This weekend I continued my long love/hate affair with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the 2013 induction ceremony aired on HBO. There is much to hate, especially in the long list of bands that should have been inducted long ago. But I still love the inductions every year — especially this year with Rush finally getting the nod. But there were many other highlights as well
I’m a big Randy Newman fan. I think he’s an incredible songwriter, one of those rare people who can incorporate humor into his music without becoming a parody singer or a buffoon, and even use it to slyly and cleverly advance a social cause (the other to come to mind in this regard is Warren Zevon). His performance of the song I’m Dead But I Don’t Know It probably hit a little close to home to many of the aging rock stars in the room.
Albert King is in the blues pantheon, of course, and it is right and fitting that he is in the rock hall of fame now too. The great Stevie Ray Vaughan revered King, his mentor and his hero, and King bestowed on Vaughan the approval of one of the blues gods. I loved the performance of Born Under a Bad Sign by Gary Clark Jr, Booker T. Jones and John Mayer (who is, despite his often saccharine popular songs, quite a good blues guitarist).
Heart, like Rush, was way overdue for induction. It was cool to see the original band back together and that they didn’t just put the Wilson sisters in and forget the others who were a big part of that sound as well. And by the way, Ann Wilson still has one of the best voices in rock and roll. She sounded absolutely great. And I like that Chris Cornell, Jerry Cantrell and some of the other later Seattle rockers recognize and express their debt to Heart.
I was also happy to see Public Enemy get inducted. Yeah, it’s rap. Get over it. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is really the popular music hall of fame and always has been. That’s one of the things I like best about it is that they don’t just focus on hard rock and recognize the enormous diversity that has long existed in popular music. And Public Enemy was, for me, the definitive rap group of the late 80s. Chuck D is the best MC there is, as far as I’m concerned. And I was happy that he put rap into historical context by noting that rap and rock both owe their origins to the blues.
But the two big ones for me were Quincy Jones and Rush. Quincy Jones is one of those very few people at whose feet I would sit for hours, days, weeks at a time just listening to stories. The word “legend” doesn’t even seem to cover it. He worked with everyone, from Duke Ellington to Sinatra to Michael Jackson (the modern day equivalent is Rick Rubin, who has produced everyone from Jay Z to Slayer — and he’ll be in the hall of fame before too long himself). The stories that man must have…
And lastly, Rush. Perhaps the most overdue induction ever. This was the last induction and they saved it for last for a reason. That place went berserk when the video about them started showing. The audience and their fellow musicians were screaming with cathartic joy at finally seeing them get their due and Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins expressed that perfectly in their induction speech. And true to form, they made fun of Rush for the funniest cover photo of all time, particularly noting Alex Lifeson’s camel toe. And Neil Peart said it perfectly when he said that they’d been saying for years that this isn’t a big deal, but it turns out that it kind of is. It’s about damn time.
Now it’s time to get Deep Purple in next year. And Yes. And Kansas. And KISS (a band I can’t stand, but they belong there anyway). And Iron Maiden. And Judas Priest. And so many others.