Our shadows taller than our souls

A friend sent me a link to a video excerpt of this year’s Kennedy Center Honors — in particular to the 22 minute long tribute to Led Zeppelin, who were among this year’s winners.

In attendance were Barack and Michelle Obama and a roster of contributors to our nation’s diverse culture, such as Yo Yo Ma, David Letterman (another winner this year), Tina Fey, Bonnie Raitt and Alec Baldwin.

Watching this video, I was struck by how timeless and universal are such events. Sitting in their box seats, President and Mrs. Obama essentially functioned as the Royal Presence, lending gravitas to the affair. Caroline Kennedy, as the evening’s host, effectively tied the event to an even earlier regal lineage.

Of course the U.S. does not have a monarchy. But the rhetorical framing is effectively the same as in days of old. The State, in the person of its highest representative, presides over and blesses the awarding of high cultural honors.

Watching how tremendously the Obamas were enjoying the tribute to Led Zeppelin, I realized that our President and First Lady represent a generation that grew up in the shadow of this music, a generation whose very soul was shaped by rock and roll.

And I wondered, how different would the scene have been had it been Mitt and Ann Romney in that box? Would everyone have felt the same air of ecstatic celebration when Ann Wilson sang “Stairway to Heaven” so beautifully that Robert Plant wept?

Or would the cultural clash between the Romneys and these children of the ’60s simply have been too strange, too weird?

I guess we’ll never know.

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