A few weeks ago I was talked into and made the last minute decision to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. It was being held in Cleveland this year, which is an easy 2 hour drive from Pittsburgh. This year Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, Green Day, Bill Withers, and Ringo Starr were being inducted, which is a pretty great cross section of my musical upbringing.
Each year I have a bit of existential musical tug of war going on in my head. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has its politics like anything else, but I am sucked in every time. There is a history to the museum and the performances, which is actively being preserved, from the gracious acceptances and donations by all of the artists honored so far, and the fuck off’s from some of the greats. Each build on the history of music, what it stands for, and what it means in each of our lives. So, fuck it, I was on my way.
I arrived late and unfortunately missed Joan Jett’s performance, which kicked off the ceremony. (I am still super bummed about it.) We walked in as Miley Cyrus was into her induction speech and my gut just kinda said “What the fuck…” like really, do we really have to insert this media whore everywhere? Media whore not, when Joan Jett thanked her for her speech, she acknowledged that Miley is a strong woman who does everything her own way. Which, is kinda, what makes Joan Jett such a bad ass (though a classier one). The Blackhearts speeches were tough and funny with a much applauded reference to Iggy Pop when Ricky Byrd tells a story of his daughter asking if this means that she can meet Iggy Azalea and he says "Baby, In my world there is only one Iggy you want to meet".
Joan Jett started off thanking her family for supporting her whole career before launching into a poetic love letter to the genera. "I come from a place where rock and roll means something...it is the language of a subculture that made eternal teenagers of all who followed it. It is a subculture of integrity, rebellion, frustration, alienation, and the glue that set several generations free...rock and roll is political...it is meaningful way to express dissent, upset the status quo, stir up revolution, and fight for human rights." She then thanked the music scene, she rattled off a list of the infamous clubs of the 70s in LA and NYC, she went through all of the fantastic musicians that helped them out along the way, including the other members of The Runaways and Pete Townshend, dropped a few unexpected ones, Dave Grohl, Lemmy, Iggy, Blondie, X, Replacements, Social Distortion, and gave props to Ian MacKaye, Fugazi, and Dischord Records. Through and through she was the image of Joan Jett that we loved all these years.
The transitions were a bit lacking as the next performance launched. Tom Morello, Zach Brown, and Jason Ricci ripped through a killer instrumental featuring a harmonica but no one knew what was being performed, or at least no one in my section. The audience then deduced that it was a number by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, who were being inducted next. Though I had never heard of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band they had me hooked with their speeches and performance. You couldn’t help but be struck by Elvin Bishop’s bright green plaid shirt and overalls (which I didn’t learn until Googling him later, was kind of his trademark) and Sam Lay with his cape. They were some great old guys, with some good stories, and a ton of humor. Bishop's speech was full of humor and humility. He told the audience of moving to Chicago looking for a music scene and came upon Paul Butterfield as he was sitting on a stoop playing the blues and drinking a beer, and thought to himself, “this is my kind of guy”. Or when told us all that he remembered a time when there was no rock and roll, "When I was a young teenager the best a young person can do for pop music was Perry Como..." He even came back in between speeches to thank his wife who is still talking to him after he left the trunk open and her luggage fell out, never to be found. Sam Lay’s walk was slow and his speech measured, he expressed his gratitude and love for the audience and the fans, as well as offered a few jokes about his descent into being an old man. But when The Paul Butterfield Blues Band played, Lay was the same young man that the audience remembered, his drums flawless and his voice smooth. I was not familiar with their music before this performance, but they killed it, I have seen bands with members in their 20s and 30s who didn’t give it that much.
Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble were inducted by John Mayer who gave a touching speech about what they meant to him and as developing guitarist. Accepting the honor for Stevie Ray Vaughn was his brother Jimmie, who showed the audience a bit of his personal pain and gratitude for his little brother. The performance features Jimmie on vocals along with John Mayer, Doyle Bramhall II, and Gary Clark, Jr. alternating and trading solos.
