The highlight was John Mellencamp, but I’ll get to that.
After some lighthearted remarks by John Sykes, an unrecognizable man hit the stage to over-testify about Duran Duran. Wearing a lime green suit, he looked like a cartoon character. It turned out to be Robert Downey, Jr.
And I’m sitting there thinking, can you get this emotional about Duran Duran?
And then they showed the video package, you know, the career highlights, and my mind goes to now, are today’s good-looking young acts any different from Duran Duran? OH YEAH! Way different. But I didn’t realize that until Duran Duran started to play.
So what we had here was the Microsoft Theater, built to compete with the Universal Amphitheatre, but the latter had soul and the former never did. What was then known as the Nokia had few accoutrements, it was akin to a barn, but then they tore the Universal Amphitheatre down to build a Harry Potter ride and the Nokia, now renamed Microsoft, was the only game in town. Sure, there’s the Shrine, but it’s long in the tooth. And what was then the Kodak, which is now known as the Dolby, has only half the seats, 3,400 as opposed to 7,100, which is good for the Oscars, but not for the Rock Hall induction ceremony, which is now open to the hoi polloi, paying a lot to be inside with their heroes.
All this is to say…
In the L.A. Live area, there’s Staples, now known as Crypto.com. A soccer stadium. The poorly designed club now known as the Novo. And the Microsoft Theater and a bunch of restaurants. What does this all mean? IT’S UNAPPROACHABLE! As in the traffic is HORRENDOUS! The “campus” is an hour solid from just about anywhere, even more. And when you get there, it’s gridlock.
The lot I pulled up to was for limos only. Just this one night.
The appropriate lot was full.
I ended up parking in the Convention Center lot, yes, that’s there too, even though they threatened to close it early, when the Kings game was over. Can’t say my evening started off on the right foot.
But getting inside the building was a breeze. No line for my pass or the metal detector.
And right down front were the high stakes tables. And I was lucky enough to snag a seat in the neighborhood. And the reason this is important is… Almost nobody in the industry seats claps. It’s kind of like when comics get together. One can make an hilarious crack and there will be no laughter, eventually one of the assembled will say softly “that’s funny.” You see for the people at the tables down front this was business. But for everybody else…
I wondered if there had been a warmup act. This was being recorded for HBO. Did a comic come out and tell the audience in seats to scream at the top of their lungs on a regular basis, to show enthusiasm?
And there were two sets of bleachers ON STAGE! So it was a curious effect. Where I was it was quiet, but outside there was a thunderous roar, well, with a higher pitch verging on screams and I must say I realized these people were paying, a lot, and I realized the Rock Hall needs the money, but this was not an insider event, the way it used to be. This show was made for television.
As for rubbing elbows like at Musicares…
It wasn’t like that either.
No one was hanging in the lobby kibbitzing, and the show ran so seamlessly.
Now if you’ve been to a TV taping you know it’s endless. With the breaks, with the repeats. But there was no time to go to the bathroom last night, like that old Diane Warren Aerosmith song, I didn’t want to miss a thing.
So Simon Le Bon hasn’t aged well. But he’s 64! For that age he looks great, but he’s no longer cute. Nor is Nick Rhodes. As for John Taylor… I once did Jonesy’s Jukebox with him and I was intimidated and felt inadequate because he was so GOOD-LOOKING! Most people don’t live up to the image, John Taylor looked better! But last night he was an elder statesman, your dad’s buddy.
So they take the stage and they immediately go into…GIRLS ON FILM!
It was shocking. I shot right up!
This was the first single, with a wild video you almost never saw in its unedited version, something you probably couldn’t even make in the #MeToo era, but the track was so infectious I had to buy the album, just to hear it. And now they’re performing it live and they’re so well-rehearsed and… This was not the Grammys, last night was not on hard drive, everybody came to shine and the performances were EXCELLENT!
And that’s when I realized it was all about the music. Doesn’t matter how Duran Duran looks today. The records sustain.
Then after “Rio,” the band…I knew it.
I remember hearing it for the first time, when they debuted it at KROQ’s Acoustic Christmas back in ’92, they were playing ORDINARY WORLD! It was so good, I’m tingling as I write this. The music superseded the somnambulant crowd down front and the overenthusiastic public to penetrate my heart and brain and bring me right back to who I am and why I do this. Really, fantastic.
