(An annual tradition. Warning: No real political content here, and nothing new except the details. Updated and lightly edited from the last years' complaints. Rant follows:)
The new Kennedy Center Honors list is out. Now, granted, there's no reason anyone should care about the Kennedy Center Honors, but nevertheless...
This year's popular music honorees are Carlos Santana, who I suppose is fine, and...no, can't be. Not Billy Joel? Yup. Billy Joel. That makes three years running that I can't even start my rant properly, because instead of it being Paul McCartney (2010) or Bruce Springsteen (2009) it's been Neil Goddawful Diamond, non-Americans Led Zep, and Billy Even More Goddawful Joel.
I mean, you can't really argue with McCartney or Springsteen, both obviously deserving, as were Diana Ross in 2007, Smokey Robinson in 2006, and Tina Turner in 2005. That's fine; they were making their way through the 1960s and 1970s, but it's clear they're just going to keep doing that well beyond reason. And even so, Neil Diamond and Billy Joel over Carol King is still nuts. But, you know, the Honors started with the artists from 1960s in the mid-90s, putting in Aretha about thirty years after her first hit; it's been more than over 30 years since Prince's first album, and 36 since Talking Heads '77. To put it another way: with the two exceptions below, the Kennedy Center Honors for rock music has still, in 2013, only honored people whose careers began after 1960 and before 1975. To put it yet another way: Ella Fitzgerald was the first (primarily) recording artist to receive the Honors, in 1979. She was 62. Debbie Harry is 68 today. Can we ever break that 1975 barrier? But all that is a distraction from the main point of this rant.
Here's the list of original rock'n'rollers who have received the Kennedy Center Honors:
That's it. Now, it can't be helped that Buddy Holly died long ago, and that Elvis Presley was gone just before the Honors opened for business in 1978 (and long before they noticed rock-era performers with Charles in 1986). Fine. But: notice anyone missing?
Where's Little Richard?
(For that matter, where's Fats Domino? Jerry Lee Lewis? If Perry Como rates...well, granted, if Perry Como rates, why not the Everly Brothers, Danny & the Juniors, and plenty of others, but still, Fats Domino and the Killer are pretty damn important).
I have no inside information here; I suppose it wouldn't shock me if they had offered it to Little Richard and he turned them down flat. But I've been following this for well over a decade, and there's never been any reporting to that effect, and he showed up in 1993 and 2000, apparently, to take part in the festivities for others.
Little Richard is a more important figure in American culture than Diana Ross, Paul Simon, Elton John, or Tina Turner...I hardly even have to mention Neil Diamond or Led Zeppelin, do I? Billy Joel? C'mon; has he had any influence at all? Or even, as much as I think he's great, Smokey Robinson. He wasn't greater than the other rock-era nominees (Bob Dylan, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and the Who), but he certainly preceded them. Paul McCartney? Without Little Richard, there's no "I'm Down", no "I Saw Her Standing There", no "Oh! Darling." In the comments last year, I asserted that If I was to try to make a list of the ten most influential singers of the recorded music era, I'd probably say there are about five real obvious ones (Crosby, Armstrong, Sinatra, Elvis, Ella) and then you can start getting into fights, but Little Richard is to me at least very much part of the conversation after those five, right?
I mean, I'm not asking them to celebrate the careers of Bob Mould or KRS-One or Andy Partridge. This is Little Richard. C'mon! What's the hold up?!?