The Kennedy Center recognizes artists who've made lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts. This year's include rock icons Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, founding members of The Who. They sat down with Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen, who began a series of profiles of the 2008 honorees.
Chen: They were the voice of a generation, and now Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend are Kennedy Center Honorees.
Daltrey: I think it's amazing. And especially when I looked on the Internet and read -- 'cause I didn't really know much about it. And -- you get (the award) for your contribution to American culture, I thought that was really interesting, considering everything we learned came from you in the first place! (laughter) So, it's a rather interesting circle, bringing it back.
Townshend: It's interesting that all of a sudden, we're being honored as artists. And that's lovely for us. Because, we've always felt that what we did had an artistic component. But you know, in the early days of rock, if you said you -- you were -- you were involved in the arts, you were described as pretentious. So, we've (laughter) put up with a lot of that. But, it's a part of what we do. Only a part of what we do. We're really circus animals. (laughter)
Chen: Growing up in working class London, Daltrey and Townshend went to school together.
Daltrey: But I was a year earlier, so I'm a year older. And -- I got kicked out of school at the age of 15. ... I didn't wanna be there, to be honest. ... One of the biggest favors I ever got done in my life was getting kicked out of that school. They weren't teaching me anything I wanted to learn."
Chen: Daltrey turned his love of Elvis into a dedication to rock 'n' roll. With Townshend, John Entwistle and other friends, they formed a band called "The Detours." And in 1964, with Keith Moon playing drums, Pete, Roger, John and Keith became "The Who," and exploded.
Daltrey: All of a sudden, the -- you know, it was -- 'This is it.' This was the machine that was gonna do it."
Chen: Their sound touched the youth and created a musical revolution.
Townshend: As a band, we found our purpose when we found that what we could do is express that frustration that the -- our audience had, that they had no -- function or purpose.
Chen: They were soon known as the coolest live act in music, living the rock 'n' roll dream. Always one to push the limit, Townshend next created "Tommy," and the rock opera was born. Daltrey became a rock god, which made him uncomfortable.
Daltrey: That was the first and hopefully the only time in my life where my feet had kind of started to lift off -- off the ground a bit. ... But, it wasn't real. It was -- and I thought, 'Oh, I don't like this.'
Chen: Tragically, Keith Moon died suddenly in 1978, and John Entwistle passed away in 2002. While Roger and Pete have their ups and downs, it's the mutual respect of the music and each other that always brings them together.
Chen: What would you say is Pete's gift as a songwriter?
Daltrey: He has the ability to connect with -- with -- I think the inside of almost anybody. And express things everybody feels -- really, really deeply inside them. And put them in -- into a -- a melody and a music framework, which is rock 'n' roll, but it's classically structured.
Chen: What is Roger's gift as a vocalist?
Townshend: I think Roger gives a face and a voice and a passion to my writing and my work that I -- I'm unable to bring to it myself. I stop short ... you know, very few other people have tackled them, Who songs. And I don't think it's because they're difficult to do. I think it's because, once Roger has done a Who song, it's difficult to come close.
You can see the 31st annual Kennedy Center honors Tuesday. Dec. 30th at 9 p.m. EST, 8 central, on CBS.