“You got to forgive to live,” said former KISS drummer Peter Criss during his band’s speech at the 29th Rock And Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony Thursday at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. He didn’t quite live up to his own words, though, and took a veiled swipe at the various members of KISS that have played in the iconic Detroit band after his departure nearly a decade ago. “In and out of makeup, I’ll always be the catman,” he said.
KISS first gained fame, if not much critical respect, for bringing an extra level of drama to rock ‘n’ roll, so perhaps it’s appropriate that their induction into the Hall of Fame would be dramatic as well. The various members of KISS have been trading unkind words back and forth for years now, with Criss and former guitarist Paul “Ace” Frehley complaining that Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley continued the band after their departures. (The nature of these departures is of course hotly debated; there’s various memoirs you can read on the subject if so inclined.) All told; ten different musicians have played in KISS, though the Hall of Fame’s organizers only allowed what Simmons called the original “fearsome foursome” to be inducted, much to the consternation of many of the group’s fans. That original line-up refused to play together at the ceremony, also to the consternation of many of the group’s fans. (Cries of “Play a song” peppered the group’s speech.) For his part, Simmons thanked every previous member by name and was uncharacteristically gracious about Criss and Frehley’s original contributions.
If it was a rocky road to induction, KISS and Tom Morello, the former Rage Against The Machine/Audioslave guitarist and high school general in the KISS Army, both seem happy to have gotten there at all. Morello spoke about getting beat up in high school for being a fan of the band, and was irked that the band wasn’t immediately inducted when they became eligible in 1999, 25 years after their self-titled debut. An increasingly animated Morello said at the end of his presenting speech, “You can kiss my KISS-loving ass because KISS wasn’t a critic’s band. It’s the people’s band!”
While KISS fans have long grumbled that their heroes have been snubbed by the Hall, alternative rock icons Nirvana made it in their first year of eligibility. Nirvana also had plenty of line-up changes, but the Hall only inducted Kurt Cobain, drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic, though Grohl pointed out in his speech that he was only the fifth drummer, and thanked former member Chad Channing for helping develop the band’s “boom-thwack” drum sound. He also thanked his parents for encouraging him to follow music and not objecting to his affection for “fucking Slayer.”
And though the former members of Nirvana have done plenty of feuding with Cobain’s widow Courtney Love, the two shared the stage with her and Cobain’s mother, Wendy O’ Connor; when it was Love’s turn to speak she simply said, “I have a big speech, but I’m not going to say it.” Instead, she gave everyone, including Grohl and Novoselic, a hug. “This is my family I’m looking at now. I just wish Kurt was here to hear this,” she said. “Tonight, he really would have appreciated it.”
The surviving members of Nirvana, joined by former touring guitarist and current Foo Fighter Pat Smear, were fronted by a succession of female singers for their set, including Joan Jett on “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” former Sonic Youth member Kim Gordon on “Aneurysm,” Annie Clark of St. Vincent on “Lithium” and Lorde on “All Apologies,” the last performance of the night. Clark said backstage that the choice was made as a nod to the band’s feminist roots, noting that was a brave stance for an all-male band to be making 20 years ago.
If KISS and Nirvana did their best to play nice, Bruce Springsteen seemed to have unsettled business. With himself. Springsteen was inducted as a solo artist in 1999, his first year of eligibility, but his longtime backing group the E Street Band were not. He proceeded to tell an anecdote about every member of the original line-up of the group and then talked about a meeting he had with Steven Van Zandt, his “devil’s advice,” “consigliere” and “ and “blood blood blood blood blood brother.” Springsteen had just recently reconvened the E Street Band after a decade of inactivity, and admitted that there were still some hurt feelings to be sorted through. With tears in his eyes and a faraway stare, said that he wished that keyboard player Danny Federici and saxophone player Clarence “Big Man” Clemons were alive for the induction. “Miss you, love you, Big Man,” he said. “We wish you were here with us tonight.”
Backstage Van Zandt seemed legitimately surprised that Springsteen brought up their “private conversation,” and declined to talk about it. But onstage the E Street Band talked. And talked. Every member gave a lengthy speech — the highlight being Clemons’ widow Victoria playing a voicemail of him singing da-da-da, and noting that “he was a big man in many ways, but never more on sax” — and by the end the Springsteen section of the evening took more than an hour, starting with the Boss’ speech and ending with a three-song set that included “The E Street Shuffle,” “The River” and “Kitty’s Back.”
To follow, John Oates of Hall & Oates told the audience that, fortunately for them, there were only two of them that night, with Daryl Hall adding, “And I don’t like to talk.” The Philadelphia soul duo were inducted by Questlove, who joked that the heavily made-up cover of the group’s 1975 self-titled album proved “they were good-looking ladies… who made good-looking songs.”
Other inductees including former Beatles manager Brian Epstein and former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, and Linda Ronstadt, who was inducted by her former drummer Glenn Frey. Ronstadt was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease two years ago and declined to appear in person. She was saluted by an all-star line-up including Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks, Emmylou Harris, Carrie Underwood and Bonnie Raitt.
Cat Stevens, who now goes by Yusuf Islam, was inducted by Art Garfunkel, and performed “Wild World,” “Peace Train” and “Father And Son.” During his induction speech, he noted that he was probably a strange choice for the hall, as “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and I only sleep with my wife. Which makes me an outrageously rock and roll pick!”
Chris Martin of Coldplay inducted Peter Gabriel, and earned some laughs with a routine where he pretended to read from the book of Genesis. “And the Angel Gabriel told Phil of Collins that ‘I’m going solo, and you’re going to be the singer now,’” Martin said. He later duetted with Gabriel on “Washing Of The Water.” But it was Gabriel, who sang “Digging In The Dirt” and a duet of “In Your Eyes” with Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour, that earned the biggest laugh of the night in his acceptance speech, wherein he acknowledged his innovative and often bizarre music videos and onstage attire. “Dream big and surround yourself with brilliance,” he said, “Even if you end up dressed like a flower or sexually transmitted disease.”
HBO will air the show on May 31.