Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Can't We All Just Get Along ... And Make Some Cash

That's my pig up there. That's my plane crashing. It's their dry ice.
- Roger Waters to Rolling Stone magazine in 1987, referring to the iconic Pink Floyd props used on the band's first tour after he left the band

The point is, ladies and gentlemen, greed is good. Greed works, greed is right.
- Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) in "Wall Street," screenplay by Stanley Weiser & Oliver Stone

I think I've discovered something stronger than greed and commercialism in the cultural ether. In the rock and roll world, ego and pettiness seem to have even trumped money, at least in a few cases. Let me backtrack a minute.

I know summer is coming soon. How? It was 60 degrees today, the Yankees are in spring training and the first summer concerts featuring reconstituted and/or bastardized classic rock bands have been announced. That's right, for the low, low price of $54.50 (for seats near the Knicks retired numbers in the rafters) to $254.50 (for seats where the Knicks refuse to play defense) plus copious service charges, you can sit in Madison Square Garden and see the Police perform for the first time since Reagan was president. Virtually the same price range applies for entry to watch Genesis (Phil Collins, but not Peter Gabriel) at Giants Stadium. Or, more accurately, on the giant video screens at Giants Stadium.

Genesis and the Police are in the perfect place for a reunion tour. They have been apart long enough to get over some of the petty jealousies, but they have not been gone so long they have fallen into irrelevance (i.e., their fans still have their own hips and room on their credit cards). The tipping point has been reached, and there is too much money on the table to pass up.

As the summer goes on, tours of groups of has-beens who can't fill hockey arenas on their own will combine into multi-act bills that will play the "sheds," the corporate-sponsored outdoor venues in each market, like Jones Beach (sorry, the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater). This motley crew (that might even include Motley Crue) will include bands with key missing members (like a Steve Perry-less Journey) and key members missing their bands (from Roger Waters to the duo act of Jack Blades from Night Ranger and Tommy Shaw of Styx).

I don't blame these guys. They are musicians. They get paid to play. There is money on the table. They should take it. Besides, anything that prevents a Mike and the Mechanics reunion is fine with me. No, I'm taking the opposite position here. How childish do you have to be to turn down millions of dollars all because your old bandmate included two of your groupies in his nine-girl orgy?

Examples of ego trumping greed were on full display last night at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which for the first time was broadcast live in its entirety. I watched all four hours and fifteen minutes of it, and I was really struck by how self-destructively ego-maniacal rock musicians can be. The instances of childish behavior were especially highlighted because they were sandwiched around examples of class and loyalty.

The Ronnettes went in first, inducted by a gleefully loopy Keith Richards. The group's lead singer, Ronnie Spector, was married to super producer (and current manslaughter defendant) Phil Spector, who, not coincidentally, was the mastermind behind the Ronnettes' run of hits in the 1960's and 1970's. But, as happens with many relationships, the Spectors split. And, in an all too familiar story, the Ronnettes sued Spector, revealing that they received virtually no money from him (he owned the record label on which they recorded). The Ronnettes won at the trial court, but it was reversed on appeal. I totally get that if you are Ronnie Spector, you are pissed off at Phil. But, at the same time, how do you thank 14,789 people (it felt like that many, anyway), and not even mention, you know, the guy that constructed your sound and made you successful enough to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in the first place? Then again, her ingratitude fit in perfectly with her 5,098 (again, it felt that way) digs to the Hall of Fame for waiting so long to induct the Ronnettes.

As if Spector was not looking bad enough, Patti Smith put her to shame. Smith performed with a band stocked with a drummer and guitarist that had been with her since 1975. Remember, it's not like Patti Smith is a hit machine generating zillions of dollars in tour revenue. Clearly, what kept these guys around was respect and loyalty. Smith acknowledged the importance of her deceased husband (Fred "Sonic" Smith of the MC5) and her deceased parents to her success. She was gracious, respectful and humble. She recognized the bigger issues, namely the causes she believes in and has fought for, and the need for the next generation of rockers to carry the torch. If Ronnie Spector did not feel guilt and regret during Smith's speech, she's a cyborg. Come to think of it, she kind of looked like Robocop, so maybe that explains it.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five continued the lesson on how to behave, accepting their induction with all of their living members while honoring the one singer who had passed away (they performed their set with his cowboy hat sitting on display on a microphone stand).

