By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

For the most part, I shy away from writing about music in this space, only because musical tastes are so subjective (much like politics). With sports, we could argue about "Kobe versus T-Mac" for an hour and come to a definitive conclusion. With music, you might like Linkin Park, I might like Coldplay, and it doesn't make either of us right or wrong. Even though Linkin Park sucks.

Norah Jones
Welcome to the "Norah Jones Awards Show."

But the fact remains, 2002 was an enormous comeback year for the music industry, mainly because bands like The White Stripes and The Strokes jumpstarted the garage/punk sound again, and the hip-hop industry remembered that hip-hop songs actually had to have some hip and some hop (even Snoop put out a quality song this year, for God's sake). And since we're in The Dead Month, and I didn't have any other brainstorms, a running diary of the Grammys seemed like a decent idea.

Here's what transpired ...

8:00 -- We're live at Madison Square Garden for the 45th annual Grammys! Actually, we're on tape -- I'm watching this from the West Coast -- but who's splitting hairs? For this year's show, everyone's worried about musicians using this platform to protest the war. Not me. I love when entertainers take themselves too seriously. Isn't that why we watch these shows in the first place?

8:01 -- Dustin Hoffman wobbles out to introduce Simon and Garfunkel. Where does Rain Man end and Dustin Hoffman begin? Has anyone ever taken the time to figure this out?

(By the way, here's how much I appreciated Simon and Garfunkel over the years: Remember during the 2002 U.S. Open, when Garfunkel came out and sang the National Anthem with his son, who looked like Art's personal version of Mini-Me, right down to his hair ... and CBS cut to Pete Sampras staring at both of them in horror? It took me five months to mention this in a column, even though it was one of the funniest things that ever happened. That, my friends, is how much I loved Simon and Garfunkel. Now they're just two old guys. So be it.)

8:08 -- Wait a second ... Dustin Hoffman's hosting this thing? Who was Plan B, Al Gore?

Gwen Stefani
OK, gentlemen ... please welcome Gwen to the stage.

8:09 -- Dustin explains that this show is being hosted "by the people of New York City." Oh. Then he introduces No Doubt -- they're singing this year's winner of the Grammy for "Best Strip Joint Song of 2002," that "Keep on Dancing" song. Where's the Champagne Room?

8:13 -- I'm fascinated by Gwen Stefani. She's probably the captain of the "I bet she doesn't look that good in the morning with a hangover and morning breath, her makeup wiped off and hair sticking all over the place" Team, but damn ... she's pretty hot. Meanwhile, the Sports Gal and her friend Veronica (they're here, too -- believe me, not my choice) argue whether Gwen Stefani would look better in a bustier or a halter top.

8:14 -- Just offered to send them to "How to Lose a Guy In 10 Days." Didn't work.

8:15 -- Speaking of Gwen, No Doubt just won for "Best performance by a rock group or duo." We're 1-for-1 with the "Groups that perform, then immediately win the Grammy" phenomenon. I wish we could gamble on these awards.

8:22 -- Hey, it's Tony Bennett and Joe Pantoliano! Joe's turning into the White Sam Jackson, isn't he? You can't get away from him -- he's even wearing Kangol hats in public now. And Tony Bennett ... he's been ruined for life by Alec Baldwin's parody of him on "SNL," hasn't he? I like things that are great ... good things are fantastic ...

8:23 -- Norah Jones comes out to sing that "Don't Know Why" song, as the Sports Gal says, "I think I have a female crush on her." Hey, we all feel that way. Norah's destined for at least four Grammys tonight. She's adorable. I'm not even making the requisite jokes about how she's this year's Nelly Furtado or Alicia Keys -- in other words, in one ear, out the other -- even though all the evidence suggests that she is. More on this later, because we'll definitely be seeing her again. And again.

8:27 -- Our first Justin Timberlake sighting. He's got the Brian Austin Green beard thing going, which is fitting, because the similarities between them are jarring at times. I keep waiting for Justin to release "Keep It Together" with Jasper's Law.

