Last night’s Rock And Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony marked a generation shift. The obligatory Clive Davis thank-yous gave way to those directed to Hilly Kristal, founder of New York City’s club CBGB, the unassuming dive that launched the careers of Television, Patti Smith, Blondie, the Talking Heads and the Ramones, the last two of which pushed New Wave and punk into the Hall’s halls.
It was an evening that paired the nerdy aspects of mid-Seventies groundbreakers with a dash of the classic rock bloodline, soul-filled iconoclasm and a trio of disparate groundbreaking pioneers. Isaac Hayes, who would later be inducted by Alicia Keys, kicked off the evening with “Shaft.” Though the song was an awkward choice to follow the list of the music industry’s recently departed, Hayes’ performance was an engaging visual treat, the robed soul legend directing the orchestration like a knowing foreman; only taking breaks to belt out the short verses.
An underdressed Jewel inducted a dazzling Brenda Lee, who is still a firecracker of a performer with a voice that belies her tiny frame. Her big-things-in-small-packages performance caused a pacing whiplash when Eddie Vedder took the stage to induct the Ramones. By shaving off two thirds of his hair, Vedder effectively shaved ten years off his age, looking almost unrecognizable in his mohawk. Vedder thanked Johnny Ramone for helping to educate him about popular music and marveled at the band’s two-minute songs, paraphrasing Ramone’s comment that “they’re long songs played really fast.” “OK, at this point I’ve spoken long enough to play three or four Ramones songs,” Vedder joked several minutes into his speech. Little did he know, his speech ran only fifteen minutes shorter than the Ramones self-titled debut album. “After this I’m sure the evening will move quickly, but it’s the Ramones and it’s punk rock and I’m just about finished and I hope you’re OK with that . . . apparently you’re not. Fuck you.”
The Ramones were, predictably, more efficient. After running off a short list of thank-yous, Johnny Ramone offered a straight-faced, “God bless President Bush, and God bless America.” Dee Dee Ramone chose not to offer thanks to influences or industry friends. ” I’d like to congratulate myself and thank myself and give myself a pat on the back,” he said with punk glee. “Thank you, Dee Dee.”
Gene Pitney, who would later be inducted by Darlene Love, ran through “Hello Mary Lou,” a song he wrote for Rick Nelson, and “Town Without Pity.” Steve Cropper and Sam Moore paid tribute to the non-performer inductee, Stax Records co-founder Jim Stewart (“A lot of my friends would agree, Jim Stewart is the most honest and caring man they’ve ever met in this industry,” Cropper said).
The evening’s highlight came with the arrival of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Jakob Dylan gave what was far and away the evening’s best intro: “The first time I ever spent any time with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers it was 1986. Tom had two daughters there, I was sitting with the daughters and I remember thinking, ‘That’s gotta be so weird. Jesus, your dad is Tom Petty. That’s gotta be so cool,'” he joked. “Before Tom came along a lot of singer-songwriters were stuck with the label ‘new Dylan.’ Tom’s vision was so strong that when I came along I was called the ‘new Petty,’ when actually I may have been the only one who deserved the burden of ‘new Dylan.’
“Two guitars, bass, drums, keyboard player; a lot of people might call that a retro lineup,” Dylan continued. “To me that was where rock & roll started, and that’s where it gets back to. They truly are one of the great American rock groups. They picked up the torch and held it proudly for a long time and when they’re done, they’ll pass the music along stronger for having been there. Tom’s written songs we’ll never forget. From ‘American Girl’ to ‘Refugee’ to ‘Free Fallin’.’ What’s rare with Petty is after twenty-five years, his next song might be his best one yet.”
“It’s almost unthinkable to join such a sophisticated list of artists,” Petty said, when taking the stage. “I’m very proud that we’re being inducted as a group, because this is the best fucking band in America. They are my family.”
As Petty and Co. stashed their awards and prepared to perform, Brian Setzer gave a brief tutorial on Chet Atkins-style guitar picking before Country Music Foundation president Marty Stuart did the honors for the late, great Nashville legend, inducted as a sideman. “There’s every other guitar player and then there’s Chet,” Stuart said. “He transcended musical boundaries for more than fifty years. God only lays Chet Atkins on you once in a lifetime.”
Petty and his family then reunited for two songs, as former drummer Stan Lynch climbed back behind the kit for “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” with current Heartbreaker Howie Epstein on bass and “American Girl” with former Heartbreaker bassist Ron Blair. The pair of songs underscored Petty and the Heartbreaker’s magic; by fusing a southern musical rhetoric with a California pop sensibility, Petty and the Heartbreakers transcend categorization.
Following Pitney’s induction, Green Day tore through the Ramones’ “Rockaway Beach,” “Teenage Lobotomy” and “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Alicia Keys then honored one of her heroes as Hayes made his second appearance of the night. “He showed us how music could be funky and sophisticated, symphonic and soulful,” she said. “Isaac Hayes, you set the standards for everyone that came after.” In his acceptance speech, Hayes encouraged musicians to give something back. “Kids in the hood, you’ve got to give them education,” he said. “You’ve got to give them literacy. Put something back from where you came.”
Anthony Keidis also drew chuckles with the intro to his speech inducting the Talking Heads. “They told me this function was going to be at CBGB’s this year, to weed out some of the posers,” he said. “Eddie Vedder, wherever you are, you are a genius. The Ramones’ songs may be two-minutes long, but that speech was not. It was actually a very short speech, just spoken very slowly.”
Kiedis’ Talking Heads speech was a bit long-winded, and plenty reverent. “I just want them to know what a beautiful impact they’ve had on this world,” he said of the band. “They left this world a better place as a band they did things as beautiful and meaningful as a Nobel scientist or a saint or any form of God that we believe in.”
After a lengthy acceptance from bassist Tina Weymouth and comments from the rest of the band, the Heads took the stage together for the first time in more than a decade, dusting off three favorites: “Psycho Killer,” “Burning Down the House” and “Live During Wartime.” They also hung around for the buggy after-show jam that began with a run through “Take Me to the River,” featuring David Byrne, Darlene Love and Sam Moore singing, with the rest of the Heads joined by Hayes and Cropper. Love and Pitney then ran through “He’s a Rebel.” Rob Thomas and Jewel fumbled on a cover of George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun,” in which the latter inexcusably altered the “doo doo doo doo”‘s to “la la la la”‘s. The stage largely remained the same as Moore led the assembled group through “Hold on I’m Coming,” closing an evening long on the diversity that makes the Rock Hall a singularly inclusive institution.