On Friday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s held its 32nd annual induction ceremony at the Barclay’s Center. This year’s inductees were Electric Light Orchestra, Joan Baez, Yes, Tupac Shakur, Journey and Pearl Jam. In addition, Nile Rodgers was given the Award for Musical Excellence.
Jann Wenner began the night with a tribute to Chuck Berry. “He was able to understand the zeitgeist of the then-teenage post war baby boom,” Wenner said, before solemnly intoning Berry’s lyrics (“ring, ring goes the bell” has never sounded so plaintive).
Other speakers echoed this theme. “There’s nothing so fleeting yet so enduring as the way music feels when you’re 17,” said Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson as he inducted Yes.
Joan Baez’s induction was even more over-the-top. A short introductory clip about Baez felt more like an excerpt of Forrest Gump than a tribute to a musician, with clips of Baez and Martin Luther King, Jr. interspersed with “we were changing the world through music” platitudes (soundtracked, weirdly, by Baez performing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”). Rock wasn't just the music of youth—it was the music of freedom itself!
David Letterman mocked this sentiment in his induction speech for Pearl Jam. Praising the band's boycott of Ticketmaster, Letterman joked, "Because they stood up to the corporations I'm happy to say, ladies and gentleman, today every concert ticket in the United States of America is free." But even Letterman couldn't resist a line about Rock's hold on America's young. On the band's 1991 debut Ten, he said, "It had an anger to it and it appealed to twenty-something people who felt displaced and unemployed and left out. I was almost 50 and even I was pissed off."
That's not to say that there weren't moments of real emotion. Snoop Dogg gave a poignant speech inducting his friend “Tupac the actual human being.”
“People remember him as a thugged out superhero, but he knew he was human,” Snoop Dogg said, and shared memories of his time with the late rapper, including parasailing (“Do you know what parasailing is? Because we damn sure didn’t,” he said) and smoking his first blunt. “That’s right, Tupac is the one that got Snoop Dogg smoking blunts,” he said. “I was a Zig Zag man before that.”
Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman injected more levity into the night than anybody else, even Letterman. As the other members of Yes looked back on the music they had made, Wakeman told the audience "Less than half a mile from this very building, I had my very first meaningful sexual experience." As the crowd laughed and applauded, Wakeman continued. "It wasn't very good—it never is when you're alone." What followed was a series of dirty jokes about strip clubs and prostate exams hilariously unsuited to the earnest ceremony.
But the night's narrative was undone with the induction of Journey, the original bad boys of schlock. Train frontman Pat Monahan's induction speech set the mood, beginning with a recitation of Journey's sales statistics. The band thanked their manager Herbie Herbert so many times that it felt more like a small company than a band was being honored. For a ceremony so predicated on the idea of authentic music that changed the world, it was remarkable seeing a band so obsessed with its sales and its managerial team. But it's fitting, because Journey is a manipulative, fraudulent band. People point to the ridiculousness of the “born and raised in South Detroit” line ( “South Detroit” would be Windsor, Ontario) for good reason— it speaks to a disinterest in crafting meaningful songs, mixed with the pretense of authenticity. The emptiness of Journey’s lyrics is a reminder that talented musicians used their skills to trick consumers into buying wax discs, and that every other musician in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame did it too.
The Journey induction was touted as a reunion of sorts. As estranged former frontman Steve Perry appeared on stage with his bandmates, it seemed like the band really might get back together for one last hurrah. After reciting the Journey lineup, Perry said, uncharacteristically, “Are you fucking shittin’ me? Any singer would give his ass for that shit!” But his praise of his former bandmates only extended so far; when the band actually performed, they were fronted by lead singer Arnel Pineda. This was where the night took its most surreal turn. Pineda, a Manila-based singer who Journey found on YouTube, has an eerily Perry-like voice, and seeing him belt out songs like "Lights" and "Separate Ways" made the ceremony feel like it had been taken over by a Journey cover band, and made Journey feel even more like a marketing creation made up of fungible musicians.
In the press room afterwards, guitarist Neal Schon, praised the lead singer “Aynsley” (confusing Pineda—who Schon has toured with since 2007—and former Journey drummer Aynsley Dunbar, who left the band in 1978). When a journalist corrected him, Schon apologized. “I’m so out of it,” he said.