L.A. Mocks, Cleveland Rocks - The 2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
Okay. Sing the following couplet to the melody of The Eagles' "Hotel California":
Welcome to the Highway California/ There's an entrance ramp in front of you/ But you'll never get where you're going to...
HBO's taping of the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction started nearly 50 minutes late. Randy Newman was scheduled to be the first inductee on Thursday evening, April 18, 2013. But, as all in attendance later found out, his good friend and longtime musical admirer Don Henley was stuck in traffic. It was getting close to8pm and the taping was scheduled to begin at 7pm. Exasperated producers turned up the stage lights at the Nokia Theatre and let Randy rip into a brilliant version of his "I Love L.A.". Newman had Tom Petty, Jackson Browne and John Fogerty all wailing away on guitar with him. Petty was in particularly good voice and Fogerty knifed a razor sharp solo. An auspicious beginning, indeed. The lights went dark, Newman got up from his piano, straightened his tuxedo and went back to his white-clothed table in the orchestra pit in front of the stage. Only then did Don Henley appear at the lectern. He sardonically noted that he, too, "loved L.A." "It took me 90 minutes to get here." He drew the biggest laughs of the evening until erstwhile stand-up comedians Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of The Foo Fighters showed up to close out the ceremonies with their induction speech for Rush.
Speaking of Rush, they were far and away the main reason 5,000 of the 7,000 fans showed up in the cavernous,cold and dark Nokia Theatre. For nearly five hours, my wife and I were surrounded by late forty-something/ fifty-something beer-swilling white guys in black Rush tee shirts who screamed at the top of their lungs when anyone on stage even uttered the band's name. Yes, their female companions might have come to shimmy to Jennifer Hudson's rendition of the posthumously inducted Donna Summer's "Bad Girls." But, their guys were all about Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart. An often overheard comment that night was: "It's aboot f---kin' time they got in. Rush ROCKS!!!
Okay, since this was L.A., allow me to go "Joe Friday" on you and give you just the facts, ma'am or sir:
1.Don Henley inducted Randy Newman, who's droll and wisely observant as ever. Newman did return to the stage with Henley in tow to perform his 1999 release: "I'm Dead, But I Don't Know It."
2.Cheech and Chong inducted heroic record producer and man-about-town L.A. impresario, Lou Adler. Carole King sat down at the piano and caressed the 7,000 strong throng with a perfectly pitched, gorgeous rendition of "You're So Far Away," a song from her Adler-produced iconic seventies album,Tapestry.
3. John Mayer posthumously inducted the fiery guitar-playing bluesman, Albert King. King's daughter and granddaughter graciously and joyously accepted on his behalf. Mayer joined 21st Century Texas bluesman, Gary Clark, Jr. on a cover of King's best known song, "Born Under a Bad Sign." Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and The M.G.'s backed them up on Hammond B3 organ and vocals. Jones WROTE this song. I was annoyed that neither Mayer or Clark publicly acknowledged Jones while they were on stage. Perhaps, HBO will fix this egregious slight "in the mix" when the edited ceremony debuts on the premium cable channel Saturday, May 18, 2013.
4. Kelly Rowland, she of the winning smile and Destiny's Child, posthumously inducted Donna Summer, whose talents as a songwriter and vocalist I believe are still under appreciated by far too many people. Summer's widower, Bruce Sudano and her three tall, movie star beautiful daughters accepted for Donna. Jennifer Hudson took to the stage to deliver an inspired, pounding version of "Bad Girls" Again, this one got all the Rush fan girl friends and wives on their feet. Women and more than a few guys, after all, this was L.A, teared up when Hudson segued into an impassioned "Last Dance."
5. Oprah Winfrey drew gasps and applause when she sauntered to the lectern, stage right, to induct legendary jazzman, record, television and movie producer Quincy Jones into the Rock Hall. Oprah shared that Quincy saw her exiting her Chicago television studio back in the mid-1980s (before she went "Mega") and said: "THAT's her. That's the woman I want to cast as "Sofia" in The Color Purple." Quincy was producing the movie adaption of Alice Walker's book. Winfrey's role in it helped catapult her to worldwide fame. Quincy rambled far too long in his acceptance speech but "dropped some serious knowledge" regarding how we should treasure jazz and push ourselves to learn and respect other cultures and their languages far more than we currently do.
Usher performed "Rock with You" in honor of Quincy's production work for Michael Jackson. The younger women
in the audience were ecstatic. There was a "currently hot celebrity" aura around Usher. He sang and danced with gusto. Still, his performance reminded me of how truly great Michael Jackson's talent was. Michael defied gravity when he danced. He was endlessly inventive and lighter than air, like The Nicholas Brothers, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire before him.