Of course, Spector was about to be bailed out by the picture of dysfunction that is Van Halen. The band defined a new era of hard rock in the 1970's, with the original lineup of David Lee Roth on vocals, Eddie Van Halen on guitar, Alex Van Halen on drums and Michael Anthony on bass, putting out six albums of iconic rock bluster. Eddie's guitar style was the most original thing the industry had seen since Jimi Hendrix was discovered by Chas Chandler. Every hard rock guitarist wanted to be Eddie Van Halen, and no player in the last 25 years has had more influence in the genre. After Roth left, the band continued churning out hits into the 1990's with hard rocker Sammy Hagar taking over on lead vocals.

So, the entry of the mighty Van Halen into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should have been the highlight of the night. Instead, it was as uncomfortable as Dick Cheney at a gay wedding. Between two guys in bondage gear. Under an upside down crucifix. It was Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump in an elevator uncomfortable.

First of all, Eddie checked into rehab four days before the ceremony. Alex and Roth decided not to show up. That left Hagar and Anthony standing on the podium like the Treasury Secretary and the Education Secretary subbing for the President and Vice-President on inauguration day. I felt bad for them. They didn't do anything wrong. After all, they showed up. But what of Roth and Alex Van Halen? I read one report that said Roth would not attend if Hagar was going to perform. Real mature, Dave. How's that career going? Think a little spotlight at the freaking Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony with Van Halen could have been a bit of a help? But no, ego trumps reason, and Dave is a no-show.

And, the audience suffered the collateral damage. We were treated to Velvet Revolver butchering my favorite Van Halen song, "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love." Note to Slash: You don't have to make every riff sound like Guns 'N Roses. Scott Weiland looked like a skinny Mick Jagger (yes, you read that correctly) and sounded like David Lee Roth. Unfortunately, it was Roth doing "Just a Gigolo," not the Van Halen Roth.

Then, Hagar and Anthony played "Why Can't This Be Love" with Paul Shaffer's house band. I love Shaffer's band. They are the house band for American rock and roll now. An event does not feel legitimate unless they are there. But, I'm sorry: Watching the gray-haired Sid McGinnis next to Sammy playing Eddie's guitar lines did not cut it. It was kind of like watching your grandfather performing "Hey Ya" at a karaoke bar. It didn't help matters that Hagar sounded as out of shape as he looked. I was thrilled when the Van Halen portion of the evening was over, which was sad since, as I said, their induction should have been the highlight of the night.

REM capped the night off with former drummer Bill Berry not only accepting the honor with the band, but joining them onstage for their performance. Why is that significant? Berry had a brain aneurysm during a 1995 show in Switzerland and nearly died. He retired from the band two years later. According to Eddie Vedder, who inducted REM into the hall, Berry told the band he was leaving on the condition they continued on without him, because he didn't want to be known as the "schmuck who broke up REM."

At the end of REM's set, all the performers shuffled onstage for the final jam, including a surprisingly decent version of the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog." Patti Smith sang near her longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye. Bill Berry pounded the skins like it was 1988. And David Lee Roth sat in his apartment, telling his reflection in the mirror that he was the prettiest one of all.

Hagar suggested at his press conference that the recently aborted Van Halen tour with Roth and the Van Halen brothers (but not Anthony) should go forward, because it had been so long since Roth toured with the band and the idea made sense. And then, he said, he and all of the members of Van Halen (including Roth) needed to grow up and do a tour together, since the fans would want to see that. And, of course, pay for it, but he left that part out. Simply put, there is money on the table for the five members of Van Halen. But, after watching Hagar and Anthony alone on the podium, awkwardly accepting induction into the Hall of Fame, I doubt Roth and the Van Halens will take it.

It's a shame. That's a $100 ticket I might actually buy. Maybe I'll send Roth and the Van Halens a copy of Wall Street, and let Mr. Gekko talk some sense into them.