The Kennedy Center Honors aired on CBS last night. Four years ago when the remaining members of The Who were honored alongside Barbra Streisand, Pete Townsend observed that such an honor for a rock ‘n’ roll band was proof that the music once associated with youthful rebellion was dead. This year, with Led Zeppelin being honored, sharing a box with the president and first lady, we know it’s buried. Rock ‘n’ roll is for the old folks now. Why else would it be so popular on PBS which in recent years has been airing those Best of Ed Sullivan compilations featuring the original appearances of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and even the belated TV premiere of the Stones’ 1968 Rock and Roll Circus, during their pledge drives? These days, Mick Jagger and company fit in very nicely beside those reruns of The Lawrence Welk Show that also air on public television.
The now grizzled trio of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones (drummer John Bonham died in true rock ‘n’ roll style, choking to death on his vomit, in 1980) were not the only unlikely honorees. David Letterman, whose late night talk show was almost as subversive as the best rock music, at least during its original incarnation on NBC, also took bows from the Kennedy Center’s balcony. Clearly, there’s no such thing as a counterculture anymore, not when the president of the United States supports gay marriage and certainly not when the Kennedy Center rolls out the welcome mat for Led Zep and Letterman. At least rock ‘n’ roll had a longer run than rap. Yeah, rap is still around, still popular, but its outlaw image started to fade around the time Ice T joined the cast of Law and Order as a cop, and Ice Cube started making dopey family movies. Now you’ve got LL Cool J hosting the Grammys and also wearing a badge on another prime time cop show. Is all this respectability a good thing? Is this bad? It is what it is, I guess. I don’t know.
Dustin Hoffman and Buddy Guy were also honored, along with Natalia Makarova, a ballerina. You gotta have a ballerina or an opera singer on the Kennedy Center Honors. You gotta have “prestige,” you know, and you gotta give viewers a chance to go to the bathroom or grab a snack without missing the good stuff.
© 2012 Brian W. Fairbanks
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