The hullabaloo Kiss raised over the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony gave HBO an added bonus to promote its three-hour, 15-minute edited version of last month’s ceremony at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Add to that the ingenious use of women performers – Joan Jett, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, St. Vincent and Lorde – to front Nirvana, presenting unique twists on Kurt Cobain’s songs without hinting at imitation, a rare appearance from Yusuf Islam performing songs he wrote as Cat Stevens, and a reunion of every living E Street Band member.
For the broadcast that debuted Saturday (May 31), the teams of director Joel Gallen and producer Gary Goetzman artfully reduced the E Street Band’s hour of performances and speeches to a personal history lesson from their leader/unifier Bruce Springsteen, closing with a riveting rendition of “Kitty’s Back.” And they received several super performances, including one that raises the question: Who, 40-plus years into their rock’n’roll career, sings better than Daryl Hall? Cat Stevens and Peter Gabriel were, as expected, models of humility.
But the voice that did not make it to Barclays Center may well be the most profound. Linda Ronstadt was the lone non-songwriting singer among the batch and its possible the Rock Hall will never again honor an individual who built a career strictly on pipes and taste.
Her inductor Glenn Frey of the Eagles recited the songs well-known prior to her burnishing them with new interpretations in the 1970s. The mind heard the names of the originators. Buddy Holly. Smokey Robinson. Chuck Berry. The Everly Brothers. Martha and the Vandellas. The Eagles.
The list Frey did not read was the one filled with songwriters whose work was not known by mainstream audiences until Ronstadt recorded them. Jackson Browne. Warren Zevon. JD Souther. Anna McGarrigle. Lowell George. Karla Bonoff. Elvis Costello. Ronstadt, as important a country rock progenitor as anyone, survived as a song interpreter at a time when publish or perish had as much relevance in rock’n’roll as it did in academia.
As Ronstadt has said in recent interviews promoting her memoirs, “Simple Dreams,” she never saw herself as a rock’n’roll singer; the fact that she broadened her music and introduced a new audience to Jimmy Webb, Gilbert & Sullivan, the arranger Nelson Riddle and traditional Mexican music was not mentioned in the broadcast.
Carrie Underwood sang her heart out on “A Different Drum,” while Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris, in beautiful voice, gave an iconoclastic reading of “Blue Bayou.” Sheryl Crow and Stevie Nicks were less effective, giving weight to the premise there’s only one Linda; there may be no harder job than trying to deliver a cover of a cover, as they did, with “You’re No Good” and “It’s So Easy.”
The induction of Ronstadt, officially retired and living with Parkinson’s disease, is the rare instance of the Rock Hall celebrating an artist whose longevity owed to multiple genres peripheral to rock music. Yes, they’ve included jazz legends, blues heroes, a country guy and rappers, but this was the first time they have opened the door for someone who not only grazed in multiple meadows, but owned the farm when they got there. Cobain or Kiss fans are right in their belief there will never be another act like their idols. The same holds true for Linda Ronstadt.