NEW YORK — Thank goodness the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame voters relented and allowed Iggy Pop and the Stooges into the club. Without the proto-punk rockers on hand, Monday night’s awards dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City would have been a pretty tame affair.
This year’s class of performer inductees, also including ABBA, the Hollies, Genesis and Jimmy Cliff, proved an exceedingly earnest and genuinely appreciative bunch. And then there was Iggy:
“This thing is ... heavy,” Pop said, hefting the statue he’d just been handed, then flipping two middle fingers to the crowd of designer-suited men and cocktail-dressed women looking on. “Well, roll over, Woodstock!”
Asked backstage if he has donated any memorabilia to the institution that was honoring him, Pop, having unbuttoned his shirt and flashed his bare chest for photographers, replied, “I told them where to buy all the stuff I sold for drugs in the ‘70s.”
Also shirtless while singing Stooges’ standards “Search and Destroy” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” Pop invited — virtually dared — the well-heeled crowd to join him on stage, and about a dozen guests accepted the invite.
The induction of himself and the Stooges — guitarists Ron Asheton and James Williamson and drummer Scott Asheton — “lets certain people, people who are nervous with losers, this lets them know it’s cool to like us,” Pop said backstage. “I didn’t think they’d ever have us in that club.”
This year’s ceremony succeeded in broadening the hall’s stylistic borders, allowing in one group many felt was long overlooked because its music wasn’t serious enough (ABBA), another repeatedly bypassed in all likelihood because its music was too serious (Genesis), one band whose recordings epitomize melodic and harmonic perfection (the Hollies), another that gleefully trashed traditional notions of musicality (the Stooges) and one prime exponent of music that emerged outside the hall’s defining U.S.-U.K. corridor (reggae singer Cliff).
“Reggae music is a music that was not conceived in the United States like most of the music forms that we know,” a clearly emotional Cliff said following his introduction by Wyclef Jean. “So to be standing here with you today, with a (style of) music that I was part of creating, is a great honor.”
Genesis drummer-turned-front man Phil Collins also made note of the breakthrough his group’s entrance into the hall represents for the progressive-rock wing of pop music that had been largely shut out during the hall’s first 25 years.
“For people to come out and own up that they like what we do was very interesting, because we don’t get a lot of that,” Collins told reporters backstage. “It’s very nice to accept music generally, rather than just rock ‘n’ roll,” he added, raising his voice and punching his fist in the air to punctuate the final words.
Rockers laid down with the pop acts, as exemplified by E Street Band guitarist Steve Van Zandt’s acknowledgment of ABBA’s influence on pop music.
“At first you wouldn’t think of them as a rock band,” he said backstage. “But they were just so good. ... There’s a certain spirit of rock ‘n’ roll that goes through pop, that goes through hip hop. Rock ‘n’ roll is really the great common ground.”
Van Zandt gave the evening’s most erudite and impassioned speech in bringing the Hollies into the Hall of Fame, speaking to the transformative power of music, as well as pointed comments about the state of the industry.
“It can be disappointing for some to see the business now that it’s become pretty much artistically, financially and spiritually bankrupt,” Van Zandt said. “There are a lot of good new bands out there, and hopefully we can create an infrastructure to support them.”
Several of the honorees had to contend with schedule conflicts that kept some members away. Genesis’ original lead singer Peter Gabriel, two of the four members of ABBA and two members of the original lineup of the Hollies missed the event, as did songwriter Jeff Barry, whose flight was canceled, forcing him to e-mail his acceptance speech to Van Zandt to accept on his behalf.
Others were honored posthumously, among them Stooges guitarist Asheton, who died last year, and songwriters Ellie Greenwich, Otis Blackwell, Mort Shuman and Jesse Stone.
Among the nonperformers, record mogul David Geffen was inducted by Jackson Browne, who saluted the man who first signed him to Asylum Records as a music executive with “soul and taste and courage and integrity. ... He made us feel the most worthwhile thing you could do was write a song. I still feel that way.”
Geffen responded with a self-deprecating speech in which he confessed to having “no talent at all, expect that I could recognize and enjoy it in others.”
Carole King collectively inducted her songwriting peers at the fabled Brill Building, including the teams of Barry and Greenwich, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil as well as early rock-R&B songwriters Blackwell, Shuman and Stone.
“From the bottom of my heart, sincerely and with the greatest humility,” Weil said during her turn at the microphone, “I thought you’d never ask.”
The ceremony — which ran past four hours, and that was before the all-hands-on-deck salute/jam session on the songs of the inducted songwriters — was telecast on the Fuse cable channel.
(Gold reported from New York and Lewis from Los Angeles.)
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