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President Obama Pays Tribute to Led Zeppelin at Kennedy Center Honors

Led Zeppelin President Obama
Brendan Smialowski, Getty Images

It’s a little hard to believe that there are any awards left for Led Zeppelin to collect at this point in the band’s history, but this year, they’re adding a doozy to their collection: The Kennedy Center Honors, the nation’s highest award for “lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts.”

At a gala dinner held at the State Department on Saturday (Dec. 1), surviving Zeppelin members Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones were honored along with fellow 2012 award winners David Letterman, Buddy Guy, Natalia Makarova, and Dustin Hoffman.

After acknowledging the difficulty of writing a suitable speech for the band, and joking about trying to work in a ‘Stairway to Heaven’ reference, President Barack Obama launched into his personal tribute to their music, saying, “When Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham burst on the musical scene in the late ’60s, the world never saw it coming. There was this singer with a mane like a lion and 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, and a drummer who played like his life depended on it. 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 shade.'”

Continued Obama, “It’s been said that a generation of 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. Even now, 32 years after John Bonham’s passing, we all, I think, appreciate the fact that the Led Zeppelin legacy lives on.” The President referred to their 2007 ‘Celebration Day‘ concert as “the last time the band performed together” before gently prodding them for a reunion, adding, “perhaps the last time ever, but we don’t know.” Attesting to the band’s continued relevance, he went on, “More than 20 million fans from 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 week at the knees. Huddled together, following the music.”

The biggest laughs of the speech came when Obama referenced the band’s legendary appetite for sex, drugs, and destruction on the road. “Of course, these guys also redefined the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. We do not have video of this, but there were some hotel rooms trashed and mayhem all around, so it’s fitting that we’re doing this in a room with windows that are about three inches thick and Secret Service all around. So guys, settle down — these paintings are valuable,” he quipped, before concluding things on a more serious note: “Tonight, we honor Led Zeppelin for making us all feel young, and showing us that some guys who are not completely youthful can still rock.”

Next: Led Zeppelin's Most Head-Scratching Lyrics

Watch President Obama’s Tribute to Led Zeppelin

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