The 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony may well go into the books for its “Who’d have thought?” surrealistic moments.
Yusuf, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens, nailed one at the beginning of his acceptance speech when he quipped: “I never thought I’d be on the same stage as KISS, to be honest.”
It’s equally unlikely that KISS founding members Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, who joined the Rock Hall along with Yusuf on Thursday, ever envisioned sharing a stage with country singers Carrie Underwood and Emmylou Harris, who were on hand to welcome in Linda Ronstadt.
And who’d have thought:
-- that KISS guitarist Stanley would stand in front of a crowd of more than 10,000 fans in a concert arena extolling his many years of sobriety?
-- that rock goddess Stevie Nicks would be seen strumming air guitar while singing a snappy old Buddy Holly song during a salute to Ronstadt?
--- that Kurt Cobain’s widow Courtney Love and surviving Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic would exchange warm fuzzy hugs in public?
-- that newly minted New Zealand pop star Lorde, who wasn’t born when Cobain committed suicide, would front a female-dominated front line for the Seattle grunge band that also included Joan Jett, St. Vincent and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon?
-- or that heartfelt speeches by nearly every current and former member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band would ever come to an end?
Of course, maybe all that adds up to just another eclectic, unpredictable, passionate, curious and drawn-out night with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
This year’s show, held for the first time in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center sports arena, the biggest venue yet for the annual bash, clocked in at a little under 5 1/2 hours, and will be boiled down for a highlights special slated to premiere May 31 on HBO.
It was an especially tumultuous year, with members of KISS grousing ahead of Thursday’s ceremony about the hall’s decision to induct only the original four members, and not other musicians who have kept the group running since Ace Frehley and Peter Criss left the fold.
That caused the band to opt out of performing, but it didn’t prevent Stanley from saluting the unflagging loyalty of the KISS Army of fans and, in turn, admonishing Rock Hall voters to allow fans to be given a greater voice in the induction process “because they are the ones who actually buy records.”
Nirvana fans also found grounds to complain that drummer Chad Channing, who played on the band’s debut album, should have been welcomed in alongside Cobain, bassist Novoselic and Grohl, Channing’s successor at the drum kit.
The hall’s leadership also took hits from some of those being inducted, some polite (Ronstadt saying it never mattered to her whether she was inducted), some not so much (former Rolling Stones manager and producer Andrew Loog Oldham publicly slagging the hall for its handling of his induction as a two-fer with Beatles manager Brian Epstein).
On the bright side, the event included some genuinely moving testimonials and musical performances, among them Peter Gabriel’s eloquent toast to the importance and validity of bold artistic experimentation as well as his rendition with Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour of his hit “In Your Eyes”; Harris, Bonnie Raitt and Underwood teaming to sing Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” in tribute to the version Ronstadt brought back to the charts in 1977; and Yusuf’s disarming rendition of “Father and Son” and an ebullient performance of his 1971 hit “Peace Train.”
Art Garfunkel was the surprise musician who gave Yusuf’s induction speech, which included his observation: “Sensitivity and a deep voice -- why didn’t I think of that?”
Those are a few highlights. A full report on the induction is coming in Saturday’s Calendar.