Monday, March 12, 2007

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction

Yes, another awards ceremony, this one a bloated (yes, I mean you, Jann Wenner) dinner ceremony. But it's a live feed! And those of us without massive satellite dishes don't get live feeds in Los Angeles. So I watched, and took notes -- all so you won't have to. You are quite welcome.

We begin with Jann, who talks too long (and the mike is so sensitive that we can hear every hesitation, every lick of the lips. Yecch). Then a quick memorial section, with photos, where -- to my ears, or perhaps my imagination -- Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee get the most applause. Until we get to ...Ahmet Ertegun. Filmed highlights; then Aretha Franklin comes out and sings. She's clearly got a cold or something, but she still sounds good. Aretha does a shout-out to Mica Ertegun, calling her "Mrs. Ertegun," and asks her to stand. Mica, who looks uncomfortable, does what the queen tells her to do.

Now here's Keef, Keith Richards, here to induct the Ronettes. First he credits "giant strides in medical science" that allow him to join us. Oh, Keef, you derelict, you! It's not so funny when you're the one joking about it. Anyway, film clips, then Ronnie, Estelle, and Nedra come out. Ronnie is called Ronnie Bennett, not Spector, although Paul Shaffer reads a brief tribute from probable-murderer Phil, to minimal applause. Ronnie and Estelle have coordinated their outfits and are wearing black pantsuits. Nedra is wearing a golden gown, with cape, that looks like she's ready for the Rapture. Ronnie shouts out to Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, and "Miami Steve" (how many of us remember Mr. Van Zandt that way?) and to Joey Ramone. The Ronettes sing and everything old is new again; they do "Be My Baby," "Walking in the Rain," and "Baby I Love You."

Next, the inductee I've been waiting for: New Jersey native Patti Smith. Great vintage footage. Patti, obviously very moved, thanks Clive Davis; the no-longer-with-us members of her band, Ivan Kral and Richard Sohl; ex-boyfriends (although she doesn't identify them as such) Oliver Ray and Tom Verlaine; her crew; her family, including her son, Jackson, who plays bass in her band; and her present band, including Jay Dee Daugherty, who has played drums with her for 30 years (!) and of course Lenny Kaye. Patti is overcome; I'm overcome. Patti thanks her late husband Fred "Sonic" Smith. She accepts the honor in his name. She thanks her fans for remembering the words to her songs when she doesn't.

Then Patti and her band play, starting with a cover of the Stones' "Gimme Shelter," and moving through an OK version of "Because the Night," with shout outs to Bruce and to Jimmy Iovine for making the song possible. (Yes, this ceremony has some of the lesser qualities of a testimonial dinner.) Then, Patti says she's going to play her mother's favorite song. She talks about her mother, who answered all Patti's (actually, her family seems to call her Tricia) fan mail for 25 years. On her deathbed, her mom asked, "Did they save the Stone Pony?" (Just another New Jersey rock and roll mom.) So this is the song her mother liked to vacuum to: "Rock and Roll Nigger." Lenny is in fine form, as is his hair. The song totally rocks.

Barely 7:15 and I'm exhausted. When I saw Patti Smith at the Wollman Rink in the summer of 1978 my life changed. Sure, I knew women could be professionals or whatever else they wanted. But Patti Smith pissed off the side of the stage, right in front of everybody! What freedom! I have never done it, nor do I plan to --- but somehow seeing her do that gave me a sense that I could do whatever I wanted.

Back to the show. Al Sharpton talks about James Brown, who apparently was like a father to him. Sharpton is good, of course: He's a preacher. Then Van Halen is inducted and I leave the room to make dinner. Sorry, Van Halen fans! As y'all know, Eddie is in rehab and David Lee Roth didn't show, which left one guy and Sammy Hagar.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five are inducted by Jay Z. They're the first hiphop group in the Hall. Melle Mel -- still very buff --appeals for hiphop that does not glorify violence. "I'm 45 and I don't have a police record," he says. Then they perform, and doesn't Grandmaster Flash start by shouting, "New York, just like I pictured it." If you don't get that reference, I can't help you. (Stevie Wonder, "Living for the City") These guys are awesome.

And already it is time (but believe me, we are several hours into this -- I spared you the "highlights of previous shows" interludes while they changed the stage) for our final inductees, REM. Eddie Vedder does the honors. He talks too long, but who cares, because he is intelligent and interesting and just spacy enough to be engaging. I might as well confess that, at this late date, I have developed a crush on Eddie Vedder. I'm late to the party, what can I say?

REM performs, among other songs, "Man on the Moon" with Michael Stipe and Eddie Vedder trading vocals. They sound great! Then Patti Smith comes out and she and Michael Stipe and all sing "I Wanna Be Your Dog." Lenny Kaye has a great guitar solo. As they wrap up, before they start the final jam, Patti yells, "Have a great night everybody! Drink plenty of water! Take care of yourselves!" Jeez, Patti Smith, punk poetess, is telling me to hydrate.

The final jam, not so star-studded this year, but sturdy nonetheless: "People Have the Power" from the Patti Smith album Dream of Life. Patti namechecks Fred again. Everybody's on stage -- even Keef and Steven Stills have strapped on the ol' guitars. Patti sings. Michael Stipe sings. Ronnie formerly Spector sings. Sammy Hagar sings and Patti hugs him -- he's just a big ham, isn't he? -- while Michael Stipe looks askance. While everyone bops, Michael Stipe sits off to the side and watches. He's a Boy with a Problem, to quote Elvis Costello, isn't he? Celebrity I'm-too-sensitive match: Michael Stipe vs. Morrissey.

And there you have it, folks. A motley crew this year, but all deserving and I am certain that most if not all of them are still toasting their success and God knows what else. Keef has to do it for science, after all.

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