Appropriately, the 26th Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductions began Monday night with an eye cast firmly toward the past. The evening's first inductee, Dr. John, who inductor John Legend described as "a living link to the New Orleans of Dixieland" – ran through a long list of those whose tutelage had made him who he was – a list that included New Orleans greats like Professor Longhair and Huey "Piano" Smith. After a few minutes, though, he thought the better of it, wryly and jokingly concluding, "If I didn't mention you – too bad! What's important is that music is a blessing." (He was just as salty backstage: when asked by a reporter where he got his shoes, he shot back, "The pimp store.")
The notion of music as a blessing was a recurring theme Monday night, with presenters repeatedly honoring the impact of the inductees. "Tonight is the culmination of an effort on my behalf to try to get this man recognized for his incredible achievements," said Elton John, seated next to Leon Russell in the press room before the ceremony began. "To see him here tonight is very emotional to me," he continued, "There is no finer musician out there. Tonight, I'm so proud of him."
Bette Midler struck a similar note introducing Darlene Love, whose entry into the Hall has been years in the making. "She changed my view of the world," Midler said. "She picked us up by the scruff of our neck and shook the starch out of us. She has been robbed of royalties, but never of self-respect, and yet she lives without a trace of bitterness."
Beaming from ear-to-ear in the press room, Love dismissed any suggestion that her induction was overdue. "I never say it was about time, I say 'it was in God's time," and then yelled giddily, "Everything is just unbelievable tonight!"
But more than anything, all of them enduring power of music. Asked how he planned to communicate with a younger generation, Neil Diamond, who had interrupted an Australian tour to attend the ceremony, deadpanned, "I write songs," before explaining why his induction was so important he flew halfway around to world to attend. " Being accepted by your peers and by people that you idolize is very special," he said, "So I'm very happy to be part of this shindig tonight. I wouldn't miss this for the world."