Virtual Icons at Virtual Rock Hall Induction

The bio films have always been a major component of the event, in between the live celebrity   inductions, acceptance speeches and performances. Now they’re the whole thing. Still, they’re well crafted enough this year to make a good case for each induction.

After Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters delivers the bad news about the 2020 limitations (hours before he appears live on “Saturday Night Live”), the first induction goes to the Doobie Brothers, who wouldn’t be your first choice of a rock band that isn’t in yet, but are a pleasant enough musical aggregation. The film about them suggests that their greatest success came after Michael McDonald was enlisted to join the band after originator Tom Johnston had to bow out due to illness. His easy listening sheen made the band something they weren’t and caused a bit of internal friction (doing 50 takes of “What a Fool Believes” for example), we learn. But success was success and there is no time to go into all of the various comings and goings for the future reunion tours. In the end, just three show up to give their shot-at-home thank you speeches, a sheepish McDonald among them. “We aren’t done yet!,” Patrick Simmons, age 72, declares, his trusty motorcycle still in view.  

Iggy Pop is a good choice to induct Nine Inch Nails, which turns out to be a induction for its mastermind Trent Reznor only. In Reznor’s dark vision, Pop finds funk, and quotes Michel Houellebecq.   Other comments come from Rick Rubin to Miley Cyrus, Jimmy Iovine and St. Vincent. David Fincher, with whom Reznor has collaborated on soundtracks also appears. 

That Depeche Mode was Charlize Theron’s favorite band hardly seems criteria for induction, but there she is, describing weeping at a recent concert out of nostalgia. That notion shouldn’t be the one feuling the halls, but it may be inevitable. Also, after you’ve put in The Cure, you don’t have any excuse not to put in DM (next up, likely, is The Smiths and Duran Duran). 

Depeche Mode selling out the Rose Bowl more seems a function of L.A.’s peculiar Anglophile bent, but a bigger complaint is: If you’re going to hail a band for using electronic music you’d better put Kraftwerk in the Hall first (a longtime omission). Three of them show up to accept, separately.

It’s cute to see Ringo Starr enthuse about Marc Bolan and T. Rex just as he did back when he co starred with him in the 1972 “Born to Boogie,” and it’s interesting to hear the mostly untold story about the influential band. For me, changing the game is the reason for any induction, and T. Rex did that despite not having the sales receipts of others. But the story of the rise of Bolan, in tandem at first with Bowie, who slowly evolved his rock band, is interesting, as is his sticking around to help introduce bands like the Jam and Buzzcocks on a TV show before he died in 1977 at just 29. The segment includes some great little clips, including Bolan jamming with Elton John and Ringo on “Children of the Revolution.” That his biracial son Roman Bolan comes out to accept the honor is one of the more emotional moments of the night.

There’s no getting away from Puffy in the induction of The Notorious B.I.G., whose accolades also come from Lin-Manuel Miranda. Jay Z also marvels at his skills and the mother of the rapper, who knew him as Christopher Wallace, still beams with pride. 

I’m not sure Biggy would ever identify his music as rock ’n’ roll, though, and the same with Whitney Houston – who was pop perfection in her prime, but rock ’n’ roll? Hmm. She did beat the Beatles and Elvis in the charts, though, so she also gets to crash their temple, I guess. Her presence also provides the all-filmed ceremony with a soaring moment from her old performance clips amid praise from Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson and Lady Gaga (speaking to Oprah Winfrey). 

Of the non-musical awards, it’s a head-scratcher to honor managers (perhaps an indication of who exactly votes for these things) but the tales of Irving Azoff and especially Landau are interesting. We have Azoff to blame, after all, for the Eagles.

And though he’d never get in just as a rock journalist (none are); and as a producer he helped hone Bruce Springsteen’s sound, the film reminds us Landau was also behind Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender.” Hearing him recollect from his home, I strained to see his Renaissance Art collection hanging behind him.

It’s nice they took time to salute Eddie Van Halen, who died a month ago at 65, with old performance video and awe coming from Slash, Metallica’s Kirk Hamlet and Tom Morello who calls him the “Mozart of our generation.”

It kicks off an In Memoriam segment that shows not only how many stars died this terrible year, but also who is still not in the Hall of Fame — John Prine and Toots Hibbert and the Neville Brothers among them. They end, though, with a longer portion on Little Richard, whose fire and originality were the kinds of things honored when the Rock Hall was first formed.

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