Hey! Until tomorrow
I only watched maybe half of last night’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on VH1 Classic, but one moment really jumped out at me: Scott Weiland talking about how the Hall of Fame had originally tried to get Velvet Revolver to induct the Sex Pistols last year but that they’d opted out of the drama so they could induct Van Halen this year. I could look long and hard, but I don’t think I’d find a better example of the Hall of Fame’s inherent ridiculousness than the apparent fact that the organizers where desperate to find some way, any way, to find a role for motherfucking Velvet Revolver at their big induction ceremony. I already went over all this in a column a couple of months ago, but the Hall of Fame is yet another lame attempt at boomerish canonization of a music too chaotic to neatly congeal into a discrete set of recognizable innovators. When a body comes along and declares itself the end-all objective pantheon for this music, that body is inherently suspect. And when that body decides that it has to find room for Velvet Revolver in its annual orgy of self-congratulation, we’re all in trouble. That said, last night’s VH1 Classic broadcast was the first chance I’ve had to witness this induction ceremony in practice, and it made for a pretty entertaining spectacle, mostly because of the constant tension between the Hall’s self-serious reverence and the crazier, more vulgarian aspects of the honorees themselves. Proud middlebrow warriors like U2 and R.E.M. know how to solemnly accept their honors, but the Hall also has to recognize cheap-seats vaudevillians like Van Halen and up-from-nothing moment-encapsulators like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Also, the constant shots of Paul Schaffer’s creepy skull-head were pretty funny.
This year’s moments of token controversy had nothing on last year’s Blondie immolation and routine Sex Pistols headline-grab; the only real moment of friction was the Ronettes’ pointed and understandable refusal to thank Phil Spector. Way more interesting was the squalid display of a Van Halen induction. That group has been through all manner of aging-rocker insanity over the last couple of months. They’ve put us through one of their every-few-years teases by announcing a reunion tour with David Lee Roth, and they’re going to keep announcing those tours and never following through until we’re all dead. The big surprise this time, though, was that for some reason they’d be replacing longtime bassist Michael Anthony with Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang, thus turning Wolfgang Van Halen into the Droop-E of rock. Anyway, it’s not going to happen because Eddie went and got himself sent to rehab, and so Eddie and Alex didn’t show up for the ceremony. Neither did David Lee Roth, who was mad that they wouldn’t let him sing some song. And so we got the oddly enthralling vision of Anthony and Sammy Hagar, the two guys no longer in Eddie Van Halen’s favor, accepting the induction and giving heartfelt thanks to the guy who won’t return their phone calls anymore; Anthony, it should be noted, now looks eerily like American Idol reject Sundance Head, right down to the brick-shaped goatee. In any case, it would’ve been completely out of character for Van Halen to enter the Hall of Fame with quiet dignity, since this band has never done anything with quiet dignity. Van Halen’s big innovation was to marry Dave’s antic sexed-up glam-playboy theatrics with Eddie’s ostentatious displays of technical wizardry. Even under Hagar, they were a riotously silly band, the kind of thing that almost never finds its way into the pantheon. Bands like Van Halen might be the saving grace of the Hall of Fame; when a band is capable of recognizing and celebrating its own ridiculousness, they have a way of extending that capability to every institution they touch. Now maybe the Cleveland museum will have to find room for the dancing claymation burgers from Better Off Dead.
All the surviving members might’ve showed up, but the Furious Five’s induction was no less chaotic: Jay-Z woodenly reading his induction speech off a Treo, Raheim working his verse from the “Where Are They Now?” 80s remix into the performance, Melle Mel looking like the deformed guy from 300. Flash has long been comfortable with his own canonization, but the other guys not so much. Flash and the Five probably weren’t inducted for their own work; their inclusion, I think, is more a nod to the early rap scene. They were a huge part of that, certainly, but they also weren’t the only thing going on in it. And so they were there basically to represent all of rap, the sort of task that’d make anyone uncomfortable. So the genial chaos of their segment is probably the most fitting tribute they possibly could’ve been given. My favorite moment of the ceremony, though, was Eddie Vedder’s fond, rambling induction speech for R.E.M., which bored the hell out of my girlfriend and probably most of the Waldorf-Astoria audience. I don’t particularly care about R.E.M., but I was weirdly enthralled because Vedder’s dorked-out obsessiveness made him look and sound exactly like a rock critic. At least one of us was there.