“I Died in Cleveland?,”* or, Thoughts On the Induction Ceremony, Class of 2018

-* Watchers of “The Good Place” will recognize the reference – without giving too much away for the uninitiated, the series thus far has taken place in the afterlife of its main characters; this past season it was revealed that one of those characters met his/her earthly demise during an RRHOF induction ceremony. (Extra points to the show for knowing the 25-year rule). If you’re not watching “The Good Place,” you should be. (Ahem, Alex Voltaire). You can’t just jump in, so definitely – find a way to get to the beginning and get started already. 

Anyway, back to the subject at hand: this year’s Rock Week Inductions, complete with the middle-aged fangirling you won’t get anywhere else. These are just impressions; for commentary see Future Rock Legends or   Northumbrian Countdown. Spoiler alert for those waiting for May 5 and HBO.

This year gave me a new perspective on things, as I was privileged to actually attend Rock Week for the first time ever and watch the simulcast of the ceremony at the museum (thank you, Donna). After contributing to the Hall’s $199 million-plus economic boost to the Cleveland economy over Thursday and Friday (highly recommend the Porco Lounge and Tiki Room), RRHOF festivities got underway with a top-secret summit of Hall watchers at an undisclosed location, at which a perfect agenda for the Hall was mapped out during an intense brainstorming session. Beer may or may not have been involved.

Saturday was all Hall, all day. It’d been 18 years since I’d been to the Museum, so it was intriguing to see all the new developments. The “Power of Rock” film lived up to its advance billing, and I second the advice we got to see it first thing. A lot of effort has clearly gone into the  overall presentation, and a lot more of the collection has been brought into play (with crowds, it took us two hours to get through the floor alone) although my partner was disappointed at the relative lack of items from previous inductees. The display that really resonated with me was Jimi Hendrix’ sketches and paintings, done when he was a tween and teen. The brand-new inductee section and signature plaque area is light years away from the tiny, dark and silent sanctum I remember from before, tucked away and forgotten at the top of the pyramid.

Two things happened at the Museum that impressed me in particular. The first was something I’d actually told everyone the night before would flip me out were it to happen: I met Greg Harris. I probably shouldn’t have bothered him, but before I thought about it I’d called out, “Mr. Harris” and he graciously stopped and chatted about the day for a moment without a hint of being impatient or rushed.

The second is that early in the day, on the first floor, I saw a green dress worn by Yvonne Staples, who’d just passed away two days prior. By the time I got up to the third floor, that dress had been moved to the memorial section and installed in the glass case up front alongside the display for Tom Petty, with an updated description screen. That they took the time to do this on such a hectic day is something, and I imagine that under normal circumstances it would have been done sooner. We went to a listening session in the Foster Theater just after that with John Goehrke, the Hall’s director of visitor engagement and education, and he confirmed that they’d been playing her music in the building the day before as is standard upon the passing of an inductee.

That listening session was fun not only because it was nice to plop down and listen to “Heartbeat City” on a killer sound system, but also because it was a chance to talk with a staff member and really see how much pride and enthusiasm the staff has for the museum and its mission. Every interaction we had with a staff member, from ticket takers to the CEO, was positive. (A huge thank you for letting us back into the building and out of the cold earlier than scheduled). And you know these people don’t necessarily agree with what the Foundation does, but they’re the ones who hear about those decisions every single day. It’s not something most visitors pay attention to, but I think it would be a good step with additional cachet for sponsors and donors for the museum to  follow the CMHOF’s example and get  American Alliance of Museums accreditation.

The fan vote section of the exhibit was getting plenty of use, and has been noted, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Stevie Nicks were at the front of the pack. (I opted for Link Wray, but right up until I voted I was thinking of going with Todd Rundgren, Big Mama Thornton, The Tragically Hip or even Ted McCarty just to make people look twice). It’ll be interesting to see how the ballot looks in October in relation to this, in particular if Judas Priest is shelved in favor of either Leppard or Maiden–and also how fans respond either way.

The ceremony itself has already been dissected here and there, so just some random thoughts:

  • I actually enjoyed the comments by the Bon Jovi band members. I found myself wondering if the “opening” slot was the Hall’s response to Jon’s attitude, which is well played if true, but who can say if it is. The majority of the simulcast crowd  seemed to be there for the Moody Blues, who deserved the headliner spot. I didn’t think the sound mix was very good for either Bon Jovi or the Moodies, with muddy vocals, and without attempting to throw shade here, I heard someone ask if Bon Jovi was lip-synching. Not sure why this would be, because the mix was better for everything in the middle, although the audio/video sync was slightly off from where we were sitting outside the Connor Theater.
  • I can only imagine how thrilled Sister Rosetta would have been by Brittany Howard and Felicia Collins’ performances – Howard especially didn’t so much pay tribute to Tharpe as channel her.
  • Mary J. Blige did a superlative job inducting Nina Simone, and it’s too bad she had  to do the dirty work of finally cutting Sam Waymon off. Allotting him three minutes was stingy, but if he’d ended with, “If you want to be a queen you are a queen… If you want to be like my sister and you have a dream, don’t let anything stop you from your quest,” what power it would have had. Andra Day was simply transcendent, and Lauryn Hill excellent, although to be honest the segment was starting to feel long at this point.
  • What else can be said about the Dire Straits debacle? Until it unfolded, I wouldn’t have believed the Hall could be this tone deaf…not like this. Kudos to Illsley, Clark and Fletcher.
  • Benjamin Orr’s memorial service was held at the museum in the Foster Theater, and I’m glad this is now the postscript on the story. Brandon Flowers’ speech was perfect, and the band was surprisingly and charmingly nervous except for Greg Hawkes, who advocated for some still excluded: Todd Rundgren, Flo and Eddie, Kraftwerk and Devo. The band got the crowd up and dancing–including the Bongiovi kids–and although I’d have liked a small nonverbal nod to  Orr besides the recognition in the speeches, as the Moodies did for Ray Thomas, it was a satisfying end, if it’s to be the end. And yeah, when it was over, I had a moment.
  • I didn’t know what to make of the new induction plan for singles, and frankly still don’t. Future Rock Legends has done an excellent job summing it up, and I’m nervous for what it portends for Link Wray in particular, although Steve Van Zandt hasn’t personally given up on him.
  • The Moody Blues were gracious and charming and although the vocal mix again could’ve been better, they showed everyone how a headlining act gets it done. We thought “I’m Just A Singer…” (or “Good Times Roll”) would’ve made a great jam tune, but what can you do. Happy for all the fans.

When I wrote a letter advocating for the Cars to the Foundation almost four years ago, I never thought I’d actually witness the final result. It was a thrill and a lifetime memory, and while there’s plenty of entertainment still to be had in Hall watching, it’s never going to be quite like this again. And I’m a shameless booster for Cleveland–even as a native Midwesterner, I think the city has some of the world’s nicest people. It’s been a pleasure every time I’ve visited. Although one thing crossed my mind while we waited in line that never occurred to me before: who decided this should happen here and New York in April?

While we were all celebrating geezer rock in a glass pyramid, it came out that veterans Dave Marsh and Craig Werner are off the NomCom and Amanda Petrusich is on. And in other news, Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize for “Damn.”

And where do we go from here?