The Kennedy Center Honors

And the winner is…


With an honorable mention to Bob Seger, but his performance had so much more gravitas at the Glenn Frey memorial at the Forum, an insider affair that got no publicity but was the highlight of the year, because when it comes to rock and roll, it’s a club, and the public only gets glimpses, that’s part of its magic.

And speaking of magic… If you weren’t touched by the President singing along to “Fire and Rain” or the many imitations/quotations of Al Pacinoisms in the culture, you’re not an American.

But the truth is you are.

How did we get here? Where money means everything and artists are second class citizens, bitching about getting paid and playing to the man?

It didn’t used to be this way, and it won’t be this way for long, because the truth is, America runs on art. All the rest is just trappings. You make bank so…you can go on StubHub and overpay to sit in the front row at the show. You go home after a long day and you fire up Netflix or HBO for soul-fulfilling sustenance. It’s those who hang it out the farthest who we revere, but too many are not hanging it out at all, or if they are, they keep telling us about it when any true artist knows you let the work speak for itself.

Now the problem with this extravaganza is it’s a television show. It’s got to hit all the notes, even showing Les Moonves and his wife on camera, as if they were stars who deserve attention. Didn’t Tommy Mottola kill this paradigm in the nineties? The suits belong in the back row, they should be thrilled to be inside the building, but too often today they think they’re the artist, that they’re responsible, and that’s just plain wrong.

Having Hootie (and yes, I know his name is Darius Rucker) sing James Taylor is like hiring the Backstreet Boys to sing Prince. Huh? Come on, he was the only one available?

But no, they needed someone of color. They needed a woman singing. But sometimes the best person for the job is the one who was there when it all went down. Like Seger. This is a show for old farts, why don’t you let the old farts play, the kids don’t care anyway. But no, the producers have to skew young. Kings Of Leon doing “Take It Easy” was akin to getting Jana Kramer to fete Patsy Cline. Come on, at least the backup band in the JT tribute featured Kootch and Leland Sklar. Let the old folks shine, their time is almost done.

Like watching Pacino in all those movies. Before videotape, when you had to go to the theatre to be in the know and we did. It was a national religion, going to the flicks, and it all wasn’t blockbusters, then again, “Star Wars” and “The Towering Inferno” sounded the death knell for the movie business. Because when big bucks are available, why go for the small ones? Don’t tell the record label you can make them a hundred thousand, they’re not interested, but ten million? They’d rather lose seven figures in pursuit, or die tryin’.


James Taylor has been hiding in plain sight. Funny how they’re here and then they’re gone. You can see him every summer. But at some point he’ll exit this mortal coil and that drive from Stockbridge to Boston will be damn near unbearable, because of the tears in my eyes.

And so many of the song choices on this show were lame. They’re being feted for their talent, at least use the songs they wrote, they’ve got plenty of hits. I mean come on, “How Sweet It Is”? Sing that when you induct Marvin Gaye. Or Holland/Dozier/Holland. Sure, it was a hit, sure, the public knows it, but how about something with gravitas, James Taylor’s specialty. This is your moment to shine, to deliver, can’t you take a risk?

But I was happy to hear Garth Brooks sing “Shower The People”…

The President didn’t know this one, nor did most in attendance, they were not singing along, but to those scoring at home, who know this number, this was a highlight.

You can play the game
And you can act out the part
Though you know it wasn’t written for you

This is the national scourge, people living according to their head, not their heart. All this derision of arts majors. Hell, I majored in art. We need people to soothe our souls, something an engineer can’t do, certainly not a banker.

You can run but you cannot hide
This is widely known
And what you plan to do with your foolish pride
When you’re all by yourself alone

Everybody’s fake, artifice rules. Try being the real you, you’ll be stunned at the results.

Once you tell somebody the way that you feel
You can feel it beginning to ease
I think it’s true what they say about the squeaky wheel
Always getting the grease

The world runs on communication. Which works best with honesty. Speak your truth, be vulnerable, the response will overwhelm you. We’re just people and we’re looking to connect, we’ll accept you, flaws and all, if you just let us know how you truly feel.

As for Mavis Staples…

I saw her open for Bonnie Raitt and she closed me, she’s still got it.

And the video package showing the stadium gig with her singing “Respect Yourself,” and the interactions with Martin Luther King… You don’t do it for the adulation, you don’t do it for the money, you do it because you have something to say, you need to stand for something.

And Elle King stood for taking advantage of her moment.

Most of the performers were going through the motions, just another gig on the endless road. But Elle knew this was her only chance, to triumph on a national stage.