8:29 -- Norah Jones wins her first Grammy ("Best Pop Album") and thanks her boyfriend in her acceptance speech. Not that I had a chance, or any of us did ... but I mean, that was like talking to a beautiful girl at a bar for 10 minutes, then having them casually mention their boyfriend out of nowhere, and you feel like you've been punched in the stomach. You know that phenomenon? Come on, Norah. At least flirt with us for an hour or so before you mention the boyfriend. That was like being blindsided.

8:30 -- It's always fun to hear Marc Anthony say the words "Tito Fuente," isn't it?

Faith Hill
Even with a roots problem, Faith is pretty hot.

8:31 -- Faith Hill's belting out some country song. Yikes. The Sports Gal's just happy that Faith "finally did something about her roots." Um, yeah. Me, too.

8:37 -- I'm so exhausted right now, I just hallucinated that there was a McDonald's ad starring Tiffani Amber-Theissen. Hey, wait a second ...

8:39 -- Speaking of ads, we're up to two CBS promos for "My Big Fat Greek Life" -- and aren't we all rooting against this show -- as well as an ad for Chris Rock's new movie, "Head of State." Poor Chris. If this movie doesn't work out, he passes Katie Holmes and grabs pole position in the "Least Successful Film Career In Hollywood" race. You'd hate to see that happen.

8:41 -- Vanessa Carlton sings her new song, "A Thousand Miles," which should be subtitled, "No, I'm Not Michelle Branch." I kinda like this song. Does that make me less of a man? Wait, don't answer that.

8:42 -- John Mayer has the Sports Gal and Veronica in a trance. I wish I could come back in my next life as a sensitive guitarist who makes weird facial expressions -- the world would be my oyster. Don't you just hate these guys? They're like those guys who can randomly sit down and play the piano at any bar -- you just can't compete with them under any circumstances.

8:48 -- I'm enjoying James Taylor and Yo Yo Ma singing "Sweet Baby James." This is awesome. Great show so far. And yes, I just want to be there when Yo Yo Ma is introduced to Yao Ming.

8:49 -- John Mayer wins the Grammy for "Best Male Vocal," as the Sports Gal says "Boy, he's really cute." I wish some female singer would come strutting out with the biggest breasts imaginable right now. Where's Mariah Carey when you need her?

8:52 -- Eminem wins another Grammy (best rap album). Man, he's so serious and miserable, isn't he? Is his life really that bad? What would he look like if he hadn't made a ton of money, a hit movie, some great albums, and won a bunch of awards. He and Allen Iverson really need to get into a support group together.

John Mayer
Where's John Blutarsky when you need him?

8:56 -- Eddie Van Halen narrowly edges Keith Richards for the "Who's Aging Worse?" Grammy.

8:59 -- Alphaville's "Forever Young" is being used for Saturn ads. Ouch. Another great '80s song bites the dust. Why do I take this stuff so personally?

(And since I have nothing to add ... what about Mike Tyson on Saturday night? It took him 49 seconds to knock out the guy, and then Iron Mike claimed to have a broken back. Where is the Mike Tyson reality-TV show? Why can't this happen? The Reality Gods gave me Corey Feldman after I begged enough, why can't they give me Tyson? WHAT IN GOD'S NAME NEEDS TO BE DONE????????????)

9:02 -- The Dixie Chicks cover "Landslide." Wait a second ... the Smashing Pumpkins already covered this song. Shouldn't there be a rule that you can't cover a cover? Is that a re-cover? What happens when P. Diddy samples it for one of his crappy rap songs, does that make it a re-re-cover? I'm really annoyed.

(By the way, the Dixie Chicks are fascinating -- none of them are overwhelmingly cute, but all of them keep your interest, give you different looks and keep you guessing. It's the same dynamic that worked so well for Blair and Jo on "The Facts of Life" -- you weren't bowled over by them, but you also weren't ready to write them off, either. All right, I'm babbling.)

