Backstage At The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame
News and notes from backstage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, held last night (March 12) at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel. R.E.M., Van Halen, Patti Smith, the Ronettes and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were enshrined this year.
R.E.M. played live with former drummer Bill Berry following an induction speech by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, but backstage, Michael Stipe and Mike Mills said for now, just one night on stage with their old mate would have to do. “We’ve been fortunate enough to play with him several times in the past few years. Maybe we’ll do it again. He can’t wait to get back to his farm,” Mills said. “As a matter of fact, he’s already left,” Stipe chimed in.
The band will hit the studio to record its next studio album in May with producer Jacknife Lee (“I’m writing songs as we speak,” Stipe joked). As reported on Monday, the original quartet recorded a cover of John Lennon’s “#9 Dream” for an upcoming Darfur charity album. “We chose that song because there are no lyrics in the chorus,” Stipe offered.
Mills said he was thrilled at the diversity of this year’s induction class, recalling listening to records from the Sugar Hill label back in Athens, Ga., in the late 1970s. “Who knew back in 1979 when we were listening to this stuff that we’d even meet these guys, much less be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” he beamed.
Backstage, Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony said there were no hard feelings they were not included on Van Halen’s planned summer tour with David Lee Roth, which is now in shambles. “I totally encourage the thing with Dave,” Hagar said. “If Van Halen has any move they should do for the fans right now, it’s to do a reunion with Dave.” Added Anthony of the absent Roth, “I was waiting for him to come busting through at some point during the speech.”
“If we all grew up, including me, maybe all of us could do it together,” Hagar said of future Van Halen touring. “I’m down with that.” He added, “I planned on taking this year off and just hanging with my family. I haven’t done that for a long time. [But] I will tour from my birthday in October through next year.”
Velvet Revolver performed in place of Van Halen and without Roth. Frontman Scott Weiland explained the ensuing controversy: “We were asked to perform. Kinda what happened was, he wanted to sing the song ‘Jump.’ We felt from an artistic standpoint, and I’m being totally honest with you, that it wasn’t a song we felt comfortable with. We don’t have keyboards. To bring a keyboard on stage wouldn’t work for us. We said we’d do “Jamie’s Cryin'” or “You Really Got Me,” and he was adamant that wasn’t okay.”
With a new album “a little overdue” but intended for release in “another month or two” on her own Aretha’s Records label, Aretha Franklin also spoke excitedly about a new play based on her autobiography, “From These Roots.” Auditions begin May 1 in Detroit. “Since the announcement, I have a film offer and telefilm offer for the autobiography,” she said, adding that “Dreamgirls” star Jennifer Hudson is being considered to play her in the film. Asked who would play Sam Cooke, she said with a smile, “I don’t know, but I’m going to select whoever it is!”
Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power” served as this year’s show-closing jam, and has for years closed the Tibet House benefit at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Asked if she still believes in the song’s message, Smith said, “I think the idea is sound. People do have the power; they just have to decide how to use it. Future generations have within their hands unprecedented power. They have the power to unite in moments. I look forward to what they will be doing.”
Smith admitted she preferred her band’s version of “Because the Night” to 10,000 Maniacs’ live take in the early ’90s, but admitted that group’s Natalie Merchant “is a better singer than me.”
Explaining the inspiration behind her controversial song “Rock’n’Roll Ni**er,” which she performed, she said she wanted to “take a word that had been used in a derogatory fashion and redefine it as a word for the artist, the outsider.”
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s induction into the Rock Hall “opens the gates to our culture,” according to Flash. “I want to say to this organization that I thought would possibly be untouchable, thank you. At one point, I was considered some sort of idiot. It is really, really great to know I’ve got a world full of idiots just like me that love this culture called hip-hop.”
Earlier, Furious Five rapper Melle Mel took current hip-hop to task for not evolving. “It never grew up,” he said. “It’s too young for me. It’s too gangster for me. Ain’t no criminals up here. I’ve never been in jail or shot nobody or sold drugs. The industry is supposed to help us redefine hip-hop.” The group emphasized how hard it worked to spread hip-hop beyond its New York roots. “We didn’t stumble on being in the position we’re in right now; we created it,” said Kid Creole.
The group has not been active since the mid-1990s, and Scorpio acknowledged the members have had their ups-and-downs in recent years. “We are up here by the grace of God. We’re still here. We’re still working on it. It’s just like any relationship. This is an incredible time for us to try to rekindle. We are trying to take the original Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five on a world tour. I think cats like us are worthy enough to do it and won’t discredit our people.”
The Ronettes’ Ronnie Spector didn’t take questions in the press room, leaving group member Nedra Talley to field questions about Phil Spector’s upcoming murder trial. “I pray that the truth will come out,” she said. “I would not want to be in that position. I wouldn’t want it for anybody. I thank him for the fact that he gave us a couple of really good songs. God knows the truth and I’ll have to trust our system to bring the truth out.”
She also quashed discussion of a possible Ronettes tour, saying, “We’d never have the true Ronettes like I remember it and like you remember it.”
Spector’s iron-fist rule over the trio was referenced when Talley said the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” was actually written with the Ronettes in mind. “Phil wouldn’t allow it,” she said. “I loved that song and [Beach Boys mastermind] Brian [Wilson] loves the Ronettes. I was told he said he starts every day of his life blasting ‘Be My Baby.’ So his kids grew up having to hear us every day of their lives.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who accompanied James Brown to his Rock Hall induction in 1986, told reporters Brown had a special place in his heart for the honor. “This was the first mainstream industry that really gave him his due,” he said. Commenting on whether or not hip-hop has a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he said, “Rock’n’roll began a whole spirit of self-definition in music. Every generation after picked up the legacy of rock’n’roll by defining itself.” Sharpton said his own formative tastes included everything from Motown to gospel to Elvis to country. “I even go to Bon Jovi concerts, when I’m not campaigning,” he said with a laugh.
Backstage At The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame