It started hopefully. Jann Wenner gave an emotional tribute to Ahmet Ertegun, and a memoriam reel rolled a list of the dead – Sneaky Pete, James Brown, Brad Delp and a handful of industry types most outside the Waldorf Astoria ballroom had likely never heard of.
But the show in New York isn’t about rock music’s fans, it’s about the industry.
Stephen Stills told a nice story, and Aretha Franklin gave a sincere three song tribute – OK, I fast-forwarded it, having seen Aretha perform this type of schtick more times in the recent past than I’ve heard “Stairway to Heaven.”
But when Keith Richards swaggered out with an unlit cigarette and an incoherent story of meeting the Ronettes in 1964 (how does he remember anything?), it all went rapidly downhill. The former Ronnie Spector made such a show of reading her prepared remarks that it was painful to watch, and it lasted almost longer than the Ronettes’ career.
I wanted to believe in Patti Smith, despite the relentless criticism of her inclusion in the Rock Hall while other worthies wait. She’s less a creative force than a spiritual mother for all that is redemptive about rock and roll. But it’s hard not to think, as Bob Lefsetz has pointed out, that it’s New York arrogance that got her a nod, but not Alice Cooper or Genesis.
Tonight, she reinforced the worst perceptions of her threadbare artistry by choosing two covers out of the three songs she performed. Right, Miss Rock Poet, I thought, Bruce Springsteen wrote your biggest hit, and the Rolling Stones had a quietly revolutionary song five years before you sang a note, which you’re conveniently playing tonight to promote your forthcoming album – of cover songs.
You poseur, move over and let Blue Oyster Cult take over.
Only Zach de la Rocha’s passionate induction speech provided comfort, by reminding me what an inspiration Patti Smith had been to the nascent punk scene and the artists that came after her. That and Ms. Smith’s own exhortation at the end of “Rock and Roll Nigger” to remember future generations.
However, Van Halen and Grandmaster Flash brought the problems back with a vengeance. Halen’s induction reminded me of that Michael Keaton movie where he makes copies of himself – I was watching clone number three or four here. What business does Velvet Revolver have flogging their album in this context? Why on earth was Sammy Hagar given the privilege of accepting an honor for a band he didn’t join until its 10th year? What was Sammy thinking when he sent kudos to Gary Cherrone, who spent something like 20 minutes as Van Halen’s frontman before they recognized their predicament and broke up?
As for hip-hop breaking and entering the Hall, via self-promoter extraordinaire Jay-Z’s induction – this is rock? I don’t think so.
I’ll get called a racist for this, but as far as I’m concerned, a turntable isn’t a musical instrument, it’s a record player. While talking over a record collection can at times be entertaining, it’s not art. Rap is a cultural force, but it isn’t rock and roll. Political correctness is the only reason Grandmaster Flash is in the Rock Hall. By the way, the industry is about 25 years late to complain about music piracy – these guys invented it.
REM, whose induction I haven’t watched as I write this, is the only band tonight deserving of the honor. They played because they wanted to, got big in spite of themselves, and used their influence to help other bands get a foothold. Michael Stipe isn’t a rock star, which is why REM is a great rock band.
Update: Eddie Vedder’s induction speech kind of reinforced the whole Patti Smith thing for me. Michael Stipe and Peter Buck met in a record store, during a discussion of Patti Smith’s first four albums. However original her own art is, Smith lit the path for plenty of musicians. Courtney Love wouldn’t exist without her.
Wait, is that a good thing.
More complaints … No sidemen nominated, no producers. Where’s Stan Cornyn? Leon Russell? Little Feat?
The highlight reels between the inductions were good. God, Prince played the SHIT out of his instrument during “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in 2004, and some of those crowded stage gatherings are pretty awesome. But tonight, they just serve as a reminder of how weak the class of 2007 is, at least the ceremony part of it. I’m sure sure DLR and a sober Eddie Van Halen would have kicked some serious ass had it happened.