The 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony was filled with surreal moments (Cat Stevens on stage with KISS), pot shots at the hosting organization, tear-jerking remembrances of band members past, and — of course — a lot of rock and roll.
The Hall of Fame class of 2014 included Nirvana, Peter Gabriel, managers Brian Epstein and Andrew Loog Oldham, the so-called “girl with the golden voice” Linda Ronstadt and singer songwriter Cat Stevens. Also inducted were Hall and Oates, KISS and the E Street band — all celebrating 40 years of making music.
But some of the biggest cheers of the night came when Joan Jett walked onstage with the surviving members of Nirvana and blazed into the opening chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” By the time St. Vincent, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and finally Lorde joined the band, the capacity crowd at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center knew they had witnessed rock history.
“I’m often asked what makes a great manager and my answer, simple and true, is a great client,” said Peter Asher, famed manager in his own right, who started the evening by inducting Beatles manager Brian Epstein and Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham into the Rock Hall — and finally managing to unite the two bands’ fans. Oldham opted not to come to the ceremony. On Friday, he tweeted, “Like Brian Epstein i was not consulted as regards this matter & like dear Brian I will not be going.” Epstein died in 1967.
Epstein and Oldham shared the Ahmet Ertegun Lifetime Achievement Award and were inducted into the Rock Hall as non-performers, to help mark both their contributions to music history and to mark the 50th anniversary of the musical British Invasion.
Coldplay frontman Chris Martin delivered a surprisingly funny homage to former Genesis band member Peter Gabriel, who was inducted as a solo artist this year. “My mother always said to turn to the Bible, so I’d like to read to you from the Book of Genesis,” said Martin, before launching into his own revised edition of the Book of Genesis featuring the angel “Gabriel” appearing to “Phil the Collins” with the good news that that he was going solo. Martin also recounted falling in love with Gabriel’s Us, teasing the artist over his many self-titled albums, and including among Gabriel’s credits, “He helped John Cusack get his girlfriend back in that movie, Say Anything.”
“Chris has been working as a stand-up comic,” started Gabriel, before doling out advice to the next generation of artists just starting out on their journey making music. “Dream big and let your imagination be your guide, even if you end up dressing as a flower or a sexually transmitted disease.”
Gabriel also pleaded, “Watch out for music. It should come with a health warning. It can be very dangerous. It can make you feel so alive, so connected to the people around you, connected to what you are inside. It will make you think that the world should and could be a better place. And occasionally it will make you very, very happy.”
For his set, Gabriel played a hypnotic version of “Digging in the Dirt,” and then was joined on stage by Martin for “Washing of the Water” and Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour for “In Your Eyes”.
As KISS had decided not to perform during the induction ceremony, they were ushered on and off the stage early in the evening. While the tension between the Rock Hall and KISS was palpable, one KISS superfan, Rage Against the Machine frontman and current E Street band touring member Tom Morello, was enthusiastic enough to make up for it. Morello delivered a fiery defense of the band, dismissing critics, because in his words: “Kiss was never a critics’ band, KISS was a people’s band.” Despite the Rock Hall’s decision to only induct the band’s original lineup, Morello used his platform to list every band member and to honor what he called “the fifth member of the band without whom this would not be possible”: The KISS Army. He then inducted them into what he called the “Rock and Roll All Night and Party Every Day Hall of Fame.”
The band kept it civil on stage, each taking their turn at the podium to thank family, friends and crew: “We are humbled to stand on this stage and do what we love doing,” said Gene Simmons. “This is a profound moment for all of us. I’m here to say a few kind words about the four knuckleheads who, 40 years ago, got together and decided to put together the kind of band we never saw onstage, critics be damned.”
“You’ve got to forgive to live,” said Peter Criss before turning to give Simmons and Paul Stanley big hugs. Stanley, who was the most vocal critic of the Rock Hall in the lead up to the ceremony, used his allotted time to take a few shots at the organization: “The people are speaking to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” he said. “They want more. They deserve more. They want to be part of the induction. They want to be a part of the nomination [process]. They don’t want to be spoon-fed a bunch of choices. The people pay for tickets. The people buy albums. The people who nominate do not.”
Ace Frehley later admitted that he wanted to play the show but, as he said, “We’re still brothers in rock and roll.” However, when asked if there was any chance that he and Criss would play together in the future, he gave a curt no.
The show made a rather abrupt transition from the tense energy of KISS on stage to the quiet and humble atmosphere brought by the induction of folk signer Cat Stevens.
Art Garfunkel gently inducted Cat Stevens into the Rock Hall. “If Paul and I hadn’t split up around 1970 there’d be no room on the charts for Cat Stevens to take over,” he said, wearing a beret and singing half his speech. “Bridge Over Troubled Water had to go away so that Tea for the Tillerman could arrive.”
“This guy’s better than Paul Simon,” he added. Cat Stevens, the 65-year-old musician born Steven Georgiou and who now uses the single name Yusuf, took the stage and delivered the line that everyone was thinking: “I never thought I’d be on the same stage as KISS, to be honest.” Stevens spoke about his love of music, and closed by looking around the crowded room and noting, “I’m not the best of you, but I’m not the worst, either.”
