Category Archives: Kennedy Center Honors

Kennedy Center Honors

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I am a sucker for the Kennedy Center Honors. This is the 32nd year, and I’ve been following them since practically the beginning. The difference is that in the early days, the performers were sometimes names I knew, though often not, and even the people I recognized, I had not really sampled their works.

This year, as last four out of the five awardees are rather familiar to me.

Writer, composer, actor, director, and producer Mel Brooks

I have always HEARD of Mel Brooks, from the early days of television, from Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, which started before I was born, to creating the series Get Smart in the mid-1960s and the Robin Hood spoof When Things Were Rotten in the mid-1970s.

But it is his writing/producing/directing movies for which I know him.
The Producers (1968) -long before the musical, or the movie of the musical, there was the movie about making money by seemingly losing money. One of the funniest things I ever saw is when the audience is slackjawed after hearing “Springtime for Hitler”, which Brooks not only wrote but sang. There was a 2001 interview on 60 Minutes, which I saw at the time, where he describes his feelings about Hitler:
Hitler was part of this incredible idea that you could put Jews in concentration camps and kill them. And how do you get even? How do you get even with the man? How do you get even with him? There’s only one way to get even. You have to bring him down with ridicule. Because if you stand on a soapbox and you match him with rhetoric, you’re just as bad as he is. But if you can make people laugh at him, then you’re one up on him. And it’s been one of my lifelong jobs has been to make the
world laugh at Adolf Hitler.

That he succeeded is a great understatement.
Blazing Saddles (1974): it’s pretty funny, though it has no suitable ending.
Young Frankenstein (1974): one of the funniest films ever made. I literally fell out of my seat when I saw this in the movie theater; good thing I had an aisle seat.
Silent Movie (1976); High Anxiety (1977) – both funnier in concept than in execution
History of the World: Part I (1981) – few movies I’ve enjoyed less than this. The chief redeeming quality, and it comes near the end: Hitler on ice skates.
Other items of his I saw: My Favorite Year (1982), which he executive produced, and the TV show Mad About You in the late 1990s, where he played Uncle Phil.
Sommeday, I’ll see The Producers on stage.

Pianist and composer Dave Brubeck.

The only CD I own is Time Out (1960), but I have some Brubeck on vinyl. I know I have Time Further Out (1961), which has music in just about every time signature imaginable. I have My Favorite Things (1966). I’ve given out his greatest hits album to people who don’t know him, saying, “You need to know this guy.”
He turned 89 this month and is STILL playing on tour. I was playing Time Out earlier this month and someone visiting my house said, “What’s the name of that song?” It was Take Five. Coincidentally, my buddy Steve Bissette linked to it this month.

Opera singer Grace Bumbry

OK, here’s the hole in my wisdom. I’d heard the name, but I just don’t know opera.

Actor, director, and producer Robert De Niro

I need to go back and see some of his performances from the 1970s; actually a whole bunch of his films, now that I look at the list. But these I definitely did see:
Raging Bull (1980)
The King of Comedy (1982)
Goodfellas (1990)
Stanley & Iris (1990)
Awakenings (1990)
Cape Fear (1991)
Wag the Dog (1997)
Jackie Brown (1997)
Analyze This (1999)
Meet the Parents (2000)
But it’s his work with the Tribeca Film Festival which may be his lasting legacy.
The Tribeca Film Festival was founded in 2002 by Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro and Craig Hatkoff in a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the consequent loss of vitality in the TriBeCa neighborhood in Manhattan.

The mission of the film festival is “to enable the international film community and the general public to experience the power of film by redefining the film festival experience.” The Tribeca Film Festival was founded to celebrate New York City as a major filmmaking center and to contribute to the long-term recovery of lower Manhattan.

Singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen.

I had this office mate around whom one was not allowed to play Bruce Springsteen music; apparently, it had to do with a broken relationship. Conversely, I had an old girlfriend who was pretty much obsessed with “the Boss.” Which reminds me of that joke on Saturday Night Live a couple weeks ago, about Obama being the President, but
Springsteen being the Boss; so Springsteen ordered all the troops home from Afghanistan.

