A Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, like rock & roll itself, is at its best when it’s not on its best behavior.
The moments that resonate the loudest are not the thank yous, the tributes and the all-star jam sessions. Rather, they’re the moments that sucker-punch, like the Kinks’ Ray Davies looking out at a black tie crowd in 1990 and slyly commenting, “Rock & roll has become respectable — what a bummer.”
At the Fourteenth Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Dinner held Monday (March 15) at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan, the defining rock & roll moment came when inductee Sir Paul McCartney invited his daughter Stella to the stage, and she stood beside him wearing a white tank top with the words “About Fucking Time” stenciled across her chest. It was a defiant soy bomb thrown in the face of not only VH-1, which was filming the ceremony for broadcast, but of a critical establishment that has often overlooked or even ridiculed her father, failing to induct him when he first became eligible three years ago. The delay, of course, robbed her late mother, Linda McCartney, the chance to share the joy. The shirt got one of the biggest cheers of the evening, and father and daughter clutched each other like true soul survivors — broken, sad and triumphant.
“This is brilliant for me, but it’s brilliant [and] sad, because I would like my baby to share this with me,” McCartney said, acknowledging his wife, who died of breast cancer last April. “She wanted this. But it’s beautiful, she’s beautiful, we’re all beautiful, and we’re cool.”
Joining McCartney in the ranks of the immortals this year were Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Curtis Mayfield, Del Shannon, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, the Staple Singers, uber-producer (and fellow Beatle knight) George Martin, and the recently departed Dusty Springfield and Charles Brown.
“It’s probably all going to hit me in a couple of weeks, because I’m still in a state of disbelief,” commented Joel backstage after his speech, seeming less in shock at the induction honor itself then the fact that his own idol Ray Charles did the inducting honors.
Elton John and Bonnie Raitt had the bittersweet honor of inducting Dusty Springfield and Charles Brown, respectively. “I love you Dusty,” said John, who claimed to have joined her official fanclub as a teen. “You’re enough to turn a gay boy straight.” After inducting Brown, an “uptown” style blues pianist and singer from Texas who came to prominence in the Forties, Raitt stressed her disappointment that his induction came too late for him to see it. “That’s something [for the Hall of Fame] to think about — people that are getting to be of that age, they don’t have a lot of time to wait around.”
Other presenters included Neil Young (for McCartney), Lauryn Hill (for the Staple Singers), Chris Isaak (for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys), Everclear’s Art Alexakis (for Del Shannon), Jimmy Iovine (for Sir George Martin), and Puff Daddy (for Curtis Mayfield, who as of last week had planned on attending but couldn’t because of his health). Any award for best speech, however, went hands down to the perennially spotlight-hungry Bono, who honored Springsteen with an epic dedication that lifted the Boss on a pedestal high above the peers who had gathered to honor him. “Credibility? You couldn’t have more unless you were dead,” the U2 singer said to somewhat stunned laughter. “But Bruce Springsteen you always knew was not going to die stupid. He didn’t buy the mythology that screwed so many people. Instead, he created an alternative mythology, one where ordinary lives became extraordinary and heroic.”
It was a tough act for the Boss himself to follow, but he succeeded by knocking himself down where Bono had built him up. “My dad, he passed away this year, but I have to thank him, because what could I have conceivably written about without him?” said Springsteen. “I mean, if everything had gone on great between us, it would have been a disaster. I would have written just happy songs, and I tried that in the early Nineties, and it didn’t work, the public didn’t like it.”
Springsteen was followed by McCartney, who, in addition to paying tribute to his wife, urged the Hall of Fame to hurry up and induct George Harrison and Ringo Starr for their respective solo careers. Then, at long last, it was time for the musical portion of the evening. Earlier, Melissa Etheridge had sung a Dusty song, and Eric Clapton and D’Angelo had paid tribute to Curtis Mayfield. But the act everyone had been waiting for was Springsteen’s performance with his full E-Street Band. If one can judge from the evening’s four performances — “Promised Land,” “Backstreets,” “10th Avenue Freeze Out” and “In the Midnight Hour,” with Wilson Pickett — the band’s rehearsals in Jersey for their upcoming reunion tour have been coming along very nicely, indeed. Springsteen’s rousing set was followed by the all-star jam session, highlighted by a Billy Joel-led run through Del Shannon’s classic “Runaway” and McCartney’s endearingly pub-worthy “Let It Be.”
“It’s time to go home,” pleaded a weary McCartney at the end, shooing the audience with his hands. Then he smiled. “This is a great night, ya?”