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Turning Rebellion Into Money:|
Further Gratuitous Coverage of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Yet Another of Their Induction Ceremonies
Text and photos: Copyright © 2003 John Nikolai. All Rights Reserved.
It's not so much a question of where to start as it is of when to stop. Since I already wrote everything I ever cared to say about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when I covered last year's induction ceremonies and since I enjoyed going about as much as I enjoy a good paper cut, why the hell did I go back? What was I expecting? This year, the bands inducted were AC/DC, The Clash, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, The Police and The Righteous Brothers but I went with the intention of limiting my coverage of the event to writing a review of the lousy catering available in the pressroom. I'd give the lowdown on the bowls of condiments with spoons sticking out of them and offer in-depth coverage of the sparse supply of white bread finger sandwiches. Were the crusts left on or cut off? Would the supply of pretzels be replenished once the poor sad sack journalist slouches had greedily snatched every last crumb from the bottom of the bowl? Answers to these questions are just as important as anything that happens at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Once again, the induction ceremony took place at the posh Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC. The ceremony took place in the hotel's impressive ballroom and the media (myself included) were contained in a separate room. Here, kept away from any attending celebrities, inductees and tuxedoed record company executives, members of the press watched the event on monitors and hoped that the inductees would eventually come into the pressroom for some quick questions and photos. In the lobby, well-known actors and musicians (such as Tim Robbins and former singer of The Cars, Ric Ocasek) could be seen heading for the ballroom. Saturday Night Live's Jimmy Fallon, distractingly gorgeous Jennell Vyck and Jay Hale, the head honcho of Fat City Magazine, were gracious enough to pose for a group shot. Vyck, a native of Ohio, said she was puzzled as to why the ceremony wasn't being held in Cleveland, where the Rock Hall's museum is. Fallon said he was "just hanging out." This year, I had intended to wear a commemorative t-shirt that I had designed specially for this grand occasion. In big, black handwritten letters, it said, "THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME," followed by some words I'd lifted from an old Clash song: "TURNING REBELLION INTO MONEY." I thought those lyrics summed up the true agenda of the Rock Hall perfectly. But in the end, I decided not to wear it. And instead of doing a writeup of the catering, I've decided to play nice instead and give details of the actual events of the evening. I'll start with the much-hyped reunion of the The Police.
Judging from their reunion performance, if there was any chemistry left in The Police, it was probably formaldehyde. Less respectable publications than PUNK Magazine have erroneously reported that this reunion pulled The Police out of an 18-year-long retirement. Not true. Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland actually played together at Sting's wedding back in the early 1990s. Regardless of how long it has been, The Police's return to the spotlight wasn't exactly a shot of adrenaline. It was more like a glass of warm milk. Choosing three of the most obvious Police songs they could perform, they dusted off "Roxanne," "Message In a Bottle" and "Every Breath You Take" and sucked the life out of them. All the songs were given the same overextended, overworked, melodramatic, light jazz-makeovers that Sting has always inflicted upon old Police songs since going solo. This reunion performance was all about nostalgia, self-indulgence, and refusal to leave good enough or even great enough alone. This was once a great band.
There were guest appearances during "Every Breath You Take" by Gwen Stefani (who inducted the band), John Mayer and a singer from a corporate rock band who inducted AC/DC. I'll get to him in a moment. The extra bodies on stage didn't help at all. The Police couldn't have sucked more. That said, they should reform every year to be the house band for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's induction ceremonies.
Elvis Costello and the Attractions were introduced and inducted by Elton John, who said some humorous things in his speech that you can find elsewhere on the Internet if the last time you heard "Candle in the Wind" wasn't enough Elton to last you the rest of your life. Costello and his current band, the Imposters (basically the Attractions with a different bassist), performed "(What's so Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," a subtle statement against what was still, at the time, only an impending war. It was a good choice but only a mediocre performance.
AC/DC have lost none of their edge with age, but for those hard rock fans who like their metal lighter and more wrinkled than a crushed ball of aluminum foil, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith was chosen to induct the band. AC/DC's decision to play "Highway to Hell" wasn't done as a statement about the impending war, but what could've been a more appropriate choice if that had been their reason? Hands down, they were the only band to perform live that night that rocked. Brian Johnson's voice is one powerful instrument. Angus Young's guitar is another. AC/DC have never been my thing, but I was floored. Steven Tyler joined AC/DC on stage to sing along on "You Shook Me All Night Long," and while it was obviously a thrill for him, his being up there with a group that is so much the real thing only amplified the fact that, well, he isn't. Contrary to what Rolling Stone magazine reported, Angus Young did not thank the devil at the induction ceremony. At least not out loud.
The Righteous Brothers performed a larger-than-life "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." They were inducted by Billy Joel. Joel began his speech by letting everyone know that he's okay and by letting Sting know that no tree is safe on Long Island as long as he, Billy Joel, is on the road. Joel was referring to an accident that he'd had some months back when he drove his Mercedes Benz off the road and into a tree. Long Island Police who arrived at the scene of the accident, angels of mercy that they are, didn't bother with that pesky breathalyzer test. Righteous Brother Bill Medley, during his induction speech, said, "Boy, what a thrill, what a pleasure this is to be named alongside these wonderful, wonderful talented people." All of the bands who were inducted seemed to feel equally honored. Including The Clash.
