Okay, but when are they going to record their own version of “Islands in the Stream”?
Photo: Rob Latour/Shutterstock/Rob Latour/Shutterstock
This year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony decided it was time for a tan and some fillers, so off to Los Angeles it went for a sonic sojourn — bringing with it one of the biggest and most ambitious classes in recent memory. No, seriously, we sometimes lose count of everyone. Duran Duran, Dolly Parton, Carly Simon, Eurythmics, Lionel Richie, Eminem, and Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo were grouped together as Performers; Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were honored with Music Excellence along with Judas Priest; Harry Belafonte and Elizabeth Cotten were lauded as Early Influences; and Allen Grubman, Jimmy Iovine, and Sylvia Robinson joined the crew with the Ahmet Ertegun Award. It doesn’t matter how you choose to define “rock and roll,” because these 14 names are now part of its DNA.
Vulture was up in the rafters for the five-and-a-half-hour event on November 5, which, despite the runtime, was … okay, very long. But it was also joyous and electrifying, and we would have stayed for another five hours if it meant seeing more of Parton and Rob Halford’s leather-and-lace stage presence or Annie Lennox strutting around like an androgynous panther. The ceremony, slightly condensed, is — that last! — available to stream on HBO. Make it an authentic experience by arguing over the merit of the inductees.
Now this is what a super-jam looks like. Dolly Parton’s 1973 classic turned into a sequined spectacle with the help of numerous inductees keen on reaffirming her rock-star status. Simon Le Bon, Rob Halford, Annie Lennox, and Pat Benatar each got a verse to themselves, while special guests Pink, Brandi Carlile, and Sheryl Crow rounded out the vocal jubilee. (Lennox even donned a red cowboy hat for the occasion.) “We’ve got a star-studded stage up here,” Parton remarked before the song. “I feel like a hillbilly in the city!”
Fan Vote winners Duran Duran were expected to reunite with their former guitarist, Andy Taylor, who left the band in 2006 to pursue other creative endeavours. However, those hoping to see the band’s third Taylor were met with somber news: He was unable to attend because of a stage-four metastatic-prostate-cancer diagnosis, which he has been quietly living with for several years. Despite recent progress with his health, Taylor didn’t feel well enough to fly to America for the ceremony, and Simon Le Bon read the following open letter from him:
There’s nothing that comes close to such recognition. You can dream about what happened to us but to experience it, on one’s own terms, as mates, was beyond incredible. Many families have experienced the slow burn of this disease, and of course, we are no different, so I speak from the perspective of a family man, but with profound humility to the band, the greatest fans a group could have, and this exceptional accolade. I’m truly sorry and massively disappointed I couldn’t make it. Let there be no doubt I was stoked about the whole thing — even bought a new guitar with the essential whammy! I’m so very proud of these four brothers, I’m amazed at their durability, and I’m overjoyed at accepting this award. I often doubted the day would come. I’m sure as hell glad I’m around to see the day.
Duran Duran was also plagued with technical issues that didn’t make the HBO broadcast. Kicking off their three-song set with a scorching “Girls on Film,” it took well over a minute for sound technicians to realize the audience couldn’t hear a damn thing. “We just needed to prove to you that we weren’t lip-syncing,” Le Bon said, buoying the mood.
Allen Grubman, an entertainment super-lawyer, was allotted more time for an induction than Early Influence Award recipients Harry Belafonte and Elizabeth Cotten combined. Hall co-founder Jann Wenner protested Grubman’s inclusion in the class while doing press for his memoir this fall, and we’re going to amplify what he said once more because he puts it well: “Allen Grubman has made no contribution of any kind, by any definition, to the creative development or the history of rock and roll … this decision is about money and bending to the ego of a music business power broker.”
The defining performance of the evening went to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” which got even the most stubborn of people on their feet. But Richie’s speech afterwards had everyone buzzing just as much, if not more, when he revealed the key to his success was putting work first and family in a distant second. “I must also say that there are people who have actually had to tolerate quite a bit,” he explained. “Sometimes when you fall in love with the music business, you tend to fall out of love, and people don’t understand what the hell you’re doing over. I missed 25 years of pep rallies, bonfires, and family reunions. I want to thank them for actually sitting through my magical mystery tour. And I want to let everyone know that I am probably not coming home for quite a while. I’m in love with this business. I love what I do. Thank you so much for this amazing moment.” When the camera panned to his daughter, Sofia, she was stone-faced.
Well, we have to start with a low for context. Judas Priest — a band that’s the textbook definition of “heavy metal” and one of the foremost titans of the genre — got into the Hall with the Musical Excellence Award, a subcategory that carries the stigma of a backdoor entry. Prior to the ceremony, front man Rob Halford admitted he was “a bit pissed” with the relegated nature of the induction. “Why haven’t they given us the same title as all of our friends? Black Sabbath, for example,” he said. “Why do they put these tags on the damn thing?” Metal has historically been underrepresented in the Hall, with Metallica, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest the only other performers in the genre to receive recognition in its 36-year history. (Meanwhile, Iron Maiden and Mötorhead have been nominated one time each.)