9:05 -- The Grammy for "Best Country Album" goes to ... the Dixie Chicks! Jeez, I can't believe it. The band that sings never ends up winning a Grammy within the next three minutes!

9:12 -- Local news promo of the night: "The rising number of female rapists, Monday at 11." Gotta love LA.

9:18 -- Quick timeout so I can enjoy Coldplay. Talk amongst yourselves.

9:29 -- Harvey Fierstein (in drag, and no, I'm not kidding) and Rod Stewart present the Best Comedy Album Grammy to Robin Williams, who comes up on stage and starts doing Robin Williams things. Boy, I wish Billy Joel was here, just so he could crash his Mercedes into everyone on stage right now.

Gloria James
"Bring it, Ann. You ain't got nothin' on me!"

9:34 -- Since I have nothing but good things to say about Avril Lavigne, here's my random sports tangent of the night, since this is supposed to be a sports column and all:

This weekend, my buddy Joe House and I were talking about Allen Iverson's mom, clearly one of the memorable sports parents of all-time, right up there with Richard Williams, Jim Pierce and Earl Woods. Remember, before Mama Iverson, NBA moms didn't wear their son's jerseys and make a general spectacle of themselves during games. Now LeBron James's mom is coming over the horizon, and she's taking things to a level that nobody's quite prepared for yet. So does this mean Mama Iverson raises her game, or does she just roll over and say, "You know what, I can't possibly compete with this?" More importantly, why isn't anyone talking about this? Mama Iverson vs. Mama LeBron could be the "Magic vs. Larry" of this generation. Reason No. 134 why I'm excited for the LeBron Era.

(Back to the Grammys.)

9:45 -- Hey, it's Nelly! It's gettin' hot in here ... so take off all your clothes ...

9:50 -- Our first anti-war comment of the night -- as well as the quote of the night, and possibly the year -- from the immortal Fred Durst: "I think we're all in agreeance that this war should go away as soon as possible."

(Right on, Fred. We're all in agreeance. And if things fall apart, I guess we're all headed to Bolivian.)

9:51 -- The Foo Fighters win the Grammy for "Best Hard Rock Performance," as well as the Grammy for "Most Songs that Sound Exactly the Same."

9:54 -- Wow! Prince sold out! Did you ever think you'd see the day when "Little Red Corvette" was used for a car commercial? Me neither. I'm speechless.

Robin Williams
"Mr. Williams, everyone left hours ago. Come on, we have to lock up."

9:58 -- Oh, boy. More Robin Williams. Cut his mike. Pull the fire alarm. Anything.

10:01 -- Here comes Springsteen with that song for the Verizon commercial that hasn't been sold to Verizon yet. Come on, join the Verizon ... come on, join the Verizon! Hey, if Prince can sell out, anything's possible.

(By the way, the fact that Little Stevie also plays Sylvio on the Sopranos ... that's one of the great "How the hell can that be the same guy?" phenomenons, right up there with Jeff Garcia playing Boggs The Rapist in "Shawshank Redemption," only in this case, it really was the same guy. Frankly, I can't think of anything that tops it.)

10:04 -- When you think about it, CBS's decision to shamelessly rip off CSI with "CSI: Miami" was vaguely reminiscent of ESPN shamelessly ripping off "PTI" with "Around the Horn," wasn't it? And yes, this paragraph has no chance of staying in unless my editors fall asleep.

10:06 -- Highlight of the night: Erykah Badu (with a giant afro) trying to read cue cards, screwing up, saying, "I knew I should have gone to rehearsal," as a horrified B.B. King looks on, inexplicably waving to the crowd, then finishing her cue card reading, but going one line too far and reading the word "APPLAUSE." Words can't possibly do that sequence justice. A solid 98 on the Unintentional Comedy Scale. I'm really enjoying myself tonight. Can you tell?

