No-Shows Accent Rock Hall Bash
What do you do when a flamboyant superstar doesn’t show up at his own party?
Get another flamboyant superstar to take his place.
That’s what they did at the 11th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies on Wednesday at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel here, enlisting Madonna to accept on behalf of David Bowie, one of the seven acts inducted.
The Material Girl, displaying a photo of the honoree, entertained the black-tie crowd with a story about sneaking out to catch a Bowie concert when she was 15.
“I came home a changed woman, as you can see,” she purred, adding that her father grounded her for an entire summer as a result.
When Madonna finished, Marianne Faithfull sang Bowie’s glitter anthem “Rebel Rebel” with a grand flair that reminded the audience of the Thin White Duke’s great sense of theater.
Bowie--who was absent because he was on tour in Europe--wasn’t the only distinguished no-show.
Even a Hall of Fame salute apparently wasn’t enough to heal the wounds between Roger Waters and his old bandmates in Pink Floyd--as past ceremonies have done for members of Cream and the Byrds. Waters, who bitterly quit Pink Floyd in 1983, didn’t attend.
Overall though, the vibe was warm and upbeat on a night when the Jefferson Airplane, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Little Willie John, the Shirelles and the Velvet Underground were also inducted--along with Pete Seeger and the late Tom Donahue in the special early influence and nonperformer categories, respectively.
Pop music has long been a favorite target among politicians looking to promote a conservative agenda. But this event was to a great extent a celebration of the same traditional values that rock’s critics claim to promote: loyalty, respect, love of family, religious faith, patriotism.
Before inducting Little Willie John, Stevie Wonder performed the late R&B; singer’s biggest hit, “Fever,” as a duet with John’s son, Keith--a strikingly gifted vocalist in his own right, with a buoyant tenor similar to Wonder’s.
The family theme continued when Gladys Knight & the Pips--inducted by Mariah Carey--made their acceptance speeches. Knight mugged affectionately with her big brother and Pip, Merald “Bubba” Knight.
A number of presenters and inductees reflected on their early years, among them Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady, who in his acceptance speech touchingly thanked his parents.
A performance that held great sentimental value was given by the three surviving members of the Velvet Underground, who introduced a song that they recently wrote in honor of Velvets guitarist Sterling Morrison, who died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma last year.
“Last Night I Said Goodbye to My Friend,” a plaintive ballad about loss and enduring love, was played in a minimalist arrangement featuring Lou Reed on guitar, John Cale on piano and Maureen Tucker on drums, with all three singing.
Patti Smith, who inducted the Underground, also paid homage to Morrison in song as she offered a fervid rendition of the Velvets’ “Pale Blue Eyes.”
Faithfull joined fellow ‘60s divas Darlene Love and Merry Clayton in inducting the three surviving Shirelles, whose members stressed how hard work and God’s grace had gotten the R&B; vocal group through hard times in recent years.
In honoring the final inductees, the members of Pink Floyd, Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan gave equally moving testimony. After joking that the English art-rockers were an “an anomaly in a decade [the ‘70s] filled with horrible music--which some of you in this room are responsible for,” Corgan recalled how the group’s ballad “Wish You Were Here” helped him deal with his grandmother’s death when he was a teenager.
“When you’re 17, ‘Heaven from hell, blue skies from pain’ means a lot,” Corgan mused, referring to lyrics from the song.
In their speeches, the members of Pink Floyd graciously mentioned two absent former bandmates: original guitarist Syd Barrett, whose drug-related behavioral problems forced him to leave the band in the late-'60s, and Waters.
Corgan then joined his heroes on acoustic guitar for a tender performance of “Wish You Were Here.”
Perhaps the spirit of the evening was best summed up by Harry Belafonte and Arlo Guthrie, who inducted folk legend Seeger. Belafonte spoke eloquently about how Seeger’s social commentary played a major role in America’s progress toward self-awareness, particularly in the civil rights movement.
Guthrie agreed, adding, “When we sing together, nothing can bring us down.”