Earlier this year, comedian John Mulaney appeared on Late Night With Seth Meyers to hysterically mock the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, the annual event that “inducts half a dozen ungrateful bands” that “dress like John Varvatos pirates.”
“Think of it like a wedding if every speech was given by the bride’s ex-boyfriend,” Mulaney joked.
In reality, Mulaney tells Rolling Stone that he watches the induction ceremony every year and can reel off favorite speeches (Mike Love, 1988: “That was like an uncle giving a toast at a wedding and the uncle hadn’t been invited,” he says. “He dressed like he rents speedboats. He had that hat with a tux, and he thinks Brian’s the unstable one”), awkward moments and snubs with ease. (Mulaney’s biggest snub: “You know who should be inducted? The friendship of Joe Walsh and Ringo Starr. They are together so much, it warms my heart.”)
“It’s ridiculous the Smashing Pumpkins aren’t in,” the Chicago-raised comedian adds. ”The Hall of Fame clearly has an anti-Chicago bias. Anyone from Long Island is in — even just regular people — but no one from Chicago.”
Mulaney does not take the rockist point of view that rap, dance, pop and other genres do not belong in the Hall. “That’s like saying, ‘Let’s have a Medicine Hall of Fame, but only up to penicillin.’ You’re gonna run out of people extremely fast,” he says. “Rock means pop music that pushes the envelope; the envelope being parents, suits, teachers and the powers-that-be. Rock is a state of mind.”
Few things bring the comedian more joy than talking about band in-fighting and falling-outs, but a sincere Mulaney has a message to any of this year’s groups that may be coming in with grievances, egregious or otherwise. “I encourage you all to show up,” he says. “You mean a lot to all of us. Your music made happy days happier and sad days happier or sometimes made normal days more poignant and sad. And that was necessary.
“Get a flight,” he adds. “There are so many flights into New York. You can move a tour date. Everyone will understand. Also, prepare a few talking points. Don’t wing it. And remember: if you have some static with one of your former bandmates, you’re all gonna die, so I would get over it. Go ahead and enjoy it. You brought us all a lot of happiness.”
With Radiohead, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Def Leppard, Roxy Music, the Cure and the Zombies set for induction next year, Mulaney gave his thoughts on all the inductees and the ones who got snubbed.
Stevie Nicks: I love Stevie Nicks for several reasons. One, I love all of her music. Her voice is beautiful. She’s a great songwriter. Two, I heard an ad that she did on Sirius satellite radio for the Bridge, channel 32, where she said in the ad that if she gets into a car and they don’t have Sirius satellite radio the Bridge, she gets out of the car. Picturing that is very funny to me. [Imitates Stevie Nicks] “Do you have Sirius satellite radio the Bridge?” “No, sorry.” “Pull. Over. Immediately.” On the way to the award show in Brooklyn, if they don’t have Sirius satellite radio, she’s going to get out and take the train.
Have you been following Fleetwood Mac’s battle with Lindsey Buckingham?
I’m fascinated by falling-outs. I genuinely don’t know how they get to the point that they get to. It’s pretty much what the Hall of Fame is founded on is bringing people who have had massive falling-outs together and seeing how they act poorly. I was blown away when I heard that. I didn’t even know that was possible. I don’t understand.
Radiohead: I love Radiohead. I saw them in concert twice and I love them. Why is this a polarizing choice? Because they make beautiful music? People say they’re just an instrumental band that has a singer. Well, yeah, that’s what a band is. OK Computer alone uses computer voices and plays with the idea of technology and it smacks you upside the head and says, “Get your head out of your computer and tell your computer to get lost!” Put them in. If they didn’t get in, I would’ve showed up with muddy cowboy boots and stood on Jann Wenner’s coffee table.
They’re not big fans of the Hall of Fame. Thom Yorke and the rest of the group have expressed indifference to the event.
[Sarcastic voice] Really? That doesn’t seem like Thom. He seems so superpsyched for press and things like that. I’m surprised he wouldn’t like the glitz and the fun of an award night.
The Cure: I’ve loved the Cure since I was very young, so I’m most excited about this one. “10:15 Saturday Night” meant a great deal to me when I was 12. It was the first time I realized, “Oh, I bet a lot of life is lonely and frustrating.” I listened to [1986’s] Staring at the Sea constantly, and “Catch” from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is one of the most underappreciated love songs. I waited on line to get tickets at Tower Records in Chicago on Clark Street — which is not there anymore, folks, so don’t go looking for it. But it got so late, I had to go home for dinner and I didn’t get to go. The poster alone of Robert Smith from behind holding a guitar should be in the Hall of Fame.