No one played Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’s music, but other than Mellencamp, they had the best speeches. They were down to earth yet part of the fabric. They were introduced by Janet Jackson who had a hairdo you’ll see in all the magazines, this wasn’t the only time I marveled that people showed up to boost their career, to make defining moments, and Janet looked great but had a very quiet voice, yet what I couldn’t hear I could read on the teleprompter in the audience. It was when the speaker spoke sans the words being on the big screen that you knew something worthwhile would be said.
Terry Lewis talked about their beginning. But Jimmy Jam talked about needing music in schools, the value of music in schools, how it teaches you… And there was a beat, and I was wondering what he was going to say, because there are all these studies saying taking music lessons improves your other learning and then there are those that dispute this. But this is not what Jimmy Jam was talking about. He said we even learn our ABC’s with music. And he sang the first half of the alphabet and then the audience sang the rest, it was a magical moment.
But the true musical highlight of the evening was Judas Priest. I don’t even think I’m a big Priest fan. There was a long introduction by Alice Cooper, and then the band hit the stage. A white-goateed Rob Halford was wearing his leather, most of the band was wearing leather and chains and studs and they started to play and it was ELECTRIFYING! It was like taking the best of Priest and distilling it down to ten minutes and being there to witness it. The people down front didn’t completely get it, the people in the audience didn’t completely get it, because times have changed, used to be metal was part of the fabric, it was all over MTV (thank god the video package showed Beavis & Butt-head grooving to “Breaking the Law). Now metal is a sideshow, but last night it was the MAIN SHOW! Man, Priest just killed. THIS IS ROCK AND ROLL!
The other transcendent performance? Eurythmics. Now I did a podcast with Dave Stewart, he was so engaging, sans airs, but last night he inhabited the rock star persona. As for Annie Lennox… What can I say, she was the overlord, with her powerful voice she blasted over the venue and the sound penetrated down and we were all infected like rats, our heads were exploding like in that SNL skit imitating Oprah giving her audience cars. Lennox was not being a diva. She wasn’t wearing clothing that said “designer.” Basically, it was just her, AND THAT WAS MORE THAN ENOUGH! You just stood there marveling, and at this point we were all marveling, that someone could have this voice and sing original songs and reach us and… I’m thinking of how I went to see them at the Palace, on their first tour, back in ’82, and now they were even more electric, and believe me they were great that night.
As for the rest of the show…
I have to say, Lionel Richie probably got the most applause, the best reaction for a musical performance. And despite some less than great plastic surgery, he’s still got it, his voice, his ability to play… And I must admit I’ve always loved “All Night Long,” and that brought the house down, but really, is Lionel Richie rock and roll?
He made a claim that he was in his speech thereafter, and he almost convinced me, but no…
I get it, I really do.
There’s been a changing of the guard. John Sykes has replaced Jann Wenner, and unlike Mr. Rolling Stone Sykes is anything but aloof and above, and Rick Krim has replaced Jon Landau and…where is the Hall supposed to go?
Now I’ve always argued they should have shut the doors long ago. Every museum does not contain works from every period. Even worse, too many deserving acts of yore are not in. Let’s start with Bad Company. The criteria keep shifting, you have to be an influence… How about an influence to get out of your head, be happy and have sex, is that not good enough? And if Priest is in, Iron Maiden should be too. Not because I worked with them, I’m not even that big a fan. But in truth they’re nearly as successful as they’ve always been. Unlike their brethren, they still put out new music and it still sells. Yes, Maiden fans buy the damn albums, they need to own them as part of their identity. I’d prefer to listen to Priest, but in truth today Maiden has an even harder core fan base.
So, I’m not going to say that since I was there everything with the Rock Hall is hunky-dory. As for Dolly Parton, even she joked about it. And then came out with an electric guitar and sang a freshly-penned rock tune that made me smile, but that’s about it.
However, following that, everybody got on stage like they used to in the old days to sing and play together, the number was Parton’s “Jolene”? Come on, that’s the first Parton song I knew and liked, back in the seventies, but that’s a personal statement, not a mass effort. But I must tell you, seeing her share the microphone with Rob Halford, still in his regalia, was priceless.
So what about the rest of the show.
Dr. Dre did an excellent job introducing Eminem, but Marshall’s performance… Was too frenzied for this audience, they didn’t catch it, it didn’t wholly work, the words were going by so fast that unless you already knew them, there was no way you could decipher them. And in his speech, he listed all his influences, all the rappers who paved the way for him, and that was cool, yet it ultimately lost its effect as a result of the list being so long.
And Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo. Turns out he’s the one with the personality. But when Pat sang “Heartbreaker,” it was almost as good as Duran Duran. I give her so much credit for playing a song from the first album, still my favorite, still the best, I had to buy it for “We Live for Love”… Pat’s induction was way overdue.
Carly Simon didn’t show up. She’s got stage fright, but probably she’s still mourning the death of her two sisters, on consecutive days. Sara Bareilles radiated liveliness and charisma giving her introductory speech, but still it was canned. As for Sara performing Carly’s Bond song “Nobody Does It Better”… Superfluous dreck. Carly cut so much meaningful stuff, why sing this bombastic number that touches no souls? Olivia Rodrigo evidenced chops, but really, like with Harry Belafonte, who also didn’t show, there should have been no live performances.
Like with Belafonte, there were just video packages for Elizabeth Cotten and Sylvia Robinson, but the latter’s was quite good.
Which leaves us with…
Bruce kissed Jimmy’s ass so hard it almost made me wince. And then Jimmy got up and recited his credits and he thanked David Geffen and I was wondering exactly who this speech was for. It didn’t endear the audience to him, it made them know who he was, but even though he came from the streets, he’s now on the mountaintop and it’s nearly impossible to relate to him anymore.
Unlike Allen Grubman.
If you’ve been following the news, Jann Wenner blew a gasket that Grubman was going to be inducted. That’s the rumor anyway.
John Mellencamp sauntered up to the mic and…
He sauntered, as in slowly. His speech was not on the teleprompter. It was written down, but he was playing the role of a Shakespearian actor. Mellencamp was giving a performance, whereas everybody else was just going through the motions. And he was phenomenally good, but so self-assured, a short man with sky high hair, Sean Penn-like, evidencing machismo exactly…why? And he had all of us in the palm of his hand, and then he mentions that Allen Grubman is Jewish.
I was positively shocked. There was plenty of time to think, because Mellencamp was delivering his speech so slowly. And based on what Mellencamp said previously, about Grubman helping him out in business, I thought John was going to reference the old trope about Jews and money, I really did. And I’m sitting there contemplating, if he does, do I stand up and shout back? I mean it’s television. It will be so disruptive. Like the Nazi in the “Producers,” but we just cannot let this stuff slide.
But, Mellencamp leans back into the mic and says:
“‘Allen is Jewish, and I bring that up for one reason: I’m a gentile, and my life has been enriched by countless Jewish people.’
‘I cannot tell you how f–king important it is to speak out if you’re an artist against anti-Semitism. I don’t give a f–k, I don’t care… Here’s the trick: Silence is complicity. I’m standing here tonight loudly and proudly with Allen, his family and all of my Jewish friends and all of the Jewish people of the world.’
‘F–k anti-Semitism, and f–k anybody who says anything in that manner.'”
It was positively astounding, positively jaw-dropping. And it took Mellencamp much longer to say these words than it did for you to read them. What he’s declaring is slowly penetrating the audience, and everybody in attendance starts to clap and stands up and continues clapping and it goes on and on and…it made me feel like we were in it together, the music industry and the music fans, that we stood up for truth, not what was expedient, that we Jews weren’t out there alone. I mean come on, this is a guy who’s known as an a-hole and refers to HIMSELF as “Little B..tard.” THIS is the guy who’s standing up for us? A guy who is usually seen as only being in it for himself? Mellencamp stole the gravitas award from Bruce Springsteen instantly, Bono was no match. Because the truth is everything. And if you’re not willing to stand up for others…it’s just a matter of time before they come after you.
As for Grubman himself… Unlike Iovine, who really was okay, I don’t want to beat up on him too heavily, Allen was humble. He was endearing. You could tell why he was so successful.
And then he told the story of the formation of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He got a call from Ahmet.
Ahmet’s gone now. He was never perfect, over time the image has been smoothed out, but Ahmet was dignified and cool in a way no other music exec has ever been.
Ahmet said to come to lunch at Pearl’s on Monday.
PEARL’S! A legendary Chinese restaurant that’s no longer there. I mean it cracked me up, my parents took us to Pearl’s, it rooted the story for me.
And Allen asked Ahmet who else would be there. And Ahmet said Seymour Stein and Jann Wenner.
