As anybody who has ever remained awake during a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction proceedings would tell you, one ceremony is enough. But the Songwriters Hall of Fame is slowly but surely trying to turn its own induction dinner into an event, complete with real musicians, real journalists, and a real long jam. Now, according to Hal David, the SHOF also has a home.
David, the lyricist who wrote songs such as "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" with Burt Bacharach, said that the Songwriters' Hall of Fame would be moving into a 14th Street dormitory provided by New York University. From the historic locale of Tin Pan Alley, the Hall of Fame would be able to use the 60,000 square feet of real estate to present its "historic, honorific archives."
After all, as David told a dozing press pack, songs are "probably the most important export we have in America."
Aside from this bombshell, the big thrill was waiting for Brian Wilson to enter the tented enclosure at New York's Sheraton hotel on Thursday, June 15. In the meantime, the press made do with Richie Sambora (fave Bon Jovi song: "Livin' on a Prayer" - "I think we've all been Tommy and Gina"), J.D. Souther (fave melodist: Wayne Shorter), and a hale Neil Diamond (fave Neil Diamond song: "Cherry Cherry").
When Brian Wilson finally shambled behind the microphone, he looked like a deer caught in the headlights wearing a large suit. The excitement at being in the same room with an American Mozart was tempered by the sad feeling that the troubled Wilson would rather be spending the remainder of his days in his sandbox.
On being inducted into the Hall of Fame: "Yeah, it's the biggest honor I've ever had." Favorite song: "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes - "It's got all kinds of sounds I like." Favorite contemporary acts: "Hanson, the Backstreet Boys." (Several writers recalled Wilson drawing a blank when being told who Hanson were.) On selling a live album through his Web site: "I can't hear you!"
Nevertheless, the "Good Vibrations" maestro had to feel a little tinge of pride at being inducted into the Hall by his old rival Paul McCartney. In his speech, McCartney did his best to pin down the elusive magic of Wilson's songs for the Beach Boys.
"In the '60s, particularly, he wrote some music that, when I played it, it made me cry, and I don't quite know why," said the Walrus. "There was just something so deep in it. There's only certain pieces of music that can do this to me - it just reaches right down in me. I think it's a sign of great genius to be able to do that with a bunch of words and a bunch of notes. I think, personally, he's one of your great American geniuses."
Hanson performed "God Only Knows" to remind the audience why they were there. Backstage, one Hanson said, "As an artistic work [the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds] was a really amazing thing, and it also inspired artists to do a lot of other things." When asked if Hanson thought they would be honored themselves someday, the old one laughed, "I don't think we'll ever go there!"
Other songwriters inducted included Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, James Taylor, and Don Henley and Glenn Frey of the Eagles.
Curtis Mayfield - who, in typical Hall of Fame style, was inducted a mere 26 years after his last top 40 hit and posthumously at that - was praised by Brian McKnight for his work on the 1972 Superfly soundtrack.
"When I think about Curtis," McKnight proselytized, "I think more about his contribution to allowing African-American males to do film scores. Not only to just do the music, but he did songs that were an integral part of [the film itself]. If you look at Superfly, there's no way that you could even watch that movie and not know all those songs that were happening."
Isaac Hayes, who inducted Mayfield, joked, "I know Curtis is smiling right now - Shaft giving Superfly an award."
Sean "Puffy" Combs was unusually modest as he inducted James Brown. "He's not only the hardest-working man in show business, he's the longest-working man in show business and the best-looking," he said. Combs then kissed Brown's ring, but it's not what you're thinking. The Funky President recalled his days as a janitor and grabbed the mike to rap as the band vamped "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag."
The whole thing was topped by a monstrous jam. The only song rendered recognizable was, bizarrely, Leiber and Stoller's "Kansas City." Leiber, Stoller, McCartney, Hanson, James Brown, Ben E. King, James Taylor, Aaron Neville, Bobby Womack, Neil Diamond, Phoebe Snow, Jill Sobule, and Keely Smith at least looked like they were having fun. Brian Wilson just looked like he was jonesing for a sandbox.