Radio City, continued over the years at the Grammys, the VMAs and, most recently (and thus strongest in my memory), the great Adele industry party. Joel Klaiman, then at Columbia, invited my wife, Suzi, and me to sit with him and Stephanie, next to Steve Blatter and Steve’s wife, Courtney. We said our hellos, and then I went into the lobby to find the bathroom. I bumped into Jody Gerson by the entrance; she introduced me to her latest signing, the talented and toweringly tall Tobias Jesso Jr., whose imposing verticality made a lasting impression. Then I said hello to Julie Swidler, who introduced me to Kevin Kelleher, whom I’d known of forever but had never met in person. Kevin is also exceedingly tall. With my head now craning upward, would I next run into Jon Platt? I continued to run into one industry person after another until I returned to my seat. 

It was all so easy, so warm, so friendly, so ordinary as we gathered to hear Adele sing “Hello” to all of us. 

Other New York highlights included the great VMAs afterparty for which MTV commandeered all of Bryant Park and everyone just moseyed around the grounds all night. Everyone was there, relaxed and collegial. Oh hi, there’s Judy McGrath, and there’s John Sykes—probably with the mayor—and Tom Freston and Tom Calderone and Rick Krim and Stephen Hill and Amy Doyle and, of course, Van Toffler. Nothing needed scheduling beforehand; we were all just greeting our people.

Sony’s great parties in the “wolf pack” days had multiple tiers of exclusivity and audacity to spare. The ultimate goal, as in a video game, was to level up through various VIP enclaves to find out where Tommy Mottola and Mariah and Jennifer Lopez were. The year I remember best took place at the Natural History Museum. I played the game as best I could, breaching a series of velvet-roped blockades until I finally found Tommy with a stunning JLo and said hi to them and Michele Anthony and Donnie Ienner. I think Jon Landau and Bruce were there, although I’m still a little sad that I never met Barbra.  

It was always much easier, though, when things happened in L.A. The parties were spectacular in the old days—and started earlier, of course. A few years ago, I was squiring Jared Leto to the red carpet and then stepped aside to watch. Sir Lucian was also standing nearby, enjoying a solitary moment as he eyed the star parade. We said hello and chatted a bit about the evening. It was friendly, casual small talk—no appointment necessary. 

Manager Jim Guerinot was usually my date for the great Grammy evenings of yore. We both lived in Sherman Oaks, so we’d share a limo, grab some Marlboro Reds and carefully plan our strategy. We would always get MCA out of the way first. It was easy, usually at the Four Seasons, and they had the best food. I remember seafood ice towers with lobster and crab. A quick bite, a quick hello to Irving, Doug, Andre Harrell, Jay Boberg et al., then we'd make our way to Chasen’s for the Warner party. 

One year, we bumped into Liz Phair, who wanted a ride to Chasen’s. She jumped in, stood up through the sunroof and cheered with joy throughout the short trip. Warner's party was the most subdued and, of course, the hippest; the restaurant had a dim, opium-den ambience, so it was hard to tell if you were talking to Mo Ostin or Lenny Waronker, the late, great Joe Smith and Russ Thyret or the stately and majestic Eddie Rosenblatt until you got right in their faces. But everyone was there, including many of their legendary artists, and the “bump into” was often literal thanks to the lighting. 

The evening’s final stop was always downtown at Rex for the Sony party, appointed with the utmost grandiosity and pomposity imaginable. The lights were blinding, and the scene resembled a Louis XIV ballroom. The ultimate game, finding Tommy, lay ahead. Over the years, the party would move to Spago and eventually shed its gilded trappings to settle into downtown’s The Palm, across from Staples Center, in a more intimate, friendly, Rob Stringer-inspired setting. At the last such gathering I attended, now-disgraced executives Les Moonves and Robert Kraft hobnobbed in a roped-off antechamber. Hey, things do change. 

So here’s to the in-the-flesh music business as it begins its return in the spring and summer. Maybe there will be great events. Maybe everyone will be back in L.A. to see and be seen in the days before the event—breakfasting and lunching at the Polo Lounge, table-hopping and bumping bountifully into one another. I really do miss everyone. I miss easy greetings and familiar faces, and I hope we are on the cusp of that sense of renewal that the end of Grammy season has always signaled—as it has always done through the years, amid boom and bust, growth and contraction, changing trends and burgeoning technologies. We are doing our best to weather the storm. May the time be close when we can huddle together again, and simply bump into each other.

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