DURING the Grammy awards ceremony Tuesday evening,...


DURING the Grammy awards ceremony Tuesday evening, one of moderator Whoopi Goldberg's not-quite-successful attempts at humor involved greetings to the peoples of the former Soviet Union, to whom the broadcast was beamed live for the first time.

"Hello, Estonia," chirped Goldberg. "Yo, Latvia. How's it hanging, Ukraine? Welcome to capitalism . . . now go out and buy those records!"

The suffering peoples of the captive nations may be forgiven for asking themselves if this was really what they went to so much trouble to topple communism for. The Grammy awards gave new meaning to hackneyed slogans about the "decadent West."

Granted, the awards are supposed to be self-congratulatory bashes for music business insiders. The whole idea is to hype new "artists" in order to sell records. But even people who normally accept the convenient fiction that the Grammys are also important cultural events were embarrassed this year by the gap between anything that remotely could be called genuine artistic achievement and the bottom-line commercial success that the record industry seems to regard as its functional equivalent.

We liked Natalie Cole and her "Unforgettable" album as much as anyone. But when a 40-year-old tune comes to seem like the most original effort of the year, you have to wonder at the seemingly inexhaustible reserves of mediocrity, tendentiousness and schlock that must characterize the majority of what the record industry produced last year.

If this isn't evidence of the Decline of the West, we don't know what is. And if it doesn't give the former captive nations pause concerning the benefits of capitalism, we don't know what will. Unless, of course, they're willing to wait for the Oscar ceremonies later this year.

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