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Awkward Honors

The strangeness of those Kennedy Center tributes.

4:40 PM, Dec 7, 2010 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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The Kennedy Center Honors were held this past weekend, and once again Hollywood descended on the nation's capital. But Paul Farhi of the Washington Post wonders how and why the tributes come about the way they do.

Sure, Willie Nelson naturally showed up to sing the praises of honoree Merle Haggard, and Broadway legends Carol Channing and Angela Lansbury (looking and sounding swell at 89 and 85, respectively) did the same in honor of "Mame" and "Hello, Dolly!" composer-lyricist Jerry Herman.

But Alec Baldwin doing the intro for Paul McCartney? And Steven Tyler, Norah Jones, Dave Grohl and Gwen Stefani and No Doubt providing the Beatles covers? Same thing with Julia Roberts introducing Oprah Winfrey, or Claire Danes and playwright Edward Albee speaking on behalf of honoree Bill T. Jones, an avant-garde choreographer.

There are reasons, writes Farhi: "Turns out Oprah and Roberts are old friends, as are Danes and Jones; Baldwin and McCartney are East Hampton neighbors who take summer yoga class together (why didn't People magazine tell us this?). Albee (himself a 1996 Kennedy Center honoree) apparently just likes Jones."

Nevertheless, these tributes tend to present as many questions as answers. For McCartney, where was Ringo, the only other living Beatle? When Brian Wilson was honored, none of the other Beach Boys were present either. And who decides that Gwen Stefani gets to pay homage to Sir Paul? Of course it could have been worse—remember during Wilson's moment to be honored, the band performing Beach Boys songs was ... Hootie and the Blowfish. Keep in mind this was in 2007, not 1997. (Seriously, Hootie? Was Dishwalla that busy? Vertical Horizon totally booked? How about Semisonic?)

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