10:11 -- Allow me to be the 100,000th person to make the following joke: "You know, I liked this Tommy Lee Jones/Benecio Del Toro movie more the first time it came around ... when it was called 'First Blood.'"

10:16 --You have to love the Grammys for moments like this:

-- Kevin James: "It's so great to be here tonight with my man Ja Rule!"

--Ja Rule: "Holla!"

Erykah Badu
Congrats, you barely beat out P. Diddy for most illiterate presenter.

10:20 -- Going into a commercial, the CBS narrator just promoted, "An Eminem you never thought you would see." You mean, a happy Eminem? A friendly Eminem? A funny, witty Emimem? I'm dying to know.

10:28 -- After being honored by (a reunited) N'Sync with a medley of their songs, the remaining Bee Gees accept a Legend Grammy. Normally, it would be getting pretty dusty in here, but ... I mean, I just heard N'Sync sing a Bee Gees medley. I'm bleeding from both ears right now.

10:39 -- Eminem (singing the "8 Mile" song right now) has a drummer wearing a retro Randall Cunningham Eagles jersey. Good for him. It's about time someone paid tribute to the greatest video game QB of all-time (well, at least for the next few months, until "Madden 2004" comes out next summer and Michael Vick has a 130 rating). By the way, where's the Eminem I "never thought I would see"? Isn't this the same angry and crusty one?

10:45 -- Aretha Franklin (dressed like the Abominable Snowman) and Bonnie Raitt present Norah Jones with the Record of the Year. This isn't good. I want Norah Jones to stick around. It ain't happening if she keeps winning Grammys. Just take a look at Alicia Keys, Alanis Morrissette, Nelly Furtado, Lauren Hill ...

10:55 -- Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock sing a song together. Every year, the Grammys just throw two people together for no real reason. I think this is what happened here ... either that or someone lost a bet.

11:00 -- Cyndi Lauper and Alicia Keys present the "Best New Artist" Grammy to ... no, don't do it ... no ... don't jinx her ... no ... NO! Dammit! Norah Jones. It's over. She's done. You can almost see Alicia Keys giggling under her breath. Winning this award is like seeing the Blair Witch or getting traded from the Cavaliers -- you're never the same afterwards. Just for the record, we're all getting tired of hearing that "Don't Know Why" song tonight.

11:04 -- Now CBS is calling Monday, "Big Fat Greek Monday." I wasn't planning on tuning in, but now, you know, it's Big Fat Greek Monday and all. I guess we all have to stop by.

11:11 -- The President of the Grammys (looking just like Mr. Keaton from "Family Ties") introduces the "Here's who died this year" montage. Disappointing amount of applause for Jam Master Jay. You know, one of the worst things about being dead would be not getting enough applause in a "Here's who died this year" montage. That would really push me over the edge. I'd have to start haunting places and stuff.

Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello
We love you Boss, but what's with the super-close mic sharing thing?

11:14 -- Springsteen, Costello, Grohl and Little Stevie sing "London Calling" in honor of the late Clash singer. Very cool. This show has been a solid A-minus, although we desperately needed at least one "Wow, what a harlot!" moment with the usual suspects (Pink, Aguilera, Spears, Mariah, etc.). And where was a whacked-out Whitney Houston? Or a random Michael Jackson appearance? They should have told him that the youngest Culkin brother was coming, he might have shown up.

11:25 -- This year's candidates for Album of the Year: Eminem, Norah Jones, Nelly, Springsteen, and the Dixie Chicks. Is there any doubt?

11:26 -- Yup, Norah Jones. That's No. 5. And she managed to give another thoughtful speech. Well done. Let's hope she has some legs. As for everything else, this was an especially good Grammys show. I think we're all in agreeance.

11:29 -- Peter Gabriel's father comes out to close out the telecast.

(Hey, wait a second ...)

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, as well as one of the writers for "Jimmy Kimmel Live." He'll be posting an NBA column later this week for Page 2.