President Barack Obama lapsed into rock ‘n’ roll nostalgia on Sunday while honoring the three surviving members of legendary band Led Zeppelin at the annual Kennedy Center Honors tribute.
“When Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham burst on the musical scene in the late 1960s, the world never saw it coming,” said Obama about the British rockers, minus Bonham who died 32 years ago.
Also honored at Sunday night’s gala were blues guitarist Buddy Guy, ballet dancer Natalia Makarova, television host David Letterman and actor Dustin Hoffman.
Many notable fans of Led Zeppelin were in attendance, including fellow rockers The Foo Fighters, Kid Rock, Lenny Kravitz and the band Heart. The Zeppelin tribute by Obama was the lengthiest of the evening, but their company was noted all night.
"As a performer, the last thing you want to do is bomb in front of Led Zeppelin," comedian Ray Romano said. "I lost my virginity to the first two minutes of 'Stairway to Heaven' and spent the next 11 minutes of it apologizing."
Then the rock commander in chief moved in.
“There was this singer with a mane like a lion, a voice like a banshee, a guitar prodigy who left people’s jaws on the floor, a versatile bassist who was equally at home on the keyboards, a drummer who played like his life depending on it,” Obama rhapsodized.
“And when the Brits initially kept their distance, Led Zeppelin grabbed America from the opening chord. We were ready for what Jimmy called songs with a lot of light and shape,” Obama went on. “It’s been said that a generation of young people survived teenage angst with a pair of headphones and a Zeppelin album. And a generation of parents wondered what all that noise was about.”
And still going: “But even now, 32 years after John Bonham’s passing, we all, I think, appreciate the fact the Zeppelin legacy lives on. The last time the band performed together ever in 2007 — perhaps the last time ever, but we don’t know — more than 20 million fans around the world applied for tickets. What they saw was vintage Zeppelin, no frills, no theatrics, just a few guys who can still make the ladies weak at the knees, huddled together, following the music.”
“These guys also redefined the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. We do not have video of this,” Obama joked, “but there was some hotel rooms trashed, mayhem all around. So it’s fitting that were doing this in a room with windows about three inches thick and Secret Service all around. So guys: just settle down. These paintings are valuable.”
In a rare move for the trio, they will appear on Letterman’s show on Monday night. The Kennedys Center gala will air on CBS on Dec. 26.
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