She reached down deep and gave it everything she’s got. And you couldn’t help but watch her. She doesn’t look like a model, but she’s more desirable than any of the stringbeans. Because she’s got the music in her. Kiki Dee had that one right.

People forget that it’s called “show business.” Performance is a key element. If you can’t rise to the occasion, if you can’t win us over, if you can’t get us into the palm of your hand, practice a ton more or get out of the way.

As for Martha Argerich…

I had no idea who she was.

But her passion and dedication impressed me. Not everybody gets to play in the stadium. You think it’s about worldwide domination, but really, it’s about appealing to a tribe. Better to win small than place or show in the arena. Because people know, word spreads, and you get honored, as Ms. Argerich was here.

And then came Eagles.

They called them “The Eagles,” which Henley hates, but he wasn’t in control, it wasn’t his show.

And the truth is the Eagles, pardon me, were Glenn Frey’s show. Henley wouldn’t have made it without him. Glenn had the vision, the drive, he was the coach, and now he’s gone. Oh, he had a very good ride, but it ended too soon.

So, you’ve got three old men sitting there waiting to be impressed and…

Oh, the tales these guys could tell. From back when rock was king, when music ruled the world, when everything in the rock star handbook was codified. Believe me, CEOs don’t want to be Pitbull, they want to be Don Henley or Glenn Frey or Joe Walsh… Going from town to town, getting high, getting laid, as their manager trails with hundred dollar bills to make sure any faux pas is made right. Furthermore, there were no cameras, it was your word versus theirs.

And Henley tells the tale of being deep in the wilderness and having a native point at him and say HOTEL CALIFORNIA! Believe me, that’s more powerful than anything Donald Trump has ever done. Write the right song and you’re immortal.

Like “Take It Easy”…

Kings Of Leon, ugh.

But even worse was Juanes doing “Hotel California. Why don’t you get Timothy B. Schmit to sing at the Latin Grammys? No, that wouldn’t do, Timothy B. has got too good a voice!

Fun to see the interplay between Steuart Smith and Steve Vai, but the producers took all the air out of the number. This was an epoch-defining track. They made it a ditty.

As for the finale of “Life In The Fast Lane”…

It resembled nothing so much as one of those Grammy telecast ending clusterf….. Give me one star, not ten. Give me one Elle King, not a parade of people who’ve got nothing at risk.

And, let’s not forget Vince Gill… Whose curious performance nailed it, but was sans gesticulation. Maybe Gill is on his way to being a national treasure, albeit one who is overexposed, but I’ve got to give him credit here, his performance worked.

But not as much as Bob Seger’s.

Seger was the only genuine star on the stage. Sure, Bonnie Raitt was there, but we see her all the time. But Seger??? His manager even keeps him off the internet! So when he shows up…

Now the song that should have been sung was “Desperado,” but still…

The overhead shot of the assembled multitude clapping in unison showed not only the power of the Eagles, but the power of MUSIC! To reach us, to unite us, to elate us, to make life worth living.

But that song was written in a different era. When rock stars were kings, as rich as anybody in America, and lived without limits. As for sponsors… The Eagles still don’t have any sponsors, they’ve yet to sell out, and they own the biggest selling album of all time!

Think about that.

Glenn Frey did. It was part of the master plan he delineated all night long to Don Henley in that Washington, D.C. hotel room, waiting for Linda Ronstadt’s opening club gig.

Now I don’t want to sound like the Nazi in the “Producers,” saying this show was not rock and roll…


Rock and roll is a state of mind, an attitude, something you experience not only at the show, but running down the road with the wind in your hair with your favorite song blasting out of the dashboard, with maybe a Deadhead sticker on the bumper.

But now it’s a Prius, not a Cadillac.

And so many of the younger generation don’t own automobiles at all.

But they know greatness when they see it.

This Kennedy Center Honors telecast was not great. Because they did not shoot high enough, they did not take enough risks, by playing to everybody you miss out connecting with the individual.

But the people they honored?

Paragons of limit-testing. None of them played it safe and all of them won.

Let them be a beacon to you.

Because unless you’re willing to risk everything…

You’re gonna get nothing.

Do you know what it’s like to show up at the Troubadour as an unknown, to try and establish a career out of whole cloth?

Gettin’ robbed
Gettin’ stoned
Gettin’ beat up
Broken boned
Gettin’ had
Gettin’ took
I tell you folks
It’s harder than it looks

That’s right, it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n roll.

And the guy who sang those words didn’t make it.

And Glenn Frey is gone. And the aforementioned Marvin Gaye too.

But when we put on their records…

We go to Carolina in our minds with a tequila sunrise in our hand and if you listen to the music…

It’ll take you there.

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