I noted here my Springsteen discography. Add the 2009 Working On A Dream CD to that and the er, unauthorized record
ings someone sent me

Plus he shows up as songwriter/producer for many other artists’ music I own such as Gary “U.S.” Bonds and Southside Johnny & the Asbury Dukes, not to mention his rendition of Merry Christmas Baby on the very first A Very Special Christmas.

Oh, and I got to see him this year, for the very first time.

The Kennedy Center Honors medallions [were] presented on Saturday, December 5, the night before the gala, at a State Department dinner hosted by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton…The Honors Gala will be recorded for broadcast on the CBS Network for the 32nd consecutive year as a two-hour primetime special on Tuesday, December 29 at 9:00 p.m. (ET/PT).


The Kennedy Center Honors, Part 2

More on the Kennedy Center Honors that took place on December 2 and is airing on CBS on Wednesday, December 26 at 9 pm EST.

I was afraid the Kennedy Center might treat Brian Wilson as some has-been of the 1960s, but it appears not to be so, as they cite his more recent works as well as his classic Beach Boys songs.

It’s odd that I never owned a Beach Boys album until Pet Sounds, which is my favorite . But once I got into the group, I did so in as major way. I’ve probably repurchased more Beach Boys music (vinyl to CD) than any group save for the Beatles. I now own, in one form or another:
Beach Boys Concert (32:03) (r. 19th October 1964)
Christmas Album (27:32) (r. November 1964)
Pet Sounds (35:39) (r. 16th May 1966)
Smiley Smile (27:00) (r. 5th September 1967)
Wild Honey (23:55) (r. 4th December 1967)
Friends (24:57) (c. 6th July 1968)
20/20 (29:33) (c. 1st March 1969)
Sunflower (36:10) (r. 31st August 1970)
Surf’s Up (32:59) (r. August 1971) – my second-favorite album
Carl and The Passions – So Tough (33:47) (r. 14th May 1972)
Holland (35:49+11:57=47:46) (r. 8th January 1973) this I have on vinyl with the story on a separate disc.
15 Big Ones (37:51) (r. June 1976)
Love You (33:40) (r. March 1977)
This doesn’t count a number of compilations, from a pair of double LPs in the early 1970s to the box set in the 1990s. The fifth CD in the box set has a 9-minute, “in process” version of “God Only Knows”, the last three minutes of which begs to be released as a single. The box set was actually a present to a friend, which I got back after she died.

Of Brian’s solo discography, I have:
Brian Wilson, 1988
Imagination, 1998
Gettin’ In Over My Head, 2004
SMiLE, 2004
What I Really Want For Christmas, 2005

The final artist to be honored is Diana Ross, or as the announcer puts it on a box set called The Motown Story, “Miss Diana Ross.”

There were LOTS of Supremes albums at my house when I grew up. Of this list, we had all of them in the 1962-1967 section except the Christmas album. When the group became Diana Ross and the Supremes, I still got a number of the albums; from that section, all except Funny Girl, Cream of the Crop, Greatest Hits 3 and Farewell.

But after her first two solo albums, I was disinclined to buy any more. I think, like many of the Motown artists, I resented how Berry Gordy pushed her to the fore. According to the December 5 Wall Street Journal, the main character in the new movie Juno wants people to know that her name came not from the capital of Alaska but from Zeus’s wife. (“She was supposed to be really beautiful but really mean, like Diana Ross.”)

Not that I was unaware of Miss Ross. Her version of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough was the backdrop to some Black History Month assembly in 1971. Certainly I heard the hits such as Love Hangover and Upside Down. I heard Endless Love endlessly. I still have a visual of her singing in a thunder storm in Central Park.

