One of the oddest elements of HBO’s 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony 2016 comes at the very end of the 2½-hour telecast.
Prince is there.
The iconic musician died about two weeks after the induction ceremony was taped April 8 in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
So, with no way for him to have been included in the ceremony’s “in memoriam” segment, but with Prince very much on music lover’s minds, the telecast added a clip from Prince’s induction speech in 2004 and his guitar solo during the closing jam that night.
Yes, that solo has been talked about as one of the great moments in Prince’s career. And it is pretty electrifying. But the inclusion of it at the end of the telecast still seems like a curiosity, as if viewers would wonder why there were posthumous tributes in the ceremony to David Bowie and Glenn Frey but not to the Purple One. And, having done this, will the rock hall not include a tribute in next year’s induction?
In any case, the inclusion of Prince does add something special to the program at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Even with some judicious editing, the special features a lot of thanking of fans, managers, departed friends, family and inspirations salted with occasionally eloquent introductions and acceptance speeches, some familiar performances and some pointed questioning of the rock hall itself.
Local fans may look especially closely at Akron’s own Black Keys’ interaction with Steve Miller, whom they introduced. Their meeting Miller reportedly went badly and, compared to the way some other inductees greeted their introducers, Miller, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney seem pretty formal and distant.
Besides, the edited ceremony cut one of the best jokes from Carney and Auerbach’s speech.
Still, it gave Miller a full hearing — at least of his concerns about the rock hall’s gender diversity and transparency during his acceptance speech; he went even more ballistic afterward.
That was not the only criticism to be heard, especially when the likes of Cheap Trick, Chicago and Deep Purple thanked the fans who have lobbied for their inclusion long years after they became eligible for induction.
Ice Cube, for that matter, used his part of N.W.A.’s induction to make a fresh argument for hip-hop as rock ’n’ roll.
There was good music for the fans, too; of the performers inducted, only N.W.A. chose not to perform. (Sheryl Crow and Grace Potter, for that matter, did a lovely, harmony-laden rendition of New Kid in Town in tribute to Frey.)
In many cases, the performers were the latest incarnation of the bands, old road warriors with new, younger associates capable of recreating the older sound. But there was one notable reunion.
Ladies and gentlemen, Danny Seraphine.
Although Seraphine and Chicago parted ways a quarter-century ago, he still came to the ceremony. (Peter Cetera, at odds with his old bandmates, did not.) Along with Ice Cube, Seraphine gave one of the best speeches in the telecast, reminiscing about the old days in sometimes blunt terms. (Considering how many f-bombs there are in the ceremony, it pretty much has to be on premium cable.)
And, when it appeared that someone off-camera was urging Seraphine to wrap things up, he just as bluntly declined, saying, “I’ve waited 25 years for this.”
That’s a rock ’n’ roll attitude. It’s also a demonstration of the contradiction at the heart of this ceremony, and the rock hall itself.
On the one hand, this is supposed to be a celebration of the raucous spirit of the music that Ice Cube so well described, of leather jackets more than tuxedoes.
It’s supposed to be informal enough that Lars Ulrich, introducing Deep Purple, is comfortable working not from a prompter but a pad of notes in his hand.
It’s supposed to feel as if the all-star jam at the end (this time to Ain’t That a Shame) is spontaneous and capable of revelation (as in that Prince performance in ’04).
But this is still a music-industry event, where there’s an eye on the clock and the inductees’ performances recycle their hits in all-too-familiar ways.
This year’s ceremony was heavy on artists that have been touring for long decades, their moves precisely worked out. And that’s fine, if I want to go to one of their concerts. But in a rock hall telecast? I wanted something fresher and bolder — a demonstration not only of what rock was but what it still is.
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal, Facebook, Twitter, Ohio.com and the HeldenFiles Online blog.