Happy 90th birthday, Tony Bennett!

Just a few words on a most special artist and human being on the occasion today of Tony Bennett’s 90th birthday.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Tony, having milked my position as a trade music journalist for all it was worth. I’ve interviewed him, hung out with him in recording studios, at meet-and-greets after concerts, in New York, L.A., Vegas, in art museums and on the street. I’ve gotten to know his family, his friends, even his heroes. He’s gracious and kind to all, including—and especially—his fans.

I remember one fan in particular. It was during the session for his 2006 album Duets: An American Classic, for which he recorded “For Once in My Life” with Stevie Wonder—who actually released it after Tony charted with it in 1967. Stevie (with Tony) would receive a Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals, but after the session he was barely able to speak about the honor of just sitting next to the outspoken humanist and pacifist who had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King.

I’m not much different. When you’re with Tony Bennett, no matter how comfortable he makes you feel, you’re still in the presence of an icon, an institution, a hero. And as an artist, I’ve seen him sing songs countless times, yet never the same way twice: He always finds something new from deep within himself.

He likes to tell his audiences that he’s been singing professionally for over 60s years, and if they’ll let him, he’ll do it for 60 more. I’ll be there, for sure.

Bessman Sideshow: J.Lo’s ‘Billboard Icon Award’

I could never understand the Billboard Music Awards.

I mean, it’s all sales, airplay and downloads chart performance-related, right? So if you’re already No. 1, why are you getting an award for being No. 1?

And if there’s more to it, I never even watched the show, and I sure never paid any attention to the charts—which now that I think of it, kind of begs the question, Why did Billboard keep me there well over 20 years as a contributor to begin with?

I’ll answer that in another section on this site at some point. For now I want to note that the Billboard Music Awards has gone off-the-charts in inanity, what with the announcement that Jennifer Lopez will be honored with what Billboard calls “the prestigious Icon Award” May 18 at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards in—where else?—the world’s music capital of Las Vegas.

Say what? Icon Award? Prestigious?

Like I said, I never liked the BMAs—rhymes with VMAs and CMAs, by the way—to begin with. That includes the Billboard Century Award—“the magazine’s highest honor for creative achievement,” according to Wikipedia, and named for Billboard‘s centennial in 1994. Yes, I had to look it up on Wikipedia, but it sounds like something Timothy White said, and I’m pretty sure that Tim came up with it.

Tim, of course, was the acclaimed rock journalist/author, famed for his Bob Marley biography Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley, who became Billboard editor in 1991 and pretty much gave me free reign. He appointed me to the posts of Special Correspondent–the first in the trade magazine’s history–and Music Publishing Editor.

I always say that when Tim died in 2002, he took me with him. I was gradually stripped of my titles and unceremoniously dumped. At the end I couldn’t even get the album review editor to return an email. In the immortal words of Red Buttons, I never got a dinner.

But no, this isn’t sour grapes. I never liked the Billboard Music Awards to begin with. It seemed like such a blatant ruse to exploit the Billboard brand, not so much in support of the trade, which would have been legitimate, but at the expense of it.

As for the Century Award, it was a nice enough gesture, but again, designed to elevate the brand with a self-important title tying in with superstars who, while certainly credible, were also entirely predictable. During Tim’s lifetime they naturally reflected his tastes: George Harrison came first, in 1992, and was followed by Buddy Guy, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, Carlos Santana, Chet Atkins, James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, Randy Newman and John Mellencamp. Like them or not, it’s hard to argue with their merits, same with those who came after Tim–Annie Lennox, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty and Tony Bennett, up through 2006.

No Century Award was given from 2007 to 2010. The award was renamed the Icon Award in 2011—says Wikipedia—and according to a May 5 Billboard story on its website, is the Billboard Music Awards’ (they expand the acronym to BBMAs)—“ultimate honor.”

“The accolade recognizes lifetime achievement and an artist’s remarkable and enduring contribution to popular music,” the story said. “Lopez becomes just the fourth artist and the first woman, joining past winners include [sic] Neil Diamond, Stevie Wonder and Prince.”

I’m sorry BBMAs, but grammar aside, that last line reads like a word relationship question on an aptitude test: “Which of these names doesn’t belong with the other three?”

“Jennifer Lopez is one of the most iconic performers of her generation,” commented Larry Klein, producer of the Billboard Music Awards, in the piece. “We are thrilled to honor her historic career with the 2014 Icon Award and will be on the edge of our seats lik [sic] everyone else when she takes the stage.”

Okay, we haven’t met, Larry—if I may call you Larry—and I’m sure you have no idea who I am—make that, was. But I contributed to Billboard every week for well over 20 years and I’m telling you now that I, for one, will not be on the edge of my seat “lik everyone else” when J.Lo takes the stage. I ain’t even gonna be watchin’! And I say this knowing full well—having read the article—that she’ll “grace the stage to perform with one of the night’s finalists Pitbull to premiere the official anthem of this year’s FIFA World Cup, ‘We Are One (Ole Ola)’ [and] give another debut performance on [sic] the night with a rendition of ‘First Love,’ a single lifted from her new studio album A.K.A., which is set for release on June 17.”

Please, people! I understand that these shows are all about ratings, and in the case of music awards shows, promotion. But like I always say about the Grammys, there’s plenty of other artists out there that are equally as good, if not better than, the ones they promote.

And no, this isn’t sour grapes, and I don’t mean to discount J.Lo’s huge commercial success–the elephant in the room–and maybe I’d still be at Billboard had  I cared more about that sort of thing. But iconic? On par with Neil Diamond, Stevie Wonder and Prince? Please, Billboard!