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John Mayer was flying ‘under the radar’ before his first Grammy win

He said the first thing he’d do if he won was check his voicemails.

In 2003, John Mayer said he couldn't wait

In 2003, John Mayer said he couldn't wait to take a cab home from the Grammys. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Scott Gries

Editor’s note: This article originally ran in Newsday on Feb. 23, 2003, when the Grammys last hit Madison Square Garden after a four-year absence. The ceremony returns to the city 15 years later on Sunday with James Corden as host.

At the Grammy nomination ceremony last month, John Mayer wasn’t exactly dressed to impress. He showed up in Madison Square Garden wearing a faded, ratty T-shirt and rumpled pants, and his curly hair looked like it only recently left the pillow.

This is part of the Mayer appeal: sexy, earthy, youthful. It’s working: His first major-label release, “Room for Squares,” has sold more than a million copies since its release in June 2001. The album has also produced a bona fide radio hit, “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” a coyly risqué ballad that appeals equally to adult contemporary listeners and the “Dawson’s Creek” crowd. Topping off the year for Mayer: two Grammy nominations, for best male pop vocal performance and best new artist. Mayer spoke with Newsday’s Rafer Guzman at the Grammy nomination ceremony in January.

How do you feel about the nominations?

I like the idea that I was making music under the radar. You don’t have to be above the line of sight to make music. And I like the idea that I’ve had time to figure out, number one, what kind of artist I want to be. And time to figure out how I want to handle my career and my life before the spotlight was turned on me. I feel like today might be the day that it’s turned the brightest on me. I’m glad that I’ve had the time I’ve had to think about what I want to be, so when a day like this comes along, I know how to handle it.

What does the Grammy mean to you in terms of artistry?

It’s kind of like the archetype for all awards. It’s almost kind of dropped out of the sky — you don’t imagine it being a board. It’s like it has a life of its own. Anybody who says they don’t want a Grammy isn’t telling the truth.

What’s going to the best thing about the Grammys being in New York [where Mayer recently moved to from Atlanta]?

That I can take a cab home. I live in New York City now, and I can take my scarf off and maybe put Grammys on the mantel — maybe not — but at least still have the ringing in my ears while I’m in my own bed.

Who else are you rooting for?

Norah Jones. When I heard Norah’s record — honestly, the language I spoke in my own head was, “I’m not alone.” There’s someone out there that I can have a community with. She came out on the road,[on tour with Mayer] and every time I see her and we’re in the same city, it’s nice to share a musical mentality with somebody.

Who will you call first if you win?

I’ll probably check voicemail: “You have 44 new messages.” But before I get to hear them, I’m going to hear all the saved ones that come back every 15 days.

With the music industry hurting these days, why does music still matter?

My mom used to tell me, “The economy’s going to crash and people aren’t going to buy CDs.” Like, people will buy CDs before they buy food. It’s a necessity that runs pretty deep. People always want music as a mirror for who they might be, who they were, who they are but don’t know. And people need that. I need it. And I need to do it for me.

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