And Grubman gets to the restaurant and orders the spareribs, testifies how great the spareribs at Pearl’s are, and he’s busy chomping away and Ahmet is talking and then Allen suddenly hears him say “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” And that was the defining moment.
The story of how I.M. Pei ended up designing the building in Cleveland was great too. Ahmet said he knew I.M., Grubman said no way he’d do it. So, Ahmet calls I.M., who as Grubman put it, does the Brooklyn mumble, you know where your mouth is moving and words are coming out but really nothing is being said, the goal is to get away without making any commitments.
But right thereafter, I.M. called up and said he was DYING to do it.
You know what happened. I knew what happened before Allen finished the story. HE TOLD HIS KIDS! And his kids said, YOU HAVE TO DO IT!
That’s the power of music, that’s the power of rock and roll.
And it ain’t like it used to be. If it was, today’s art would be equivalent to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, and it’s not. People are painting, I’m not saying there’s no good stuff, I’m just saying…
Times were different.
Never mind the sixties and seventies. MTV in the eighties, Judas Priest and Duran Duran?
I get it, they have to continue to induct people into the Hall to keep it relevant, to keep the money flowing. But I don’t think this is the mission Ahmet was pursuing.
But, once again, Ahmet is gone. Still, I wish they would change the moniker, especially in an era where rock is dying. Steven Tyler came out to sing with Eminem and it was like a relic from a different era. And it won’t be long before they’re all gone. Not only the progenitors of blues and rock, but the stars of the sixties, seventies and eighties.
We’re all old.
Well, maybe you’re not. But everybody down front at the tables was. At first I was anxious about going, fearful I’d be the oldest guy in the room, which has happened at a couple of recent concerts I’ve been to. But I was nowhere close last night, down on the floor I was nearly a young ‘un. We’d all been there, we’d all seen the movie, we’d all been touched…
But the feeling is not the same. You see you get old enough and you’ve seen so much. You don’t have to be there, because you’ve been there already. It’s not your first rodeo.
But that’s when it hit me, that old Sly and the Family Stone song…EVERYBODY IS A STAR!
Everybody is on their own journey, everybody is on their own search for excellence, everybody wants highs, respect, adulation.
And in truth we can all get it.
The musicians are just that. Watching last night, it was clear stardom was a job. They showed Eminem writing in the private jet. All the outfits and the interviews…you might think it’s only about the music, but it’s not. That’s what they chose, you get to choose your own path. Don’t feel jealous, BUT DO MARVEL!
Yes, in my lifetime, going back to the sixties, seventies and eighties, music was everything. And the funny thing is that’s the only thing that doesn’t change. The people who make it, the listeners, they age, become different people, but not the records. The records still give us the same hit of adrenaline, bring us back, root us, same as they ever did. Actually, that’s what last night reinforced. It may have been decades ago that these acts triumphed, but it was clear why they had, and the music meant just as much to us, if not more!
Ultimately, after it seemed like it was all over, Bruce and John and others in the cast came out and did a rollicking version of Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” And it was very good, but it wasn’t transcendent.
This was not the induction ceremonies of old. Private affairs with a jam session at the end for the players, a unique event, no matter how much of a train-wreck. This was just another part of the show.
And in truth, you might feel differently when you watch HBO’s cut in a couple of weeks. I’m sitting there thinking how rock never translates on TV.
You see you had to be there.
And I was there last night.
And it was not about the hang. It wasn’t that kind of evening.
And it wasn’t about feeling special.
And in truth, these awards shows made for television can be endless. Everybody’s worn out at the end, assuming you haven’t left already, and I saw a number of household names exit hours before the conclusion.
But being there…
There is something about the power of live music. And being in the room where it happens. It’s like nothing else. The performers are there in the flesh, playing songs you know by heart, expertly, and you’re in the moment as simultaneously your entire life goes through your brain. I can’t truly articulate it, but you know exactly what I’m talking about. That distance between you and the act evaporates, they’re right there and so are you.
So that was my experience, your mileage may vary, but that’s just the point. Rock is about individualism, having a viewpoint and letting your freak flag fly, uncompromised. And even though we sometimes do what is expedient in our lives, the music is always there, to lift us up, reinvigorate and inspire us when we need it.
Yes, sweet dreams are made of that.
And if you don’t agree with me, YOU’VE GOT ANOTHER THING COMING!