I was kind of surprised that Green Day was at this point in the set, I thought they would have saved them for later...maybe right before Bill Withers and Ringo, or maybe that was just my personal bias coming through, but I suppose their energy did offer a jolt to the middle of the show. As excited as I was for this honor being bestowed upon Green Day, I was a bit nervous. I was kind of distant from them as a fan since Billie Joe's temper tantrum and a disappointing (yet ambitious) three album release. I should have known better though, they are one of the bands that I grew up on. I wasn't old enough to discover Kerplunk or 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours before Dookie, but man, when Dookie came out, I was fucking hooked. The perfect blend of alternative and punk (I was still a few years away from going to my first punk show even), I knew that this was the sound my youth. Edgier, angrier, and rawer than the grunge bands, this was one of the first bands that struck me in a visceral way yet that I could sing along to. I was a fan though out their career, as they grew, changed, and experimented (I'll go to bat for Warning every time) and was excited that they got in on their first year nominated. Personal feelings and preferences aside, they are one of the few bands that weathered the storm and not only stuck around, but remained relevant, not only to the Gen X and Y-ers, not only to the punk rock and alternative kids, but to the Millennials too (and the woman next to me was a 60+ year old Green Day fan).
The induction speech by Fall Out Boy was good, I mean, nothing spectacular, but it sufficed. Green Day had packed the seats with young fans, I am assuming from the Idiot Club fan club. So the teen age girl shrill was going strong throughout. Tré Cool was up first for the acceptance speeches. Usually the goof ball, his speech was eloquent, “Music is the force that gets up in the morning it is also the shit that keeps us up all night...It is overwhelming the amount talent and love in the room”. He goes on to tells stories of where Green Day came from, screen printing t-shirts on guitar cases, playing back yard parties and squats, and sleeping on floors, I didn’t think back then that we would be here now, in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…” with a pause for comedic effect “…for another year or two”.
Mike Dirt, I always look at as the stoic one of the group, so it was great to see his personality come though in his speech. He stared out with, “I also have a mom who gave me a guitar.” He thanked Lawrence (Larry) Livermore for starting Lookout, “you gave a home to a lot of bands.” And continued to thank all of the kids who make up every punk scene, the ones who booked them in small vet’s halls and back yards, and the hundreds of people let them sleep on the floor. The humor popped back in when he thanked Ford, for creating the Econoline van. He thanked, Reprise and Pat Magnarella for letting them be themselves, and got a bit choked up as he thanked the The Armstrongs for taking him in as a kid. He closed with thanking their fans and anyone who has seen Green Day live “I am very proud to share this life on earth with you.” What a guy. At that point, even if Billie Joe did go off on a tantrum, I still would have been proud to be called a punk kid and being represented by Tré Cool and Mikr Dirnt.
Billie Joe stepped up to the podium and the applause was deafening, he has a few false starts as the crowd continued to cheer. He began with, “The gratitude that I feel right now is overwhelming.” Then launched in to an off the cuff speech that was more a collection of interconnected memories and stories about his and Green Day’s life and career from the time they met up to this day of the induction. He tells the story of being the youngest of 6 children all who loved music and brought in difference influences. “My record collection is actually sitting in this room.” He gets a bit shy and choked up while thanking Adrienne. He talks of meeting Mike Dirt and calls him is musical soulmate and how Tré Cool came to be a part of the band and calls him the most dangerous drummer in rock and roll. Mike Dirt gets a bit emotional as Billie Joe thanks his parents and family. He thanks John Kiffmeyer, the original drummer, Larry Livermore, owner of the now defunct Lookout! Records, producer Rob Cavallo, and manager Pat Magnarella. Armstrong actually apologized to Magnarella more than thanked him, “You are a brave man, you are our manager. I want to apologize for the hotel rooms, apologize for Tré’s drum sets catching on fire, I want to …you know, thanks for rehab.” He then shares his gratitude to Gilman Street, “We come from this place called Gilman Street. We were so fortune to play there, it’s all ages, it’s nonprofit… It was like Romper Room for degenerates…it was a great scene.” He then goes on to list some of the bands that he has the privilege to see there, including Crimpshine, Operation Ivy, and Nasal Sex, which by his reaction Mike Dirt had not thought about in years. Armstrong concludes his speech, “I love rock and roll music, I always have, as soon as I opened my eyes, with my first breath. The one thing I want to close with is, I love rock and roll.”