But the bulk of her solo work eluded me. So, while I was (allegedly) doing Christmas shopping for others a couple weeks ago, I was compelled to buy The Definitive Collection Somehow, I managed to miss the anthemic “I’m Coming Out” and a number of other songs. As it’s likely my only DR on CD, matching my Supremes CD greatest hits compilation as the lone digital representation in my collection, I’m actually glad to have it.


Kennedy Center Honors, Part 1

The Martin edition.

The Kennedy Center Honors took place on December 2. Increasingly, the honorees are very much familiar to me. This year is no exception, with four of the five artists. The show airs on CBS on Wednesday, December 26 at 9 pm EST, and I WILL watch (or more accurately, record to watch at a later time.)

The person with whom I am least familiar is also the oldest. Leon Fleisher was a fine pianist who lost the use of his right hand, but helped developed a left-hand repertoire. I recall seeing a television program on that phenomenon. Here’s a recollection by a former neighbor.

I’ve seen a number of movies by Martin Scorcese, including
Cape Fear (1991)
The Color of Money (1986)
The King of Comedy (1983)
Raging Bull (1980)
The Last Waltz (1978)
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
and also
No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005)
“The Blues” – Feel Like Going Home (2003) TV episode
But I’ve managed to miss some of his best-known films:
The Departed (2006) – not a surprise lately
Gangs of New York (2002) – got a mixed feel from the reviews
Kundun (1997) – possibly one of a couple movies of that year I missed
Casino (1995)
Goodfellas (1990) – I actually saw a good chunk of this on TV, but not enough to count
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) – and I really wanted to
Taxi Driver (1976) – have long been wary of it
Mean Streets (1973) – don’t think it played where I went to college and it just didn’t happen
This coming year, I’ll promise to see at least one of these films.

Even before I really knew who he really was, I was enjoying the work of Steve Martin. As a writer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour – a show I watched religiously – he won an Emmy, along with the rest of the writing staff, in 1969. I recall seeing him in sketches, and playing banjo on skits on that show, and the shows of Glen Campbell, Sonny and Cher, and yes, Ken Berry.
Of course, like most of America, I really got to know him from his wild and crazy appearances on Saturday Night Live. He had a hit single, King Tut, which I have on one of those Dr. Demento albums. I even have one of his LPs
However, I know him best from the movies. Here’s a list of the ones I’ve seen:
The Out-of-Towners (1999)
The Spanish Prisoner (1997) great role
Father of the Bride Part II (1995)
Leap of Faith (1992) I recall really liking his evangelist character
HouseSitter (1992)
Grand Canyon (1991) His character has one of the best lines about movies in film history: “That’s part of your problem: you haven’t seen enough movies. All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.”
Father of the Bride (1991)
L.A. Story (1991)
Parenthood (1989)
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) I have a peculiar affection for this movie
Roxanne (1987) I haven’t seen it since, but I had a great affection for this movie at the time; wonder if it holds up?
All of Me (1984) I thought the scene in which the Lily Tomlin character takes over his body was hilarious; again, a movie I haven’t seen since
The Muppet Movie (1979)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)
I’ve seen large chunks of The Jerk (1979)
Currently, the screenwriter and playwright – there was a play he wrote at Cap Rep, which I unfortunately missed – has his autobiography on the best seller list; here are reviews by Jaquandor and Gordon, which seem to be consistent with most observations that the book is NOT a laugh riot. My favorite book title of his, though, is one he did with fellow New Yorker magazine contributor, cartoonist Roz Chast: The Alphabet from A to Y With Bonus Letter Z! Sounds like a book I could enjoy while pretending to give it to my daughter.

I received a mixed Christmas CD recently, and the last cut is…strange. Reportedly, one night late in 1979, Steve Martin, Paul Simon, and Billy Joel all ran into one another while out on the town drinking, and spontaneously decided to go into a studio and record a holiday tune. So they did, with Steve adlibbing the monolog portion.
Then they all sobered up and decided not to release it–but undoubtedly some engineer slipped a bootleg copy out on the sly, and ended up on this disc. I’m assured this story is true. The tale is as much of a hoot as the tune.