6. Spike Lee showed up in full "Mookie" garb. Harry Belafonte was as regal and searing as ever in his earnest indictment of America's racial injustices, a theme he wove into his remarks while inducting rap's most politically vocal band ever, Public Enemy, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Class of 2013. Spike noted that Public Enemy's anthem "Fight The Power" helped make Do The Right Thing the commercial and critical success that the movie came to be. Flavor Flav did his best Dean Martin "too drunk to be coherent" impression, except that it wasn't funny. The always authoritative Chuck D calmed the audience and pointed out that HBO has "editing machines." Chuck wisely observed that there were "too many categories in this rock game" and that ALL musics go back to the blues. Word.
7. The mood of Rush fans who were annoyed and/or perplexed by Public Enemy's set swung 180 degrees on the "joy meter" when they saw Chris Cornell of Soundgarden come to the lectern. Cornell was there to induct the Wilson sisters and their band Heart into the "boys club" of rock and roll: an honor long overdue. Nancy Wilson's remarks revealed her to be a wryly feministic and insightful woman. She also must have a portrait in her attic back up in Seattle absorbing the ravages of time. She is stunningly attractive, fit and still looks like she's in her mid-thirties. Ann Wilson, always seen as the brash forceful sister, is confident, no doubt. But, Ann has a surprisingly laid-back artist's perspective from what I could tell by her comments. Heart immediately brought the entire audience to their feet as the band slammed into "Crazy On You" and then "Barracuda." Chris Cornell joined them on guitar on ''Barracuda." Things were building to the inevitable rock climax.
8. The audience went berserk when Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins came to the lighted lectern. There was no one left to induct but Rush. Geddy Lee. Alex Lifeson. Neil Peart. "Fly By Night." "Tom Sawyer." Need I say more?
In closing, what did Cleveland gain by having the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony staged in Los Angeles? There weren't any more satellite trucks emblazoned with internationally known media brand names parked outside the Nokia Theatre than I've seen outside the Waldorf Astoria in New York City or outside Cleveland's Public Auditorium. As Huey Lewis And The News crooned in "The Heart Of Rock And Roll," in L.A. they do it with a lot flash---and indeed they did. The event had undeniable star voltage. It was likely easier and less expensive to get the Oprah Winfreys, Ushers, Jennifer Hudsons, John Mayers, CheechMarins and Kelly Rowlands of the world to leave their Malibu/Pacific Palisades/Santa Monica digs and drive to downtown L.A. than it would have been to cajole them into coming to Cleveland.
The Nokia Theatre certainly made a big wad of cash. I hope the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum got a cut. Hundreds of seats no closer than 50 yards away from the stage went for $750 a person and thousands of seats more than 150 yards away from the stage cost $500 a pop. But, it was just another yawn of a spectacle for L.A. The ceremony didn't even make The Los Angeles Times until Saturday, April 20th...and even then it was buried in the Calendar section. In Cleveland, the Induction Ceremony is front page, above-the-fold news the very next morning. In L.A., not so much. It's about The Clippers, Kobe's tweets, the other glamorous sports franchises and "The Business."
Finally, JannWenner didn't do the Museum any favors with his barely concealed mocking of its location. In his opening address to the Rock Hall Induction Ceremony this year, Wenner rolled his eyes and said: "let me explain to you why The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland." There was a fluttering of derisive laughter throughout the massive hall. Wenner went on to say, in essence, "it's in Cleveland because Ohio was willing to pay for it." He tried to take the negative edge off that comment by then encouraging attendees to make the trip to Cleveland to check out the Museum's fabulous collection. "You've got to come there to see it," Wenner stated as he closed.
An L.A.- based Rush fan sitting near me retorted: "No, I don't. It's in Cleveland."
What the West Coast and Canadian Rush fans don't realize is that Cleveland helped popularize the very rock music they love. As Chuck D might snort, they are IGNORANT of the music's history. Rock and roll would have happened, but it would have happened much later without visionary pioneers like Alan Freed who bravely helped "break down those categorical walls" between race music and pop music in the same era in which Jim Crow plagued the nation.
Rock 's commercial popularity came to the sunny beaches of California and the dank clubs of Seattle much later than the scene that happened on the North Coast. In the early fifties, Clevelanders enthusiastically embraced the music. They simply loved it. And, the rock and soul musicians knew it, making the City By the Lake a must-play venue for artists from Elvis Presley to Otis Redding. Cleveland and all of Ohio need to STOP seeking validation from the East Coast/West Coast cultural elites and embrace the Museum for what it is: the very best collection of musical artifacts of the most popular music in the entire world. In fact, we need to expand The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum. We've been packing in the memorabilia from legendary artists for nearly twenty years now. Have you been in the Museum lately? It's getting a little close.
I didn't know Huey Lewis And The News would be my muse for this piece until I started writing it. But, it's my contention that the "heart of rock and rock and roll is still beatin'...in Cleveland."
L.A. can mock, but Cleveland still rocks.