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HBO Brings the 'Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony' to TV Once Again – If You Can Handle It
April 27, 2019  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

HBO’s annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, which airs Saturday at 8 p.m. ET, tests the fine line between a full-on rock ‘n’ roll fan and a masochist.

The three-hour production is trimmed down slightly from the live production last month at Brooklyn’s Barclay Center. Still, it’s a lot of music and speechmaking, which inevitably has high and low notes.  

As fine a band as the Zombies have been over the years, it’s painful hearing Colin Blunstone (below) reach for the first lines in “Time of the Season.”

Stevie Nicks’ rambling induction acceptance speech, following a long and mildly notorious tradition of rambling induction speeches – John Mellencamp, you know who you are – gets less charming as the minutes pass.

Nicks does, however, close with a line that summarizes what the annual event has become: a television production.

“Thank you,” Nicks says as she leaves the stage. “You’ve been a wonderful audience.”

As opposed to, say, “Thank you again for the honor.”

The whole thrust of the telecast suggests these musicians are here primarily to put on a show that will draw paying customers to the Barclay Center and induce HBO to keep televising that show.

This year’s lineup, besides Nicks and the Zombies, includes Janet Jackson, Def Leppard, Radiohead, Roxy Music, and The Cure.

All these acts had hit records and devoted fans, and these fans do get to hear a cherry-picked selection of those songs, from “Stand Back” for Nicks (below) to “Boys Don’t Cry” for The Cure.

Because most of the artists are still performing – in contrast to some artists in past inductions, who were rounded up from distant corners of the earth – the music generally sounds close to what fans would expect.

The speeches are appropriately complimentary, and the speakers are armed with amusing anecdotes, like David Byrne recalling how Radiohead was told some of their best songs would be career killers.

Janet Jackson speaks carefully, recalling how she wanted to create her own identity, thanking her late father for helping her do so and gracefully steering away from any Jackson family issues.

The problem for this year’s induction is the same as for the induction last year. And the year before. And the year before that. Since the Hall is now inducting artists from the ‘90s, it has a much smaller pool of performers, never mind hit performers, who attracted a mainstream following.

You could be a serious music fan in the 1990s, love Def Leppard and hardly know a single song by Roxy Music. Or vice versa. The music was being partitioned, meaning a top artist in one genre might not even be heard by fans of other genres.

Because the Hall still must find five to seven artists each year to induct, it hunts around and tries to skim the best it can find. Whether they are all Hall of Fame-worthy is an excellent question and a moot point. That’s the Hall’s business model.

And that, then, also becomes the problem for the HBO telecast. If you were in the hip crowd that loved Radiohead, you might not want to hear half an hour of Stevie Nicks songs or a Def Leppard greatest hits volley.

If there were across-the-board excellence, you might watch anyway. Frankly, there isn’t.

The telecast does not pay much mind, incidentally, to the only remaining segment of the ceremony that reaches back to the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll: the “singles” section, where the Hall honors a half dozen individual records like “Twist and Shout” by the Isley Brothers and “Gloria” by the Shadows Of Knight.

While this apparently isn’t considered very lively television, it’s the one place where every honoree is unquestionably deserving – even if the Hall stumbles badly by honoring the Chantels’ “Maybe” after shamefully failing to induct the group.

Even for the most serious of rock fans, this is a show for taping and fast-forwarding. That doesn’t mean there aren’t moments that will warm the hearts of viewers. There just won’t be that many fans for whom that describes all three hours.

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Well put David... been reading your work for decades back to the NYDN. The R&R-HOF bas been getting it wrong for many years. What started as Rolling Stone magazine's Jann Wenner vanity project, the hall these days reaches deep down into the barrel to induct garbage like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Journey, Kiss, Rush, Stevie Nicks (solo), ABBA, George Harrison (solo), Deep Purple, Donovan, BILLY JOEL (???), etc. I haven't watched one of these broadcasts in 20 years for good reason. My visit to Cleveland to tour the actual hall was a waste of time.
May 1, 2019   |  Reply
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