Friday, July 17, 2015

Kennedy Center Honors 2015: Some Thoughts

There are many things about this year's Kennedy Center Honors that surprised me.  The first is that the actual announcement itself was this week.

Traditionally, the KCH are announced after Labor Day, which is when I was expecting them.  Therefore, imagine my surprise to see the announcement on the same day as the Emmy Award nominations (as a side note, I won't be watching the Emmys because I have never seen an episode of any of the nominees for Outstanding Comedy OR Drama this year. I have seen episodes of Downton Abbey and Parks & Rec, but that was years ago.  That and the fact that The Americans, Bates Motel, Elementary, and Gotham, all good shows, were practically ignored.  When Gotham can't muster a cinematography nomination, then the Emmys stop being serious).   The announcements of the KCH this year took me by complete surprise.

The second surprise was that, in a rarity, I don't have much of an argument with at least four out of the six honorees.  That actually can count as a surprise in an of itself: traditionally, there are only five honorees per year (unless they are a duo or group, like Lerner & Lowe, Kander & Ebb, or, for some reason never made clear to me, Led Zeppelin).  Why they went for six honorees this year I don't know.

However, as I was saying I think the majority of the honorees this year are excellent.  We really have an extraordinary multicultural group here: one Hispanic, one Asian, one African-American...and a bunch of white people.  That is progress, particularly because a.) those minority honorees are extremely deserving of recognition, and b.) their talent, not their ethnicity or gender, puts them in the pantheon of great artists.

As someone who has been pushing for at least two years to get Rita Moreno recognized, I'm thrilled for her.  Perhaps this was a response to the criticism (which has some merit) that Hispanics were getting overlooked over the likes of Oprah Winfrey (still among the worst choices for the KCH).  There was Placido Domingo, there was Chita Rivera, and after the infamous 'go f*** yourself' reply from the Kennedy Center to Hispanic groups who raised their concern, there was Martina Arroyo and Carlos Santana.  Now, all of them I think are worthy of recognition regardless of their ethnicity, but no case could be made why Moreno, one of the EGOT winners, was constantly shut out. 

Her recognition was long overdue.  I think that with the exception of Carole King (whose name had been bandied about for some time), the others are a bit of a surprise.  I think rather pleasant surprises.  Cicely Tyson has been a trailblazer for African-American woman, and given that she's 90 (!) and still working, my hat goes off to her.   It would in any circumstance.

Seiji Ozawa is another wonderful surprise.  This is in the traditional "one classical artist" slot the KCH has been selecting, someone from the more traditional arts like ballet, opera, and in Ozawa's case, symphonic conducting.  In fact, Ozawa is the first conductor to be honored in nine years since Zubin Mehta (who like Ozawa, is Asian, albeit Mehta is Indian and Ozawa Japanese).  Yes, Leon Fleischer is a conductor as well, but I put him more as a pianist.

Another great thing about this year's roster is that, discounting The Eagles, the average age of the honorees is 79 (King: 73, George Lucas: 71, Moreno: 83, Ozawa: 80, Tyson: 90).  Compare that to last year, when the average age was 67 (incidentally, around the same age as all The Eagles).  As a side note, this year's honorees average age is around the exact age average from the first KCH (which was 80).  Maybe things are getting back on track with the Kennedy Center Honors.

If only this were a perfect list.  There are two honorees which I have some problems with.  First, George Lucas' inclusion, to me, is a bit puzzling.  Yes, I love Star Wars as much as anyone (though am one of the few people with no interest in the next batch of sequels and standalone films).  However, he's directed only six films in his career (and the last three were the generally awful Star Wars prequels, yes, I said it: Phantom Menace was crap, Attack of the Clones less crappy, and Revenge of the Sith the least crappy but still not as good as the first three...of which he directed only the first).  He also gave us Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which I don't think helps his case for honoring any (though I'd love to see someone perform the title theme to Howard the Duck in his tribute).

Think they'll show clips from The Star Wars Holiday Special?

Then there is The Eagles.  Again, I love The Eagles, but here we have yet another rock group being honored.  As much as I like Joe Walsh, you really think he's along the same lines as Richard Rodgers?  I wouldn't have a problem if they honored the duo of Don Henley and Glenn Frey, but the whole group?  Ah, what is it with the Kennedy Center Honors and rock groups? 

I'm also curious whether the hits the members produced independent of The Eagles will get recognized.  Technically, Henley is responsible for The Boys of Summer and Frey responsible for The Heat is On among other hits.  Could you really play them when they weren't the collective work of The Eagles.

Minus Lucas and The Eagles, both of which I question but won't get in an uproar over, this year's list of Kennedy Center Honors recipients is as good a list as I've seen in a while.

Congrats to all the honorees, and I look forward to the show.  I do hope next year though, we include others, like Gene Hackman, The Betty White, Christopher Parkening, Bernadette Peters, and/or Philip Glass.  All of whom I'd honor before The Eagles...

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