By the end Cooper was covered in fake blood, and when he walked up to the podium somebody handed him a large snake to put around his neck. It goes without saying that the Rock Hall induction ceremony had never seen anything quite like this. "We've always been a hard rock band," Cooper said. "We just decorated it a bit differently."
After a 15-minute intermission Young inducted Waits. "I didn't bring my teleprompter or my notes and I don't have any real thoughts," Young joked. "I will say that this next man is indescribable and I'm here to describe him. In the scope of things this man is a great singer, actor, magician, spirit guide, changeling and performer for you."
Waits' speech was his typical brand of hysterical dead-pan jokes. "This is very heavy," he said as he held the statuette. "I just want to know if there's a key-chain version of this so I can take it with me, just in case I hear someone say, 'Pete, take the cuffs off. He's a Hall of Famer' … They say I have no hits and I'm difficult to work with. They say that like it's a bad thing."
Russell received the first-ever Recording Excellence Award, which used to be the Sideman category. Elton John – who recorded the acclaimed LP The Union with Russell last year – gave the speech. "In the past year he's given me some of the most incredible musical moments of my life," John said. "He's an American legend. An American icon."
Russell – who has been battling health problems for years – walked onstage slowly with the help of a cane and delivered a brief but highly emotional speech. "About a year ago Elton found me in a ditch by the side of the highway of life," he said. "He took me up to the high space with big audiences and treated me like a king. All I can say is, 'Bless your heart.'"
The mood lightened when Simon took the stage to induct his fellow early-Sixties Brill Building songwriter Diamond – who had just flown in all the way from Australia to make the ceremony. "He was known as the Jewish Elvis Presley," Simon said. "In fact, in many synagogues across the country Elvis was considered a bogus Neil Diamond."
Simon continued: "He had his first hit in 1966 with 'Cherry Cherry.' 1991 was 25 years after the release of his first single and he was eligible to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This is 20 years later. My question is: what took so long? I'll give you my theory. Six words: 'You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore.' A real beautiful love song sung with one of the great voices of the 20th century, Barbra Streisand. Unfortunately, she isn't rock & roll and I don't think they allow that DNA even close to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."
Maybe he was jet-lagged or maybe he'd had a few drinks or maybe he was just screwing around, but Diamond gave a wonderful, rambly speech that got many of the biggest laughs of the night. "I didn't write a speech," he said. "I just got off tour from Australia. I did a show two days ago. I got on a plane, commercial, yesterday and I've been flying my ass for for 25 hours. I got in this morning and I have no idea where we are. What are we doing here? What the heck is going on here? I love all of you, even though you didn't vote for me. I don't give a shit. I still would sing that song with Barbra. She's the greatest, and guess what? She doesn't give a shit either."
At this point the ceremony became a concert, beginning with Waits – who played with David Hidalgo of Los Lobos and guitarist Marc Ribot. He began with stunning versions of "Make It Rain" and "Rain Dogs" before sitting down at a piano for "House Where Nobody Lives." It seemed like that was it, but then Neil Young came out to play "Get Behind The Mule" with him. Young didn't sing a note, opting to play acoustic guitar outside of the spotlight.
For the rest of the evening Paul Shaffer's longtime band played with the acts, first backing Dr. John on "Right Place, Wrong Time" and "Such a Night" with Legend joining in on an piano. Russell and surprise guest John Mayer came out next to perform "Delta Lady" and "Song For You." Springsteen had been sitting in the audience all night, but he finally took the stage to play guitar during Darlene Love's three-song set. He took some solos during "Zip-a-Dee Doo-Dah," but strummed quietly along with the large band during the Spector classics "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry" and "He's a Rebel," which Love sang as a duet with Midler. Love originally sang these songs 50 years ago, but her voice has retained practically all of its power. The short set was absolutely spellbinding.
Diamond got the tired audience on their feet for "Cherry Cherry," which he followed up with a powerful version of "I Am, I Said." "Sweet Caroline" was inevitable, but you could feel waves of euphoria through the air as he sang it. After the second run-through of the song the stage filled with pianos so that John, Russell and Dr. John could accompany Lloyd Price on his 1959 hit "Stagger Lee."
The clock was inching towards 1:30 a.m. and the crowd was starting to thin, but those who stayed saw the unforgettable alliance of Cooper, Diamond, Love, John and Midler on "Da Doo Ron Ron." It was the kind of moment only possible at these ceremonies. "That's it from the greats of rock & roll," Shaffer said as the stage emptied. "We'll see you next year."
It's hard to imagine what they could do to top this event - but it will be the first year Guns N' Roses are eligible.
Related: Video Interviews With Inductees, Guests and Performers
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