That still didn’t dampen the mood for the band’s induction (if you didn’t head-bang during “Breaking the Law,” seek help), with Halford in particular giddy with all different kinds of pride. “I’m the gay guy in the band,” he said in his speech. “We call ourselves the heavy-metal community, which is all-inclusive, no matter what your sexual identity is, what you look like, or what you believe in or don’t believe in. Everybody’s welcome.”
It feels sacrilegious to shrug at anything Bruce Springsteen does, especially when his pal John Mellencamp is also down to rock out for the masses. But their tribute to certified fireball Jerry Lee Lewis as the ceremony’s concluding performance was low energy compared to the crackling and communal spirit of “Jolene” that preceded it — at times, Mellencamp wasn’t doing much of anything other than standing around. “One last one for the Killer,” Springsteen said before the duo broke into covers of “High School Confidential” and “Great Balls of Fire.” Well, this has nothing to do with our feelings about the divisive Lewis. (Hell, you can just pretend they’re doing a tribute to Top Gun.) Perhaps their set would’ve been better served as a mid-ceremony thrill, since no inductees were involved and Springsteen has already covered the songs plenty of times.
Like we saw last year with LL Cool J, Eminem brought the heat, and the stars, for his hip-hop showcase. Steven Tyler joined him for the Aerosmith-sampling “Sing for the Music” and Ed Sheeran subbed in for Dido on “Stan.” (For those confused about Sheeran’s participation, the duo has collaborated in the past. Em has even praised him in Vulture.) Em’s daughter, Hailie, a frequent presence in his early discography, accompanied him to the ceremony, and the rapper followed his set with a uniformly humble speech in which he shared his gratitude for being alive to experience this moment. “I’ll keep this as painless as possible, I’m fucking stuttering and shit,” he explained. “I’m probably not supposed to actually be here tonight because of a couple of reasons. One, I know that I’m a rapper, and this is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There’s only a few of us who have been inducted already. Secondly, I almost died from an overdose in 2007, which kind of sucked.”
Alanis Morissette was scheduled to perform alongside Sara Bareilles and Olivia Rodrigo for Carly Simon’s induction segment — specifically, she and Rodrigo were seen for a “You’re So Vain” duet — but quit the day before the ceremony, owing to what she claimed was sexism and disrespect from the Hall’s production team during rehearsals. “I have spent decades in an industry that is rife with an overarching anti-woman sentiment and have tolerated a lot of condescension and disrespectfulness, reduction, dismissiveness, contract-breaching, unsupportiveness, exploitation and psychological violence and more throughout my career,” she wrote on Instagram Stories on November 7. Morissette also pushed back against the “misinformed rumblings” that she was struggling to learn the song with Rodrigo, and added, “Thankfully, I am at a point in my life where there is no need for me to spend time in an environment that reduces women.”
The one nice thing we can say about Allen Grubman’s induction is that it featured a poignant John Mellencamp speech … that often had nothing to do with Grubman himself. Indirectly referencing the recent antisemitic behavior from Kanye West and Kyrie Irving, Mellencamp was profuse in his thanks to Grubman for exposing his own “gentile” self to countless Jewish people who have enriched his life. Mellencamp also directly addressed the music industry about the uptick of hate speech in the country: “I cannot tell you how fucking important it is to speak out if you’re an artist… Silence is complicity. I’ll say that again. Silence is complicity. This way I’m standing here tonight loudly and proudly and in solidarity with Allen, his family, and all of my Jewish friends and all the Jewish people around the world. Fuck antisemitism and fuck anybody who says anything in that manner.”
Will the real Slim Shady please let us know what his prescription is?
The legitimacy of Dolly Parton’s induction into the Hall has been thoughtfully debated and dissected, but now it’s a moot point. “I’m a rock star now!” she declared in her speech. “Back when they said they were going to induct me into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I didn’t really think that I’d done enough to deserve that. I didn’t understand it at the time. But this is a very, very special night for me.” Parton went on to debut a new song, “Rockin,” which will be included in her forthcoming rock album. (A sample stanza: “With many country accolades, and country is in my veins / But since I heard the big beat / I ain’t never been the same.”)
The road to Parton’s entrance into the Hall was unprecedented. When the nomination shortlist was revealed earlier this year, Parton asked to be removed from contention, believing she wasn’t qualified for the honor. “I really do not want votes to be split because of me, so I must respectfully bow out,” she wrote at the time. “I do hope that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will understand and be willing to consider me again, if I’m ever worthy.” The Hall declined her request, stressing that rock and roll music is not “defined by any one genre, but rather a sound that moves youth culture.” A week prior to the official 2022 class unveiling, Parton — likely being alerted ahead of time that she made the final cut — did a 180 turn and said she would indeed accept it for the sake of her fans.
And please, let’s admire her outfit change and bejeweled electric guitar.
Pat Benatar, who was inducted with her husband and guitarist, Neil Giraldo, had this to say about waiting 20 years for the Hall to recognize her: “I want to say that all is forgiven.” She had been nominated once before this year.
Robert Downey Jr., who’s … one of the co-owners of the Turtle Club?
Eminem and the Minions. Papoy for everyone.