Their performance was killer. It was loud. It was raw. It was tight. And the crowd responded. Mike Dirt, played in a suit, sans sleeves, in his unmistakable legs spread pose, Billie Joe jumped around the stage like a kid, and Tre oscillated between serious drummer and class clown through each song. They kicked off the set with American Idiot, the balcony started screaming along and dancing in the seats even the honored guests at the tables, led by Joan Jett, got up and formed a pit. The plowed through a Dookie heavy set with When I Come Around and Basket Case, cleverly avoiding lyrics that talk about being stoned, instead using those measures to rile up the audience. (I swear that the interlude between When I Come Around and Basket Case was the intro to Haushinka but I’ll have to watch the telecast to see if I am just making that up). I believe that their set was all the evidence that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Committee needs to start inducting people early in eligibility, these guys are still relevant, they can still rock, and their fans came out to support them. As much as Ringo and Paul performing together again was something that we have all been waiting for, Green Day’s set drew more crowd response.
Regardless of your taste in music or your opinion of the Billie Joe Armstrong freak out/rehab fiasco, you can’t help but be impressed by the unity of this band. Together since they were kids, we never hear of inter-band fighting and they always support one another. These three may have the best relationship in music, and it really showed as they were giving their speeches. They have stuck with the same manager, same producer (aside from one album with Butch Vig), and same label since they left Lookout, another rare commodity in rock and roll, I guess though Billie Joe doesn’t want to be making punk music for the rest of his life, the important punk values are still sticking with him.
The “5” Royals were another group I wasn’t familiar with, yet their do wop songs became standards covered by the who’s who of the 50s and 60s. There were no surviving members, their children accepted for them, with one spokesperson, with Leon Bridges performing as the In Memorandum collage scrolled behind him.
Lou Reed was also inducted posthumously (though The Velvet Underground already had their time) with a beautiful speech by Patti Smith. I am not a fan of Reed or Smith but as long time friends and contemporaries, this was an elegant choice. She was choked up at points as she told stories of her late friend and the moment she arrived back in NYC to hear the city’s mourning his death and celebrating his life through the songs that he gave the world. His widow, Laurie Anderson, accepted the award on his behalf and told stories of a Lou Reed that most of the world didn’t know. We knew the punk rock fuck you Lou Reed, she though told stories of a loving, tender, self-aware partner. Karen O and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs performed Vicious and Beck (with backing vocals from Nate Ruess) performed Satellite of Love. Both performances were interesting in a very Lou Reed tribute sort of way, though I was surprised not to hear Walk on the Wild Side, until I remembered that they were honoring Lou Reed, and leaving that song out was the most Lou Reed thing they could have done.
Up next was the induction of Bill Withers by friend, Stevie Wonder. Aside from Lean on Me, I wasn't very familiar with Bill Withers until I met my husband, but over the years I have come to adore his music, so this was another highlight I was looking forward to. Knowing his music and seeing the documentary, Still Bill, I had an idea of his life, but what I didn't know how funny is his. His speech was filled with beauty, gratitude, and humor. He addresses the prior speeches and performances and tells stories of meeting some of the other performers, "I didn't know that Beck and me were boys, he came up to me and said, 'you and me know some of the same cats'". He concluded is speech is a great lilting cadence of rhyming poetry of the beat poets and jazz musicians.
