Houses of the Holier-Than-Thou: Rock and Roll Crashes Washington’s Elite Holiday Party
Watt had announced that all rock bands attracted "the wrong element," and that the Reagan administration opted for a "wholesome" program featuring Wayne Newton. "We're not going to encourage drug abuse and alcoholism," Watt sniffed, "as was done in the past."
Secretary Watt was apparently unaware that the Beach Boys had played the White House just a month before in June, at Ron and Nancy Reagan's personal request. Watt later apologized to the Beach Boys after learning the Reagans were fans of the band. Reagan gave James Watt a "shoot yourself in the foot" award over the embarrassing incident and invited the Beach Boys back in 1985 to play his second Inaugural concert. The times they were a-changin', but still...not that much.
Your time is Gonna Come
Had you told me then – some thirty years ago during the waning years of the long, Cold War – that a Russian ballerina, a black bluesman from Lettsworth, Louisiana, and the English kings of debauch, Led Freaking Zeppelin, would be honored at the White House by the nation's first black president within our lifetimes, I would have told you to dream on and fuck off.
But there they were: ballerina Natalia Makarova, blues legend Buddy Guy, Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones, all sitting quietly in the distinguished East Room of the White House on December 3, 2012. Unlike previous visits by Elvis Presley and The Beach Boys, these artists were not unexpected visitors or performing court jesters; they were honored guests of the president.
As I listened intently to president Obama singing their collective praises – along with their fellow Kennedy Center Honorees Dustin Hoffman and David Letterman – I could only shake my head in amazement and think to myself, “This can't be happening!”
On more than a few occasions during the ceremony I saw that same “look how far we've come” grin spread across the faces of several attendees, including one Jimmy Page, who later called the whole experience “surreal, like a dream.”
When asked if they had ever been invited to the White House before, Robert Plant exploded in a cackle of laughter. “Naaaah, you're joking, right?” Reflecting back in time, Plant's face suddenly turned stoic, and a hint of bitterness crept into his tone.
“We were hardly the toast of the American political establishment back then,” Plant pointed out sharply. “Your government and police certainly were interested in us, but not for our music. But we were being questioned quite often!"