For over a decade, the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction dinner had the air of a secret-handshake conclave. Its tickets, which now cost $1,250 and $2,000, have limited the audience to industry bigwigs, and details of each year’s event — the asinine speeches, the once-in-a-rocktime jams that ended the evening — filtered out in splish-splash dribs and drabs.
This year, ceremony organizers kicked out the jam — literally. Held Jan. 12 at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, the 13th annual fete honored the contributions of a sound lineup of inductees: the Hall’s first dose of ’70s heavyweights (the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac); two ’60s acts who’d been shut out until now (the Mamas and the Papas, Santana); two ’50s figures (Lloyd Price and Gene Vincent); one renowned songwriter and producer (Allen Toussaint); and one pioneer (boogie-woogie pianist Jelly Roll Morton). This time, though, no one was visibly wasted or made squirm-inducing speeches, and for the second consecutive year the all-star bash never took place. Efficient and professional, the Hall of Fame induction dinner has, sadly, officially matured, much like rock & roll itself.
What happened? Some blame the absence of the late, irascible promoter Bill Graham, who helped instigate the jam by bullying everyone on stage. The other factor is TV. Last year, VH1 entered into an agreement with the Hall to broadcast an edited version of the event, and at the Waldorf, the impact of the cameras was undeniable. Aware that their every utterance was being taped for VH1, performers and presenters often read carefully scripted speeches from TelePrompTers.
Some of those moments were nonetheless fun, even touching. John Popper reminisced about getting stoned to Santana; Sheryl Crow, inducting Fleetwood Mac, joked that they taught her that “having relationships with your drummer or guitar player doesn’t mean the end of the band.” But the days when Quincy Jones would indulge in an incoherent ramble or Beach Boy Mike Love would let his ego burst out of his golf cap are gone. Notorious feuders like Fleetwood Mac and the Mamas and the Papas accepted their statuettes with quick, humble thanks. The few juicy tidbits came from the Eagles’ Glenn Frey, who rebuked those who’ve dwelled on the band’s foibles with a cranky “Get over it.” For all their pomp, past ceremonies now seem like wild orgies.