The only disappointment was that Bill Withers did not think that he was up to preforming. Instead Stevie Wonder and John Legend performed Ain't No Sunshine, Use Me, and Lean on Me with Withers coming in only in one chorus on Lean on Me after some coaxing from Legend. Though solid performances, the Stevie Wonder put too much of a Stevie Wonder spin on it and John Legend's voice is simply to polished and pretty. Though it was very lovely to watch Bill Withers watch is friends performing his songs. The look of admiration, love, and nostalgia in his gaze was even able to be captured by the cameras. Even though, he himself was not performing, it was a very beautiful moment captured on this stage.
Closing the show was Paul McCartney inducting Ringo. McCartney was a cool as you thought he’d be and Ringo just as endearing. Though both McCartney’s intro speech and Ringo’s acceptance speech were kind and humorous I was a bit disappointed that they were so Beatle-centric. Paul told the story of how The Beatles met Ringo and Ringo told his side if that meeting, yet neither of them mentioned is solo career, which was what he was being inducted for. The Beatles have been in the Hall of Fame for years and years and years, this was Ringo’s time to be recognized as a solo artist. Yet, as his whole career has been, this moment was overshadowed by the fact that he was one of the fab four. Ringo goes on to tell the audience that he is excited to be being inducted in Cleveland (to a roaring round of applause, of course) because of the Alan Freed radio show that was broadcast from Cleveland and aired in England which is where he first heard Jerry Lee Lewis and all the other fathers of rock and roll that he looked up to.
Before the three minute mark of his speech, McCartney pops over Ringo’s shoulder to tell him to wrap it up. Being in my early 30s I wasn’t alive when the Beatles were the Beatles, hell I never lived in world where John Lennon was alive, so all I ever had was the Beatles music, not the Beatles media sensation. I never got to see the cheeky humor that everyone writes about and makes reference to, but at least tonight the audience got a little peek into that rapport, it also showed a relaxed moment between two friends. Like the other bands, who started out traveling too much and playing small shows for next to no money they talked about farting in vans and how sharing hotel rooms and close quarters really solidifies a band. Making, just for a second, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, struggling musicians rather than half of the biggest rock band in history.
Ringo’s set was predictable, for the most part. He kicked off with Boys, the standard that has always been a staple for his sets, only this time with Green Day as his supporting band. Next he performed It Don’t Come Easy for which Josh Walsh played guitar and Ringo stepped out from behind the drums and took center stage. After way too long a set up (which Ringo filled with banter and a few hugs for audience members) came With A Little Help From My Friends, which I assumed would end the show, you know the perfect “Let’s get all the musicians back out on stage now” song. All of the musicians who played that night were invited back on to the stage to sing along, starting with Paul McCartney “I want to introduce another friend to you, he plays bass occasionally.” Some knew the words and the chords by heart and some cheated by way of teleprompter. It was a cool arrangement and would have been a satisfactory ending to the show, which we all thought it was as the stage crew ushered everyone off the stage. Then there was the opening cords to I Wanna Be Your Man, a total surprise. A Lennon/McCartney song that they had given (sold?) to The Rolling Stones back in the 60s. It started off shaky, it seemed that no one knew where they were supposed to be. But after a few seconds Mike Dirnt ran out on stage followed by Nate Ruess and Beck, then by the rest of the musicians. It seemed that everyone wanted to join, but no one wanted to overstep their boundaries. Though it took a bit, everyone fell into their place. Ringo made his way back to his drum set and a jam session for guitars and bass ensued, while Stevie wonder pulled out a harmonica. By the end of the song, Ringo behind the drums, McCartney in front, and a slew of talented musicians all influenced, at least in some way, by the Beatles singing back up.
Throughout the night there was a running joke about long winded speeches, and I really don’t understand the bitching. This ceremony is obviously not aired live so the edit team can pare it down to what they need to. But the audience that is there is there to honor these people, and the people who paid for a ticket, paid for a ticket, why wouldn’t you want to see as much as you can, all the stuff that the television audience won’t see? It is an awards ceremony, that is kind of what it is about. Whatever. I had a great time and I think that the telecast will rock. It airs at 8pm on May 30th on HBO.
If you don’t have HBO or can’t wait, you can check out, March of The Rashbaum, a YouTube channel which has most of the speeches posted.