Tonight, March 12th, was a bittersweet night in the annals of the annual Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies. The sweet, of course, was the induction of Van Halen, among others, into the Hall. With the sweet, however, the bitter was the fact that of the five members of Van Halen -- the original four members including Eddie and Alex Van Halen, bassist Michael Anthony and original lead singer David Lee Roth -- the only two individuals to accept Van Halen's induction were two former members of the band, the aforementioned Michael Anthony and David Lee Roth's replacement, Sammy Hagar.
The Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is an annual celebration of rock as much as the Oscars are a celebration of film. The only difference is the theme of the Oscars, in general, is a gala paying tribute to the majesty of film and its surrounding personality. The Induction Ceremony, on the other hand, pays tribute to the achievement of musical performers, but it does so with a similar sense of reverence, but without the proper, polite, restrained praise; the feeling in the audience is, typically, akin to a pot about to boil over.
I'm not sure why these ceremonies are as restrained or as oddly entertaining as they are. What I do know, however, is that some of my favorite performers have been involved in them, either as inductors or inductees. The Yardbirds, Cream and Eric Clapton himself have been inducted; The Beatles; Led Zeppelin; Stevie Wonder; The Eagles; Bruce Springsteen; U2. The list is nearly endless. Watching the post-ceremony jam, a tradition, sends shivers up my spine as I watch the surviving members of Led Zeppelin -- Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones -- bounce around the stage with Neil Young for a makeshift version of When The Levee Breaks. This year, however, was not simply about celebration; it was about loss and noting who was not present for the ceremony.
The deaths this past year of Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records, and James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, were among a notable number of people who passed away since the last ceremony. However, more importantly, the absence of Eddie Van Halen, who currently is in rehab for an undisclosed condition, and his brother Alex, assured that Van Halen, the band named after them, was inducted without either of them in attendance. Velvet Revolver jammed to "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" and then Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony followed with "Why Can't This Be Love" but it was very strange watching the tribute to Van Halen and the only member of the actual Van Halen family in attendance was in the non-personage of a Fender Eddie Van Halen model guitar in the house (sported by Velvet Revolver's Dave Kushner).
Despite the inductions of Patti Smith and REM, perhaps the most odd thing about tonight's ceremony is the between-set broadcasts of past inductions, and I was transfixed watching the aforementioned Led Zeppelin induction jam with Neil Young as well as a stirring rendition of Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Let Me Love You, Baby" by Buddy Guy, a seated BB King and Eric Clapton. Perhaps the best one of them all was "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" from 2004 led by Jeff Lynne & Tom Petty (with a searing solo by, of all people, Prince). As much as I was looking forward to watching (and hearing) tonight's ceremony, I came away longing for DVD's of the prior inductions.
I suppose, in retrospect, it demonstrates to me that, unlike movies, rock and roll is a fluid, elusive, dangerous beauty that can't always be captured on a spur of the moment; that unpredictability, that random, reactive, combustible formula which emerges as part of our culture and our collective consciousness -- it is something to be celebrated and appreciated, and it is something not to be dolled up and taken for a stroll. The ultimate irony is celebrating and rewarding, like Mick Jagger observed at the Rolling Stones induction, 25 years of bad behavior by requiring artists being on their best behavior, at no less than the Waldorf.
It's an odd nostalgia, a bittersweet, fleeting flash into memory of seeing Bono perform with Bruce Springsteen; seeing Jason Bonham on the drums behind Robert Plant and Jimmy Page; seeing Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey flail away onstage as if they were 19 when they were more like 59. Very strange...a warm, odd, happy, awkward cavalcade of memory and the past.