"It's all over now. ... Rock n' roll is sh--. It's dismal," Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon railed in the June 1980 issue of the late, great rock mag Trouser Press. And although he said those words more than 25 years ago, Lydon's tune has scarcely changed.
So when it was announced back in November that Lydon and his fellow Pistols would finally be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (see "Black Sabbath Finally Make Rock Hall Of Fame — Whether Ozzy Likes It Or Not"), it was just a matter of time before he came out swinging against it all. And when Lydon finally did — via a hand-scrawled note posted on the Pistols' Web site (see "Sex Pistols Respond To Rock Hall Invite With Filth And Fury") stating that the group would not attend the ceremony — the music industry responded with little more than a chuckle and a collective roll of the eyes.
And of course, when the Rock Hall held its 21st annual induction ceremony at New York's glitzy Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Monday — an event that also saw the induction of Blondie and Miles Davis, as well as Black Sabbath and Lynyrd Skynyrd (both of whom, like the Pistols, had been passed over several times; see "So How Do You Get Into The Rock Hall Of Fame?") — Lydon and the Pistols were nowhere to be seen.
It was supposed to be a silent middle finger to the rock and roll establishment, though it actually seemed to disappoint rather than enrage the assembled musicians, suits and journos. (Rumors, which sadly turned out to be false, had been swirling all day that Green Day were going to induct the Pistols). Still, one cannot help but wonder what Lydon would've thought of the whole ceremony if he'd bothered to attend it.
He probably would have enjoyed the nasty onstage spat that occurred between members of Blondie, which was certainly the most "punk" moment of the night. After frontwoman Deborah Harry, guitarist Chris Stein, keyboardist Jimmy Destri and drummer Clem Burke accepted their awards, former members Frank Infante and Nigel Harrison — who unsuccessfully sued to rejoin the band on its 1998 reunion tour (see "Blondie Reunion Blocked By Former Members") — raided the podium and begged to perform with Blondie.
"Debbie, aren't we allowed?" Infante whined. "I thought the group was being inducted tonight."
"Can't you see my real band is up there?" Harry shot back, before launching into spirited set of Blondie's hits, "Heart of Glass," "Rapture" and "Call Me."
The ugly onstage incident spilled over into the press area, as Stein told the assembled media that he was keeping an eye on his Rock Hall trophy "In case I see one of those f---ers back here."
That sorry scene was, for better or worse, probably the evening's highlight. Sting inducted A&M Records cofounders Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. The late Miles Davis was inducted by a polite Herbie Hancock. And Black Sabbath, who had made their displeasure with the Rock Hall known on many occasions, were strangely subdued when giving their acceptance speech. Even the rambunctious Ozzy Osbourne seemed touched by the honor, thanking the Hall of Fame "for getting it right" and dedicated the honor to the memory of former Metallica bassist Cliff Burton and former Pantera guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott.
"I was getting a bit tired of getting my hopes up year after year, but I'm happy we're finally in," Ozzy said before the ceremony. "It's a great honor and hopefully it will lead the way to more heavy-metal acts being inducted. I'd like to see Judas Priest in soon."
And though Sabbath did not play after accepting their award (because, as Ozzy delicately put it, "my b---s hurt"), the spirit of their brutal proto-metal was brought to thudding life by Metallica, who chugged through "Hole in the Sky" and "Iron Man" with wanton disregard for the eardrums of the largely graying assembled dignitaries. (It should be noted that even though frontman James Hetfield adopted a sorta-Ozzy falsetto for the tunes, as a Sabbath cover band, Metallica are a pretty decent Metallica.)
And as the night ended with inductees Lynyrd Skynyrd jamming away on — what else? — "Free Bird," Lydon's criticisms felt only partially valid. Sure, there are still many artists who deserve to be inducted (Grandmaster Flash, the Stooges) and the ceremony still has the feel of a corporate gospel brunch at the House of Blues. But the Hall seems to be working to fix its problems. Inducting the Pistols, Sabbath and Skynyrd was one step; festooning the Waldorf's stately stage with all manner of punky graffiti was another.
Maybe next year, they'll get it all right. And it'd be a shame if Lydon weren't there to see it.
See it all for yourself, including performances by Metallica and Kid Rock with Lynyrd Skynyrd, during VH1's broadcast of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony March 21 at 9 p.m.