His set, which was backed by Paul Schaffer and his band, included some of Stevens’s best-known hits, including “Wild World,” “Peace Train” and an acoustic version of “Father and Son”; it earned him a standing ovation.
Glenn Frey began his induction of Linda Ronstadt by making it clear that the Eagles would not exist if Ronstadt hadn’t hired them as her backing group in the early 1970s: “She, more than anyone else, helped form The Eagles,” he said. “She has one of the greatest voices of all time. She never wanted to be a star — she just wanted to make good music.”
Ronstadt couldn’t attend the ceremony due to her ongoing struggles with Parkinson’s, but in her stead was an eye-popping lineup of star power: Carrie Underwood kicked off the tribute to Ronstadt with a solid rendition of “Different Drum,” followed by Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt with “Blue Bayou.” Sheryl Crow was joined by Glenn Frey on “You’re No Good,” and Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks sang a beautiful version of “It’s So Easy.” The Ronstadt tribute ended with a group harmony on the Everly Brothers’ classic “When Will I Be Loved,” popularized by Ronstadt on her 1974 album Heart Like A Wheel.
The crowd at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center was Bruce Springsteen-fan heavy, with people all over the stadium wearing the band’s tour tees under their black tie attire and occasionally interrupting the proceedings to holler, “Bruuuuuuuce.” Springsteen himself was inducted in the Rock Hall back in 1999, but his band was controversially left out. The Rock Hall rectified that situation this year, and Springsteen delivered a heartfelt speech paying tribute to each of the members, including Little Stevie Van Zandt, Max Weinberg, the late Danny Federici, Clarence Clemons and his wife, Patti Scialfa. “I told a story with the E Street Band that is bigger and better than anything I could have told on my own,” he said.
The eleven members of the E Street Band — including original keyboardist David Sancious, who left the band in 1974 — were inducted last night, and each took a turn at the microphone. Their speeches, including touching tributes to both Federici from his son, and to Clemons from his widow, took over 40 minutes and delayed the rest of the show. All was forgiven, though, when the band hit the stage for a Springsteen-fronted set that included “E Street Shuffle,” “The River” and “Kitty’s Back”.
“If you owned a radio in the ’70s or ’80s, or you knew anyone who did, you knew them,” said Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson as he inducted fellow Philadelphians Daryl Hall and John Oates into the Rock Hall.
He then listed the highlights of the duo’s long career, singing lines from their songs and noting that he didn’t need to list the band’s hits: “We know them all.”
“I’m going to list all the duos that were more popular than Hall & Oates,” he said. “Okay, I’m done.”
Hall and Oates then took the stage for speeches so brief they seemed to be a shot at the E Street Band’s long-windedness. “We’ve been doing this together for 40 years,” said Oates. “Why should we stop now? Also, lucky for you there’s only two us.”
“We’re the only homegrown Philly band to be in the Rock Hall,” said Hall. “I’m not saying that because I’m proud, I’m saying that because it’s f—ked up! Where’s Todd Rungren? Where’s Chubby Checker?”
Hall and Oates then picked up their instruments and powered through technical difficulties for a medley that included “She’s Gone,” “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” followed by a rousing rendition of “You Make My Dreams” that woke the crowd up just in time for the night’s final induction and performance: Nirvana.
“This is not just pop music. This is something much bigger,” said REM singer Michael Stipe, who had the task of inducting Nirvana into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the first year that they were eligible for the honor. “They were singular, loud and melodic and deeply original,” he said. “And that voice, that voice. Kurt, we miss you. I miss you. Nirvana defined a moment, a movement for outsiders, from the fags and the fat girls to the shy nerds and the goth kids in Tennessee and Kentucky, for the rockers to the awkward to the too-smart kids and the bullied. We were a community.”
Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic were joined onstage by Kurt Cobain’s mother, sisters and widow, Courtney Love, who surprised the crowd by keeping her speech very short and giving huge hugs to both Grohl and Novoselic, with whom she has a notoriously tetchy relationship. Cobain was on everyone’s mind and tongues; they all mentioned that they wished he were here for the honor. Grohl thanked his parents for letting him drop out and made sure to thank all the Nirvana drummers who came before him, giving a special shout-out to Chad Channing, the drummer on Bleach. He also encouraged fans not to idolize their favorite artists, but to emulate them: “Don’t look at the poster on your wall and say ‘I could never do that.’ Look at it and say, ‘I’m gonna do that!”
Then Grohl and Novoselic took the stage to perform a set of Nirvana classics, joined by an impressive roster of some of rock music’s most iconic (and powerful) female artists, including Joan Jett covering “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth for “Aneurysm”, St. Vincent for “Lithium” and finally — and surprisingly — Lorde for “All Apologies.”
Of the gender-switching, Annie Clark a.k.a. St. Vincent reminded fans that Nirvana were feminists and are “forward thinking, inclusive and f—ing rad.” It’s an apt description as well of a performance that will undoubtedly go down in Rock Hall history as one of the very best.