Groucho Marx once said he wouldn't want to belong to any club that would accept him as a member. In "1977," an early Clash song, Joe Strummer sang "no more Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones." With their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Clash are now members of the same country club. For whatever reasons, Joe Strummer, who died in December of last year, was psyched that The Clash were being inducted. He even wanted to reform the band to perform at the ceremony. I was puzzled and unhappy when I heard this. For The Clash to reform for a charitable cause would be one thing. An anti-war concert or rally might be another. Maybe for the fans or just for the fun of doing it. But to reform to play before a closed room of record company executives at a black tie industry event that diehard Clash fans couldn't possibly attend? That doesn't sound like The Clash.
On the morning of the induction ceremony, I met up with Terry Chimes, original drummer of The Clash, who I had arranged to interview and photograph for a book I'm doing called Never Mind Nostalgia: The Last Book on Punk Rock (Part I). I found him very cool, extremely sharp, and completely down-to-Earth. I mentioned to him that the Rock Hall Inductions made me think of that Clash lyric, "turning rebellion into money." He seemed a bit taken aback by my saying this and I suddenly felt like I'd been extremely rude. As far as he seemed to be concerned, some rock 'n' roll institution had called upon him to acknowledge him and to pay respect to the great band he used to be in, and he had graciously accepted their invitation. He had probably not searched for ulterior motives and, I suspect, probably hadn't spent a whole lot of time pondering the business calling itself The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
During his induction speech, guitarist Mick Jones said he was accepting the award on behalf of all the garage bands out there that might never have thought a moment like this would be possible. Paul Simonon, former Clash bassist and now a successful painter, told Rolling Stone that he had no intention of going to the Hall of Fame. "But when Joe died," he was quoted as saying, "I thought we should all go together, for his family, for all of us." These are all honorable, valid reasons that shouldn't be scrutinized. As far as I'm concerned, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is neither valid nor important but the reason I had decided to go and cover it was because I have a lot of respect for The Clash and wanted to document what might be the remaining members' final moment in the spotlight together. After speaking to Chimes that morning, I'd have felt like a rat wearing that shirt on a night when he and his ex-bandmates deserved to feel only honored and appreciated. In his induction speech, Terry Chimes paid tribute to Topper Headon, the Clash's other drummer who did not come to New York for the induction ceremony even though he was being inducted as part of the group. It was a very classy gesture.
VH1's broadcast of the ceremony, a week later, was worse than the actual, unedited event. They wisely edited out part of The Police's weak performance so that only two songs were aired, but they also cut out two extremely important things that they shouldn't have.
Of anything that was said throughout the entire evening, the most important words spoken by anyone were the ones that didn't make it onto VH1. Some of those words came from Neil Young. The others were from keyboardist Steve Nieve of Elvis Costello and the Imposters.
Young, who was on hand to give a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Nonperformer Category to Mo Ostin, said, "We're having a good time tonight, but we're going to kill a lot of people next week..." He compared the country, under our current leadership, to a gas-guzzling SUV speeding down the road with a drunk at the wheel. In Steve Nieve's acceptance speech, he said, "In a sense, we all belong to the ultimate rock 'n' roll band: the human race. And very rare are the bands that have not experienced a moment of conflict. But the solution to conflict can't be a war. War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. I'd love it if the decidants of our countries, particularly as they seem to be the countries of the rock 'n' roll, would listen to those words and, even better, to pay attention to the words of Elvis Costello: 'Diving for dear life when we could be diving for pearls.'"
Granted, Nieve's was not the most eloquent anti-war speech of all time, but at least this man chose to use what little time he had at the microphone to try to promote peace. The swine at VH1 edited all of this out of their broadcast, only leaving Nieve's parting words. The only thing heard on television was: "Thank you, Elvis. I'm very proud to be a part of this legend so far," then a final "Thank you" to the audience.
I understand that VH1 had time constraints for the program. I understand that time must be allotted to air the commercials that sponsors paid big money to get on TV so that their crucial messages would be heard and their important products would be seen. Commercials aired during the broadcast included one about a hair care product that claims to fight dandruff. Another plugged a skin care product that fights wrinkles. So, perhaps because of time constraints, the apparently far-less important sentiments expressed against fighting a war had to be trimmed from VH1's coverage of the event. Still, the hatchet job done on both men's speeches doesn't exactly make me feel any more confident that VH1 or the Rock Hall have any real respect for the artists that they are profiting off of and pretending to honor. And if, to merge the words of Neil Young and AC/DC, we really are careening down the Highway to Hell in a giant, gas-guzzling SUV, running down whatever gets in our American way, a crash may be waiting for us somewhere up the road that, unlike Billy Joel's, we may not be able to walk away from. And we may find that wrinkles and Rock Hall inductions are the last things we need to be concerning ourselves with anyway.
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