Outbossing The Boss

If you’re not familiar with the Kennedy Center honors, you’re missing an event that’s really quite special.

Every year the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. honors people in the performing arts for their special achievements and contribution to American culture. Among the honorees are actors and comedians and movie-makers, but the stars of the events and the television broadcasts that present them are the musicians. After a brief narrative of the honoree’s career, performers come on stage to recreate some of the featured artist’s most beloved work.

If you want a good cry, listen to (and watch) Garth Brooks sing Billy Joel’s “Goodnight, Saigon.” Also great: watch Steven Tyler sing “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” or watch how thrilled Paul McCartney is when James Taylor is introduced to sing “Let it Be” or watch what The Curmudgeon finds to be the astonishing spectacle of the great soprano Martina Arroyo mouthing the words to Joel’s “New York State of Mind” or see Robert Plant get all moist in the eyes as Heart does surprising justice to “Stairway to Heaven,” a song no one else should even try. There’s a treasure trove of rewarding viewing on the Kennedy Center’s own YouTube channel, which you can find here. If you’re like The Curmudgeon, you’ll enjoy them and find yourself watching some of the clips over and over again as you reflect on some of the great music those of us of a certain age have been privileged to enjoy.

In 2009 the Kennedy Center honored Bruce Springsteen. Melissa Etheridge does justice to “Born to Run,” another one of those songs that no one else should try to sing, but for The Curmudgeon’s money, the highlight of the event was a surprise: John Mellencamp singing “Born in the USA.” Springsteen has always regretted how that song has been misinterpreted and used by others to make statements he never intended, but Mellencamp comes onto the stage with that cocky little strut of his and rights that wrong: he’s listened to the song, embraced its core, and performs it in a way that makes it all clear and unambiguous – especially the first 2:25. In so doing, he outbosses the Boss. Even Bruce seems moved as Mellencamp totally nails it: watch him reach back for his wife’s hand. See for yourself: it’s here.


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