Alicia Keys a lonely voice of reason in a typically vapid VMA show

Look. I’m 64. I shouldn’t even be watching the MTV Video Music Awards (it being way past my bedtime), let alone writing about it. No they don’t need me and they sure as hell don’t feed me.

In fact, the last VMAs show that meant anything to me, where I knew the music and the artists, was probably the first one, 32 years ago at Radio City, when I was there and writing extensively about music videos and MTV. In all honesty, I write about them now just to hang on and kid myself into thinking I’m still relevant.

That said, even the commercials last night were lame. I mean, the Taco Bell Foundation? Who knew? And the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children spot got me going until diluting itself with “featuring a new song by Florence + the Machine.”

The show itself can be summed up by the Ariana Grande/Nicki Minaj workout on “Side to Side,” as it hardly got anyone worked up. Or speed-swimmer Michael Phelps, who introduced Future after crediting his “Stick Talk” for inspiring him at the Olympics, with Future responding by slowing the proceedings down to a standstill with his single “Commas.” Or Kanye—of course—whose excruciating ramble was matched only by his video premiere for the at least appropriately named “Fade.”

I must qualify my criticism for tweeters Key & Peele and their seeming rip of In Living Color’s “Men on Films,” since while I’ve heard of them, I’ve never seen them and didn’t get the gag until googling them midway. But I’ll stick with my own tweets, i.e.:

Separated at birth: #KanyeWest and Sata

Did I miss it or was there a melody in the #NickJonas song?

#KimKardashian speaks like a Shakespearean scholar

[After Britney’s bit] Gee, that was worth the wait

#Beyonce get to the hook already!

#Beyonce: The performance that never ended

They could have fit in at least five more performers in the time wasted by #Beyonce and #KanyeWest

Wait! #Beyonce sampled Andy Williams “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” on her song! If only he were still alive!

That last one reminds me of the time when I ran into Andy Williams at the Grammys, but I digress. Admittedly, I was happy DNCE won for “Cake by the Ocean” since it’s such a great tune. But then The Chainsmokers could only remind me how much I liked Parliament, The Winstons and even Sopwith Camel. Like I also tweeted: I must be the oldest living person watching this shite. And, after the first five minutes, My God this is awful.

So why do I love Rihanna so much? I thank Naomi Campbell for nailing it: the islands, meaning, she never gave up her Caribbean roots, which makes perfect sense in that I’ve always felt her voice has so much character, flavor, and adaptability to whatever a song needs from it. She was great, her speech was fine, and she even made Drake good.

But really, the true star last night was Alicia Keys, out of place as she was in physical appearance–but naturally stunning nevertheless with her committed no-makeup look (which I didn’t know anything about until reading up on it after the show)–not to mention political stance in noting the 53rd anniversary that day of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. And suddenly I didn’t feel so old as arguably the most talented singer-songwriter of her MTV generation recited an antiwar poem harking back to my g-g-generation’s “Make love, not war” slogan.

The poem became a brief a cappella song, also about breaking walls, instead of building them–as the one presidential candidate so desperately wants. With such a pivotal election just weeks away now, Keys provided the one glimpse of reality through the typically overblown VMA glitz, in time-honored topical music fashion.

YouTube Discoveries: “The Sidewalks of New York”

YouTube is such a wonderful site. I’m on it several times a day, at least, doing research mostly, or just looking up things that come to mind out of nowhere.

In YouTube Discoveries, I’ll share some of my favorites, beginning with a timely double-play.

The day after The Preakness I traditionally begin my three-week rant about how horrible it is that New York, back in the Giuliani days, changed its traditional Belmont theme from “Sidewalks of New York”—a poignantly sentimental 1894 copyright by lyricist James W. Blake and vaudeville actor/composer Charles B. Lawlor that is also known as “East Side, West Side” (the first words of the chorus)—to the “New York, New York” title song sung by Frank Sinatra from the 1977 Scorsese movie.

Then to add insult to injury, the New York Racing Association in 2010 went with the awful Jay-Z/Alicia Keys hip-hop ballad “Empire State of Mind”—though just for that one year. It was back to the “New York, New York” the following year.

It’s like if the Kentucky Derby changed its theme song from “My Old Kentucky Home” to “Kentucky Woman,” or the Preakness switched from “Maryland, My Maryland” to the Bobby Bare country hit “Streets of Baltimore.” Not that either of those are bad songs—and “New York, New York” is fine for a movie song—but these Triple Crown races are steeped in tradition, and for New York to turn its back on it is a disgrace.

Apparently, though, it’s also bad for horses. I saw on Wikipedia how it’s believed that horses who have won the Derby and the Preakness have been cursed because of the change in song from “Sidewalks of New York.” Sure enough, in the years after Affirmed became the last Triple Crown winner by beating Alydar at the Belmont in 1978, there were four dual winners who failed to complete the cycle between 1979 and 1996; in the years following the switch to “New York, New York” in 1997, eight horses have fallen short.

“It is said that the ghost of Mamie O’Rourke will never let another Triple Crown winner emerge unless and until ‘The Sidewalks of New York’ is reinstated as the post parade song for The Belmont Stakes,” it says in Wikipedia—Mamie O’Rourke being the one who taught lyricist Blake how to “trip the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York.”

Well, I like California Chrome, and I’m not taking any chances. So here are two versions of “The Sidewalks of New York,” the first a lovely take by the great Nat King Cole, the second a history of the song and the scene: