Live: Tom Waits (And A Punk-Rock Neil Diamond) Dominate The Rock Hall Induction Ceremony


The 2011 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony
The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
Monday, March 14

Better Than: Whatever was happening at Death by Audio tonight that Bruce Springsteen didn’t show up to, for whatever reason.

First off, let’s tell you what you want to hear: Tom Waits stole the show.

Introduced via improvised ramble by brother-in-scraggle Neil Young, Waits accepted his Rock Hall induction with his trademark stream of comical platitudes, zen-like aphorisms, and dry half-truths. It looked like he was reading them from his passport.

Here are some of the best ones:

• “Thank you, this [trophy] is very heavy. I just want to know if there’s a keychain version of this. Just so I can hear, ‘Pete, take the cuffs off, he’s a Hall of Famer.'”

• “Sounds are really just an interesting thing to be doing with the air.”

• “We all love music, but what we all really want is music to love us.”

• “Any day on this side of the dirt is a great day”

• “They say that I have no hits, that I’m difficult to work with. They say that like it’s a bad thing.”

• “The only thing I can compare this to, was when I was given the key to the city of El Paso.”

• “Thank you very much, this has been very encouraging.”

Afterwards, Waits’s four-song set was a thing of beauty and simplicity. He opted for a tight center-stage huddle with his bandmates, avoiding the big Paul Shaffer Orchestra treatment that sucked all the actual rock from Dr. John’s own set. He refused to put on airs for the event; he just went out and performed the weird cult-rock he’s been doing for 30 years with that gravel-pocked megaphone of a voice while his backing crew twitched like mechanical birds. Even the requisite “duet with a legend” portion — Neil Young guesting on “Get Behind The Mule — seemed insular and strange and raw, Neil opting to play the whole thing as sideman, back turned to the audience. Waits didn’t return with the other five inductees — Dr. John, Alice Cooper, Darlene Love, Leon Russell, and Neil Diamond – for the all-star blow-out jam version of “Stagger Lee” and “Da Doo Ron Ron.” Like, where would he even fit into something like that?

Now let us tell you what really happened: Neil Diamond stole the show.

The stage was set by Paul Simon, who did a wonderful job sucking the life from the room. In his induction speech for Diamond, Simon wagered a guess at why Neil had been denied Hall of Fame status for the last 24 years. “Six words,” said Simon, “‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore.’ Unfortunately, if it’s Barbara Streisand, it’s not close to rock ‘n’ roll. The won’t even let that DNA near the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.” The joke bombed, the crowd was too nervous to laugh — like, honestly, who ever says something critical in an induction speech to a Hall of Fame?!

When it was Diamond’s turn to respond, it promptly devolved into the Friar’s Club Roast of the Music Industry. He acted boorish, crass, flippant, indifferent, graceless, unappreciative — it was pretty punk rock. “I still would sing that song with Barbara, she’s the greatest,” he said. “And guess what? She doesn’t give a shit either.”

He tried to be a “man of the people” in this crowd of stuffed shirts, taking pictures of the crowd, pointing up at the cheap (LOL) seats and saying “These are my people.” He bragged about flying commercial from Australia. It paid off, since he clearly had the most rapturous fan club of any of five inductees. He talked to the back of the room: “I’m not talking to you,” he snapped at the tables up front. “You have too much money.” He looked right at Irving Azoff and said that he was the only person in the room that loved him. He looked at the trophy and said, “I didn’t even know what this looked like. They should make this object more famous.” Seriously, this was so, so, so, so much better than the Sex Pistols just not showing up.

His swagger during the performance was incredible. He left the stage to go play in the audience. Not in a friendly way, but in a downright aggressive way. During “Sweet Caroline,” he shoved the mic in Lloyd Price’s face and then Robbie Robertson’s and then some total stranger’s. The camera crew was not ready to follow him into the maze of tables, so he had to do a second take of the song entirely–which only got the crowd rowdier. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that Neil Diamond isn’t rock ‘n’ roll. Maybe it’s time to reappraise Saving Silverman.

But anyway, that’s all stuff you can see when this monster airs on Fuse on Saturday, March 20 at 9 p.m. There’s plenty that goes on behind the scenes, and we were privileged enough to see it up close. Thanks to my role at music video critic via my under-read weekly column, Take on Me, we got right on the Waldorf-Astoria floor — er, the balcony at least — instead of suffering through closed-circuit TV with the other journos. Here’s a handful of things I caught from my balcony perch that you probably won’t see on the broadcast.

• Grown men in ponytails (I counted two, but there were probably more!)

• Cell phones going off, cell phones being used to pass the time while Alice Cooper performed(!), cell phones filming Neil Diamond even though Fuse has a Brontosaurus of a boom camera hovering mere feet above everyone’s head

• People straight up talking through the less glamorous presentations, i.e., Lloyd Price inducting 93-year-old Specialty Records founder Art Rupe was apparently the signal to have a convo.

• A cameraman getting the best shot of Tom Waits by crawling under the piano

• Celebrities! My girlfriend spotted Liv Tyler in the bathroom line (“Her legs came up to my shoulders” ). The folks next to me caught Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones bopping along to Neil Diamond. I tried to get a peek at the guest list but the only famous name I caught was Anton Fig.

• A man in a suit practically chewing out some kid because he took some water from his table. As the story was retold to me, kid snuck some water off the table because there was no water on the balcony and sitting through a five-hour show makes you thirsty. The guy screeched, “I turn around and you’re stealing our shit? This is our table! We paid for this!” Since I had the dude pointed out to me, so I couldn’t help but notice that he was the type of person to add those “SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!” backing vocals in “Sweet Caroline” for whatever inexplicable reason that people do that.

• The part where they showed a tribute to the musicians we lost this year, resulting in massive applause for Alex Chilton and Captain Beefheart. Yet the room was deathly, awkwardly, embarrassingly silent for Slipknot bassist Paul Grey. At least they remembered Guru.

• F-bombs: Rob Zombie got the first one, Elton John the second, Neil the last.

• The Reichian phasing of people whistling different parts of “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Sweet Caroline” on the way out the door

Critical Bias: It’s fucking Tom Waits!

Random Notebook Dump: John Densmore, I don’t care if Jac Holzman signed the Doors to Elektra or not. There’s never a good time to read a Jim Morrison poem.

Set List

Alice Cooper – “I’m Eighteen”

Alice Cooper – “Under My Wheels”

Alice Cooper ft. Rob Zombie – “School’s Out”

Tom Waits – “Make It Rain”

Tom Waits – “Rain Dogs”

Tom Waits – “The House Where Nobody Lives”

Tom Waits – “Get Behind The Mule”

Judy Collins – “Both Sides Now”

Dr. John – “Right Place, Wrong Time”

Dr. John ft. John Mayer – “Such A Night

Leon Russell ft. John Mayer – “Delta Lady”

Leon Russell – “A Song For You”

Darlene Love ft. Bruce Springsteen – “Zip-A-Dee Doo Dah”

Darlene Love ft. Bruce Springsteen – “Today I Met The Boy I’m Gonna Marry”

Darlene Love ft. Bruce Springsteen and Bette Midler – “He’s A Rebel”

Neil Diamond – “Cherry Cherry”

Neil Diamond – “I Am… I Said”

Neil Diamond – “Sweet Caroline”

Neil Diamond – “Sweet Caroline” (again)

All-Star Jam #1 (Lloyd Price, Elton John, Dr. John, Leon Russell, John Densmore) – “Stagger Lee”

All-Star Jam #2 (Elton John, Leon Russell, Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper, Darlene Love, Bette Midler) – “Da Doo Ron Ron”