Some of my biggest regrets come from agreeing to social engagements – especially those taking place during my bedtime, but that’s what I did back in February when a text popped up from my promoter friend, Clay. “You wanna see the RR Hall of Fame Ceremony @ Barclay?” With a whole month to prepare psychologically, I said, “Yes.”
I looked up the list of performers. They all fit my image of deserving inductees, with the exception of Radiohead and Janet Jackson. I already dreaded the dirges of Radiohead and the 50 member retinue of dancers who would crowd the stage with Jackson — which brings me to the irksome question that plagues artists, fans, and the Hall of Fame alike: who belongs and who doesn’t?
Madonna and Donna Summer are both in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but why not genre-crossing KD Lang and Dolly Parton? “They’re country, not rock!” you say?
Well, how exactly do Summer and Madonna qualify as Rock & Roll singers? And don’t get me started on why Leonard Cohen was inducted in 2008 and not a blues legend like Son House! There are countless anomalies on the inductee list.
Personally, I would have inducted Judy Collins for her contributions in songwriting and performance across genres over the last 60 years. I would have inducted George Thorogood for a 45-year-long career that has introduced blues to white boys all over America. Okay, you want a Brit act too? Then I elect Iron Maiden for selling over 100 million records with barely any radio support and who are still going strong after 44 years. Since I had no role in choosing the inductees, all we have are the bands slated for that evening of Friday, March 29th, 2019.
7:00 pm: Taping starts with Stevie Nicks’ performance, induction by Harry Styles
It was already a long day by the time I got to Brooklyn. I dreaded the night ahead. Aside from the Cure, I really had no favorites on the roster and planned to head home as soon as they performed, but when Stevie Nicks hit the stage with “Stand Back”, tears unexpectedly flowed from my eyes. I suppose it was torrents of nostalgia from experiencing Stevie firsthand. I’m a casual fan of Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks’ solo work, at best, but seeing her perform made me think of that young woman from Rumors (1977). At the age of 70, she still rocks! The set continued with an appearance by Don Henley on “Leather and Lace” followed by Waddy Wachtel’s legendary 16th note on “Edge of Seventeen”, sending chills down my spine. An homage to the late Tom Petty was a duet with Styles on “Stop Dragging My Heart Around”. After the set, Styles summed it up for me in his speech, “She is responsible for more running mascara, including my own, than all the bad dates in history combined.” You couldn’t have said it better, Harry.
7:48 pm: Radiohead, inducted by David Byrne
Acceptance by Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien and Phillip Selway. No performance but it was interesting to learn more about the band. Radiohead got their name from the song “Radio Head” on the Talking Heads album True Stories (1986).
8:08 pm: Roxy Music, inducted by Simon Le Bon and John Taylor
This was the pretty boy stylish portion of the show. It was great to finally see Bryan Ferry. That cool cat who looked great in a suit, and whose sexy album covers I’ve been admiring for decades, looked just as suave and even more distinguished with graying hair. Neither Brian Eno nor Paul Thompson attended, but “More Than This” more than made up for this. The classic track off Avalon (1982) was absolutely dreamlike.
8:48 pm: Classic Rock Singles Inductions by Steven Van Zandt
This was not televised, but it should have been. These songs are part of rock’s foundation:
“Maybe” by The Chantels, 1957
“Tequila” by The Champs, 1958
“Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong, 1959
“Twist and Shout” by The Isley Brothers, 1962
“Leader of the Pack” by The Shangri-Las, 1964
“Gloria” by The Shadows of Knight, 1965
9:02 pm: The Cure, inducted by Trent Reznor
The Cure was especially exciting for Clay and me. When Robert Smith took the stage with smeared lipstick, Goth clothes, and ratty teased hear, I got flashbacks of sitting in Clay’s un-air-conditioned, unfurnished, single room occupancy on 23rd Street and Third Avenue. We were both short-order cooks at a fish restaurant in the South Street Seaport, and after working 8 hours we would collect our free after-shift cans of beer and drink them in a deserted corner of the old Fulton Fish Market. Sometimes, we would go back to his place with more beer and sit on the mattress on the floor, still stinking of fryer oil, fish, and onions, and listen to The Cure on his boom box. There we were, 25 years later, listening to Cure songs together again.
9:44: Janet Jackson, inducted by Janelle Monáe
Acceptance by Janet Jackson. No performance. Learned that Jackson has sales of 180 million albums, 5 Grammy awards, and 9 number one albums.
10:09 pm: The Zombies, inducted by Susanna Hoffs
At first, I thought, “Oh no, the token dinosaur group is due for induction.” But I never expected to have so much fun listening to The Zombies and recalling songs that have been around since my birth. We all know these tunes, “She’s Not There”, “Tell Her No”, and “Time of the Season”. This was the one and only 1960s band I had ever seen live and it was an otherworldly trip into our collective musical unconscious. The Zombies are still touring, by the way. Colin Blunstone is in great voice and Rod Argent delivers a rocking performance on his Hammond organ.
10:50 pm: In Memoriam
Too many to name and too many unpleasant surprises.
10:54 pm: Def Leppard, inducted by Brian May of Queen
It was in the fifth and final hour of the taping that I began wondering if I should leave so as to avoid the crowd back to Grand Central. I had been awake since 6 am and wanted to get home, but I decided to stick it out and see Def Leppard, the last inductees of the night. Then, who walks out on stage? Brian May of Queen. I haven’t seen May in person since the 1980s and don’t know if I’ll ever see him again. I couldn’t leave! After May’s speech, Def Leppard played some of their greatest hits and ended with “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, my least favorite song. Nevertheless, it got the women dancing, from the designer-gowned VIP section on the floor, to the hipsters in the suites, and every Gen-Xer in the nosebleed seats.
11:47: All-Star Jam
The finale was a scaled-down affair headed up by Ian Hunter doing “All the Young Dudes” with Brian May, Steven Van Zandt, Susanna Hoffs, Def Leppard, and members of The Zombies. The 1972 anthem penned by David Bowie was a really nice way to end the night of interwoven musical traditions. I began to accept that all the inductees mattered in different ways. From the first performance to the last, all those loose and distant musical threads of our history can’t help but come together. Who belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and who doesn’t? I really don’t know now. Maybe next year they’ll induct Korn, Jaco Pastorius, and Slim Harpo. Just not Miley Cyrus, please!
[This is one of my favorite rock songs/records of all time. I can’t say this performance does it any favors, but such is the nature of those “all-star” group performances. I think such things are difficult because it makes the viewer aware of his own mortality, as well—Ed.]
Midnight: End of show
3 am: Home
After service changes on the subway, I caught the last train home. It was a 21 hour day, but I was so happy I went. If you have not seen it, you can watch the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony on HBO On Demand and Hulu.