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Faith & Begrudgery
Across the world musicians are honoured for their contribution to society, even if the exact choice of artists is often contentious. Why can’t we do the same in Ireland?
Greg McAteer, 05 Oct 2012
Every year the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts awards, obviously enough, the Kennedy Centre Honours. Recently it has thrown a bewhiskered family pet amongst the pigeons with the announcement that, as part of the 2012 ceremony, it will give a prize to Led Zeppelin.
Buddy Guy is also being honoured, but that news has almost been ignored in the furore over the Centre’s decision to make an award to a non-American. It’s not, just so we’re clear, the first time an overseas musician been recognised in such a fashion.
Elton John was a recipient of the same award in 2004, while The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend were recognized in 2008, as was Paul McCartney in 2010. So why has this drawn so much ire? Possibly because Led Zeppelin spent so much of their early career lifting licks and riffs from the back catalogues of blues musicians (see the aforementioned Buddy Guy).
For my money, though, it has more to do with the downtrodden condition of the American music industry. Nothing breeds protectionism and xenophobia like a spot of good old-fashioned poverty.
This throws up some interesting, if ugly, questions about national pride and what exactly it means for a nation to pay tribute to a musician.
The United Kingdom has it honours system and acknowledges, on occasion, the contribution of performers to British society. So they have Dame Vera Lynn, Sir Paul McCartney and now Sir Tom Jones. In such cases, longevity is, dare we say, as much a factor as talent.
Who makes these decisions, exactly? In the US, the Kennedy Centre is deeply embedded in the cultural life of the country. In the UK, the honours are decided upon by a civil service with no great involvement in the process of artistic creation.
Then there’s us. What do we have? Well, in Ireland we appear to disdain all artists equally. The closest we can manage is Gay Byrne’s For One Night Only. Yes, there is Aosdana. But it only has 30 musicians in its ranks, of whom around 20 are classical composers. Granted, there are a couple of jazz players, with Donal Lunny and Tommy Peoples representing traditional music. Only Trevor Knight could claim any link to ‘pop’. Added to which, awareness of Aosdana is low. No-one makes a big song and dance about the organisation. There is no awards ceremony and you don’t get your mug in the paper when you’re voted in.