Did you have a goth phase?
I tried to. I would buy bracelets at Urban Outfitters. I was slowly trying to, but I wouldn’t have worn it home. My brother and sister would’ve made fun of me, so I never really went whole hog. But inside, I was very much the Cure.
Def Leppard: I think Hysteria, the 2001 biopic that starred Anthony Michael Hall, pretty much says it all. I don’t know if I could do a better job. I mean, the movie’s so famous, I don’t know if it’s worth me rehashing. You know how there’s a lot of people in music who go, “Don’t make too much noise” and “Unplug those guitars and just sing ‘Happy Birthday’ “? That’s a lot of what the suits want. Def Leppard showed up and said, “We’re gonna play electric guitar with drums and other instruments and we’re gonna be loud and we’re gonna play absolute rock.” You can imagine a granny knitting and hearing how loud the music is and being jolted out of her chair — and that’s what the establishment was like. So they said, “We’re Def Leppard and if you don’t like it, you can get lost.”
“Pour Some Sugar on Me” is upsetting to me. It seems like if they came over, they would treat your house poorly. If my wife had made a noodle kugel for Hanukkah, [guitarist] Phil Collen would come in and pour sugar all over it and I’d be like, “How dare you disrespect my wife?”
The Zombies: I love the song “Beechwood Park” and they were part of a movement of rock that grabbed a generation by the lapels and shook them and said, “Tell your parents to get lost, ’cause rock rules.”
Roxy Music: Fred Armisen once asked me, “What’s your favorite type of music?” and I said, “Like Roxy Music.” The point of that story is that I know Fred Armisen. But also they appeal to me on such a primal level. “Really Good Time,” from Country Life, and ‘2HB” are my favorite songs. [Sings “Really Good Time.”] God, I love it.
Do [Brian] Eno and [Bryan] Ferry still talk? Eno kept moving, so it wasn’t like someone touched his amp. He was like, “I believe the future is chime sounds on a phone as ambient airport music,” and they were like, “OK, well, I want to be a crooner,” and he was like, “OK, agree to disagree.” Is Brian Eno in as a solo artist?
He is not.
OK, see, that’s why I need to scream at everyone at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Janet Jackson: I don’t know a ton of her work, but so many people I know are such huge fans and she’s obviously a superstar. I’m not equipped to say how many hits she’s had versus other people, but she’s absolutely deserving of it. I’m a little behind on a lot of music, but induct her. She’s Janet Jackson.
Kraftwerk: I wonder if they were more of an influence and a cultural moment than they were a band. Same way that I don’t think the Sex Pistols are a good “band.” But I could be very ignorant of their output, to be honest.
Todd Rundgren: There are probably millions of people who love Todd Rundgren, and he’s very talented, but there’s only so many hours in the day. I don’t need that.
Rage Against the Machine: They’re interesting to me because they’re deserving, but I wonder, is it cooler if Rage is not yet thought of Hall of Fame-ish?
They probably wouldn’t all show up anyway.
Bassist Tim Commerford told us, “if you take part in that, you’re admitting that you’re no longer relevant,” but Tom Morello is very much involved in the Hall.
It’s interesting because in terms of who’s famous in the band, it’s Morello. So the feeling would be mutual. I think the Hall of Fame would be happier if certain artists don’t show up.
Rufus and Chaka Khan: I don’t know enough about them, to be honest, so we should probably move on.
MC5: Maybe more of an “influence”? Are the New York Dolls in?
They are not.
What’s the MC5 gonna do? Play “Kick Out the Jams” and then get arrested?
LL Cool J: I don’t know if LL Cool J is the best, but there needs to be more representation of hip-hop. A Tribe Called Quest. Induct them.
John Prine: That would’ve been really nice this year, because of the album, and his performance would be great. You could argue that there’s so many bands that more humans knew of and liked, but it would be a good choice.
Devo: I’m a big fan of Mark Mothersbaugh. In terms of influences, they backed it up with tons of output and musicianship. They were the first to wear yellow jumpsuits with red conical hats. “Whip It” is a hit, more so than anything Kraftwerk had.