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A Night of Reunion, Animosity, Absence : Pop music: Hall of Fame inductees Cream played together for the first time in 23 years, but Creedence Clearwater Revival did not. Van, and Jim, Morrison were no-shows.

TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

The joke at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony was that there was more chance of the late Jim Morrison showing up than the reclusive Van Morrison.

So, let’s finally put those recurring “Jim Morrison is still alive” rumors to rest.

If the troubled yet charismatic singer and poet, who led the Doors and his generation on a search for truth in a psychedelic age, didn’t surface at the Century Plaza Hotel on Tuesday night for this emotionally charged occasion, you know he’s indeed safely encased in a grave in Paris (where he was buried after a fatal heart attack in 1971).

Who could pass up the night the record industry inducted your band--and seven other recording acts--into the Hall of Fame? Wouldn’t you want to take your place alongside such illustrious rock names as Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and the Beatles?

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And even though the other Morrison was a no-show (something about prior commitments in Europe), you can bet he may someday regret missing the chance to participate in what was a night of frequently enchanting rock ‘n’ roll magic and memories. Even the elusive Sly Stone found his way to the podium, along with other honorees Cream, Ruth Brown, Etta James and the surviving members of the Doors, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers and Creedence Clearwater Revival. (Inducted in special categories were TV host Dick Clark, singer Dinah Washington and record producer-executive Milt Gabler.)

There are bound to be complaints once more that the induction ceremony--held outside of New York for the first time--was too long: a four-hour affair that ended at 1 a.m.

But if length is a problem for you on a night when Cream is giving its first public performance in more than two decades and John Fogerty is joined by Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson for three of his Creedence Clearwater Revival hits, you probably don’t understand why there’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the first place.

The speeches, which occupied the first three hours of the program, were sometimes stirring, sometimes mundane. The music, which highlighted the final hour, was consistently stirring--reaching an emotional peak perhaps during the closing Cream segment.

Unlike the past seven induction ceremonies in New York, the inductees and guests weren’t called on stage at the end for a largely spontaneous jam session--a practice that produced some marvelous musical match-ups some years, but which degenerated other years into unfocused free-for-alls with frequently minor artists hogging the microphone.

To avoid a repeat of that chaos, Robbie Robertson, a cinch for future Hall of Fame induction himself as a member of the Band, designed a more formal musical program for Tuesday’s affair.

During the induction portion of the evening, Brown (joined by Bonnie Raitt) and James each performed one number, while the vocal group Boyz II Men delivered “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” in honor of Frankie Lymon (who died in 1968) & the Teenagers.

The night’s centerpiece, however, was the final hour when the Doors, Fogerty and Cream each performed three numbers.

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Eddie Vedder, whose aggressive antics as a front man for the band Pearl Jam are sometimes so excessive that he looks like a man who has seen too many Jim Morrison videos, was surprisingly restrained as he joined the three surviving members of the Doors on lead vocal.

Realizing this was their night, Vedder simply filled in for Morrison rather than competing for attention as keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Kreiger and drummer John Densmore reprised “Roadhouse Blues,” “Break on Through” and the group’s first Top 40 hit, 1967’s “Light My Fire.”

The audience gave the Doors--considered by many to be the most important rock band ever from Los Angeles--a standing ovation and settled back for an expected reunion of Creedence Clearwater Revival: singer-guitarist John Fogerty, bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford. But it wasn’t to be.

Creedence--whose original line-up also included the late Tom Fogerty on rhythm guitar--broke up amid bitter personal and professional differences in 1972, and the wounds still aren’t healed.

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Fogerty, the group’s main creative force, joined Cook and Clifford on stage during the induction ceremony, but he vetoed any trace of reunion later, during the performances.

Instead, it was guitarists Springsteen and Robbie Robertson at his side as he kicked off his set with the socially conscious “Who’ll Stop the Rain.”

They were backed by the evening’s house band, led by bassist Don Was and including Jim Keltner on drums plus Roy Bittan and Benmont Tench on keyboards. With Robertson on lead guitar, Springsteen also joined on rhythm guitar and backing vocals as Fogerty continued with rousing versions of “Green River” and “Born on the Bayou.”

After another standing ovation from the estimated 1,400 fans at the black-tie dinner, Eric Clapton’s guitar introduction to “Sunshine of Your Love” signaled the start of Cream’s historic reunion performance.

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With Jack Bruce on bass and Ginger Baker on drums, the blues-based trio demonstrated, as they did in the ‘60s, how exciting sheer virtuosity can be in rock. The performance--which included “Born Under a Bad Sign” and “Crossroads"--was understandably ragged, but Clapton’s guitar work was eloquent as always, offering a soulful extension of his brilliant stylings of the ‘60s.

As much as the music itself, Cream’s performance was touching as a symbol of rock ‘n’ roll survival--both the enduring power of the music and the opportunity for musical creators to be able to accept the affection and salute of a record industry that was forever changed by their collective imaginations.

In that spirit, the absence of Jim Morrison seemed all the more poignant. As one of his old bandmates said when asked before the ceremony about whether the rebellious rocker would have attended such a formal affair: “Absolutely. . . . he would have loved it. Jim never felt that we had made it as big as we should have made it. He wanted it to be like the Beatles and the Stones.”

THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

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The event proved that breaking up and making up are both hard to do. And Sly lived up to his name. F8


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