With one inductee (the Sex Pistols) having sent an expletive-laced non-RSVP to the shindig and another (Black Sabbath) packing a chip on its shoulder thanks to seven previous rejection by the Hall’s voters, there was little doubt that the 21st annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony would pack some fireworks.
But who’d have imagined the sparks would fly thanks to Blondie?
Singer Deborah Harry and guitarist Chris Stein, embroiled in a long bout of in-fighting over financial issues with Blondie’s other original members, had little choice but to allow one-time bassist Nigel Harrison and former guitarist Frank Infante to join in the actual induction. But the invitation apparently did not extend to their set, which consisted entirely of late-period dance hits like “Call Me” and “Rapture.”
At the podium, Infante made a plea to play one last song as part of Blondie, asking with sarcasm to spare, “Debbie, are we allowed?” But the newly red-tressed Harry demurred, saying, “Can’t you see my band is up there?” The guitarist shot back at his old boss, “I thought Blondie was being inducted.”
The induction of the Sex Pistols — who, as promised, didn’t cross the transom of New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for the ceremony — was positively tame by comparison. Rock Hall co-founder (and Rolling Stone founder) Jann Wenner accepted on the punk pioneers’ behalf, even going so far as to read their anti-Hall diatribe from the stage. With tongue in cheek, Wenner offered an olive branch of sorts, informing John Lydon and company that their statuettes would be in Cleveland, waiting to be picked up. He added, “If they want to smash them into bits, they can do that, too.”
Inducted by the members of Metallica — who also served as their stand-ins come performance time — Black Sabbath took to the elder statesmen role quite comfortably, not even bothering to pepper their speeches with the f-bomb. Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich did his part, however, in his intro of the band, making reference to how slow the Hall had been to give Sabbath their props. As far as the metal giants’ influence on his own musical career, Ulrich confessed, “If there was no Black Sabbath, I could still possibly be a morning newspaper delivery boy.”
Drummer Bill Ward took the opportunity to thank their fans, adding his hope that Sabbath’s induction guaranteed that “hard rock and heavy metal will have an enduring and everlasting place in rock history.” Singer Ozzy Osbourne, who once dismissed the Hall as “totally irrelevant,” did a 180-degree turn, accepting the honor with as much Sally Field-styled “you really like us!” gusto as he could muster.
Ozzy tempered that, of course, by revealing that he chose not to perform because “my balls hurt.” Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi had a different take, insisting the metal-mongers would’ve been “too loud” for the room. Bearing that out, Metallica kept the volume levels surprisingly low for credible (if unremarkable) renditions of signature Sabbath songs “Iron Man” and “Hole in the Sky.”
A Herbie Hancock-led salute to late jazz great Miles Davis — one of the more controversial inductees, given his tangential association with by-the-book rock & roll — was tasteful, if lacking in the sort of rabble-rousing life-force that marked the late trumpeter’s own work. Similarly, the reconstituted Lynyrd Skynyrd, who called upon Kid Rock to bolster their performance of the classic “Sweet Home Alabama,” came across a bit bedraggled. This was offset, however, by the guileless enthusiasm displayed by de facto spiritual leader Gary Rossington. (Founding singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines were, of course, killed in a plane crash in 1977.)
Unlike previous ceremonies, which were laden with performances by inductees and their acolytes, this year’s model needed some fleshing out from outside sources, which the Rock Hall folk handled by borrowing a page (or two) from the producers of last month’s Grammy Awards.
Both of that show’s all-star tributes were reprised here, with Solomon Burke — perched on his ubiquitous throne — keying a Wilson Pickett homage that helped jump-start the program. Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, playing after most of the house had cleared, closed things out with a salute to the spirit of New Orleans, perhaps the most unabashedly positive — and forward-looking — element of the evening.
The ceremony will air on VH1 next Tuesday.