NEW YORK -- Amongst the gilded walls and crystal chandeliers of the grandiose Waldorf Astoria hotel there stood the sons of sharecroppers and ministers, cotton farmers and postmen. Grown-up kids from deepest Alabama and southernmost Ireland, in tuxedos and wraparound shades, clutched shiny black trophies and turned -- left! now center! now right! -- for throngs of popping flashbulbs, each of them different, yet with so much in common: They were all members of the 2005 class of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Click for photos from the event.)
Of course, Dublin, Ireland's U2 topped the list of honorees at Monday night's ceremony. Bono was like a politician and a priest all rolled into one, shaking reporters' hands and fielding question after question about his supposed run for the presidency of the World Bank. But there were also the Pretenders, the new wave/rock quartet made up of three nice lads from England and one badass chick from Ohio, and another group of Ohio players -- the O'Jays -- funk and soul hitmakers so prodigious that none other than Justin Timberlake himself chose to deliver their induction speech.
teach Jack White a thing or three about coaxing every guttural squeal out of an old electric guitar. And sweet-faced Percy Sledge, whose soul standard "When a Man Loves a Woman" proved good enough to chart as a hit in three different decades. And there was a label man (Sire's Seymour Stein) and a booking agent (Frank Barsalona), all gathered at a bizarre yet sweetly nostalgic ceremony honoring (while ignoring large chunks of) rock's past.
For all the talk of acts that the Hall has snubbed -- the Sex Pistols, Black Sabbath, Patti Smith, Television -- perhaps it's best to focus on the artists honored. Sure, it can be stuffy and grandfatherly, but judging by Monday's awards, it can also be fun, funky and even downright profane.
Witness Ice-T -- who inducted his former label boss Stein -- and let fly with an impressive string of profanities that ended with the send off "And now, without further ado, here's my mother----ing n---a, Seymour Stein!" Or the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, who, while waiting for drummer Martin Chambers to set up his kit, told a fabulously dirty joke about a guy, his wife and a duck.
There was the raw, ripping live performance featuring Guy, B.B. King and Eric Clapton, which brought the house down and the crowd to its feet. Guy howled and stomped around the mic, bending notes out of his lips and his hips and moaning "Damn right, I got the blues." And a spry Jerry Lee Lewis, who took about 0.8 seconds to launch into a dirty boogie-woogie version of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On."
But that was the past. Rock's present and future were on display, too. Timberlake -- dressed in a natty black suit and shiny white kicks -- seemed like a somewhat nervous, honest-to-goodness fanboy when he inducted the O'Jays. He quoted their greatest hits ("Back Stabbers," "Love Train") and then urged everybody to "get your butts out of your seats for the O'Jays!" And in a move many attributed to him not wanting to snatch the spotlight away from the act he had just praised, JT pulled a no-show in the backstage pressroom, a prime example of the present paying homage to the past.
The greatest amount of tribute, though, was reserved for U2. Bruce Springsteen inducted them, giving a smart speech that poked fun at Bono's "Irish mullet" and "shaman/spinster" tendencies, but also heaped praise on his powerful-yet-doubting voice, the Edge's icy guitar and the "sensuality" of the band's rhythm section. And when the bandmembers strode to the podium, they seemed genuinely touched by the honor. Bono was humble and witty, referring to the evening as "an Irish wedding" (complete with, as he put it "the O'Jays, from West Ireland.") The Edge took reading a thank-you list to new technological heights when he whipped out a BlackBerry, and Larry Mullen Jr. said what was on a lot of people's minds when he gave shout-outs to punk pioneers Television, Smith and the Pistols, artists that were, he said, "in our own rock and roll hall of fame."
And that was kind of the point of the whole evening. There were some dull moments: a video package showing the "greatest moments" from the Hall's previous 19 inductions seemed to prove that neither Clapton nor Springsteen are ever too busy to pass up a good ceremony, and some of the performances took exorbitantly long to set up for. Then there was the issue of those not just in rock and punk, but in hip-hop and R&B as well, that the Hall has snubbed (see [article id="1494748"]"U2, Pretenders Among Rock Hall Inductees; Grandmaster Flash, Sex Pistols Denied"[/article]). But as U2 closed the evening out with a thunderous performance -- Bono walking amidst the guests dinner tables, flubbing an occasional line, grabbing champagne and spraying it into the air -- it was grandiose, a bit imperfect, sexualized and silly.
Just like the Rock Hall itself.