November 1, 2020

Long Train Runnin': The Endless Wait for the 2020 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductions

As Talking Heads once sang, "I'm still waiting."

It feels apropos to compare the delayed Rock Hall induction special (airing on HBO this Saturday, 11/7) to other, long-anticipated rock and roll events. This prerecorded ceremony is the Hall's Chinese Democracy, Boston's 8-years in the making post-Don't Look Back album Third Stage, its Police reunion. The rescheduled, 35th annual dispensation of "Rock's Highest Honor" is finally here, but it rolls into the station to be greeted by a changed, troubled country that understandably has heftier things on its mind than an awards show and an Irving Azoff speech.

Indeed, a veritable eternity has passed since the last "normal" induction ceremony. Let's do the time warp back to March 29, 2019, when the 34th annual gala happened at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. If you can name all the 2019 inductees off the top of your head, you're either a close follower of the Hall, or you have Wikipedia in front of you (for the record, the class was Radiohead, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Def Leppard, the CureRoxy Music, and the Zombies). March of 2020 feels like it was 5 years ago, so March 2019 might as well be the Stone Age. For further perspective, mull this over: Ric Ocasek died in September of 2019, and there has not a ceremony since where they could have paid tribute to him. And in the intervening time between ceremonies, the music world has also lost such nominated or inducted luminaries as Dr. John, Dave Bartholemew, Robert Hunter, Ginger Baker, Neil Peart, Bill Withers, John Prine, Florian Schneider, Little Richard, Peter Green, and Eddie Van Halen. Folks at the Hall have expressed previously that they don't want the ceremony to turn into a wake, so it will be interesting to see how much time is afforded the dearly departed this Saturday. (A multi-guitarist tribute to EVH has already been announced.)

Death is on everyone's mind these days, though. It's inescapable and perspective-giving, and it marginalizes this Rock Hall business no matter what. In the midst of an unprecedented, psyche-pummeling pandemic, and four days after the most consequential election of our lifetimes comes... the class of the 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The artists are finally inducted, and we can get on worrying/bitching about the 2021 slate [David Rose sigh of exasperation HERE].

Indeed, at this rather haunted juncture of human history, the timing of the ceremony (the 11/7 date originally tied to a postponed live event) kind of evokes Hollywood's cynical dumping of bad movies in January, where no one will really notice them. On the other hand, it might still be a somewhat brilliant play by the Hall, as it's possible a fresh sense of optimism and the anticipation of a new era may be afoot in America at the time HBO broadcasts this thing. In essence, the "big party" Greg Harris mentioned in a SiriusXM interview way back in March, when we all thought this event still stood a chance of happening live at Public Auditorium in Cleveland. Oh, youthful optimism!

In any case, this ready-made, reportedly performance-free HBO special honoring Depeche Mode, the Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, Notorious B.I.G., and T. Rex is a bit bizarre. Spontaneity has been jettisoned in favor of wrapping up unfinished business, and the invested can argue whether or not it was the right way to go, but to be fair, the Hall was left with few options. Still, this HBO-only decision doesn't sit well with everyone – no less than Stevie Nicks said recently that the Hall should have waited a year to honor this 2020 class live, in person ("It's not like going to the ball," she told Consequence of Sound). But take a breath, and imagine that scenario  let's assume everything is even remotely back to normal by Fall of 2021 there would be two nights of inductions, maybe on consecutive nights or perhaps a week apart like Coachella weekends. Fine, but it would extend the limbo of this 2020 class for... Another. Effing. Year. (Good god, Michael McDonald, an unparalleled silver fox, might be looking like Gandalf the White by then.)

So maybe this HBO special was the right thing. Maybe it was the only thing. After all, this Rock Hall train, stuck on the tracks for too long, is compelled to keep on moving. To quote the Doobie Brothers' "Long Train Runnin'," "Well the pistons keep on turning/and the wheels go round and round." A sincere congratulations and deep respect to the incredible artists being enshrined this Saturday. It's a richly deserved honor for the inductees across the board. Still, it's clear we're all ready to move on... in so many ways.