It’s only the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, but for the most part, we liked it. Last night’s 22nd annual induction ceremony at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel brought out the star performers — inductees R.E.M., the Ronettes, Van Halen, Patti Smith, and Grandmaster Flash — as well as the stars that love to love them, including Keith Richards, Eddie Vedder, Jay-Z, and Aretha Franklin (Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and about 98 percent of the current SNL cast were also present). Conspicuously absent were Eddie Van Halen (in rehab), David Lee Roth (boycotting), and most significantly, Hall of Fame co-founder and Atlantic Records chief Ahmet Ertegun, who died at age 83 last December after a backstage tumble at a Rolling Stones concert. But constant tribute was paid throughout the night to Ertegun’s memory, talent-spotting ability and, it would appear, rock star-standard drinking ability.
- Aretha, regal and enormous in red silk skirt and black top, singing “Don’t Play That Song” and “I Never Loved a Man.” And stopping mid-verse to toast Ertegun and Clive Davis with an imaginary glass of champagne.
- Keith Richards introducing the Ronettes with an endearing anecdote of his first meeting with the girl group in 1964. Sporting beaded hair bells, dangling cigarette and pencil mustache, the Living Riff looked every inch the father of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. Or perhaps his lovable dirty uncle.
- Al Sharpton, backstage, being asked who he thought would win the upcoming presidential election. “I’m not here to talk politics,” he admonished. “I’m here to remember my friend James Brown.” And later, when another journalist asked what he thought Michael Jackson’s chances were of making a comeback, he paused .”I’m not here to talk politics,” he repeated with a chuckle.
- Patti Smith (pictured), paying tribute to her parents and late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith, the legendary MC5 guitarist, by saying that the people she loved were “here tonight, but seated a little bit higher,” as she pointed heavenward. She recalled her husband once telling her that when and if she was ever inducted, she should “please accept it like a lady and not to say any curse words.” She also remembered her mother requesting, on her deathbed, that if Smith was ever inducted into the Hall of Fame she play her favorite song, “the one I like to vacuum to.” The rocker then launched into an incendiary version of “Rock & Roll N—–,” accompanied by her longtime collaborator Lenny Kaye and her son Jackson.
- Long-absent Rage Against the Machine frontman Zach de la Rocha, coiffed like a Don’t Look Back-era Dylan, introducing Smith and still as prickly and political as ever; he couldn’t help getting in some pointed jabs at the current presidential administration.
- Jay-Z, reeling off a rousing speech (read from his Blackberry, of course) on the power and lasting influence of hip-hop culture, before introducing Grandmaster Flash. The legendary DJ, along with MC Melle Mel, then gave a heartfelt speech recounting how long the road had been to becoming the first hip-hop act to be inducted to the Hall, and how long rap had been treated by the music industry establishment as a fad.
addCredit(“Patti Smith: Kevin Kane/WireImage.com”)
- Ronnie Spector thanking everyone in her lifetime, stopping justshort of the Waldorf janitorial staff, but conspicuously leaving offher famously contentious ex-husband and longtime collaborator, producerPhil Spector. And not, it seems, only because he’s about to go on trialfor the murder of actress Lana Clarkson.
- It is to the credit of the members of Van Halen who were present(Sammy Hagar and bassist Michael Anthony) that they lavishly praisedtheir absent cohorts — without whom, it’s safe to say, both would havebeen watching this event on TV. But their subsequent run through thealready hellacious “Why Can’t This Be Love?” was simply embarrassing.