Thursday, June 5, 2014

Inspiring Event of Awesomeness!

I witnessed a truly awesome event earlier this week that left me quite inspired and joyful.

Those who know me well might think that I might be referring to my favorite team, the San Antonio Spurs making the Finals after last year's heartbreak.  While that is indeed quite inspiring, that is not what I'm referring (that will get a post later).

Instead, I'm talking about the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

*cue derisive snorts*

I'll wait.

*end derisive snorts*

Thank you.

I know that the notion of the existence of a rock music hall of fame is ludicrous to some (and I am not sure that I disagree with that at all), and a museum exhibit cannot measure up to a musical group's impact, even when they aren't especially well-known.  For example, the influence of bands like the Yardbirds or Sonic Youth is absolutely tremendous and certainly felt throughout the world through other bands that emulated their styles.  So, given all of those reasons, one could make a very strong case that the entire existence of the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame is superfluous at best and a ridiculous exercise at worst.

I could not care less about any of that.  The reason?  It's just so cool to see the love and care that goes into each induction speech performed either by a contemporary or a fan (speech highlights are Tom Morello inducting KISS, Art Garfunkel inducting Cat Stevens and Bruce Springsteen inducting his own E Street Band).  Each speech was done so well, that for a second, I believed that each act was the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Even Hall & Oates.  And if that wasn't enough, the performances also did a hell of a job in formulating a convincing argument of that very same point.

Speaking of the performances, they were all pretty cool, though the coolest ones were the two tribute performances by artists that were influenced by the inductee, of which there were two: Linda Ronstadt and Nirvana.

Now, I figured that the Nirvana tribute would affect me positively; after all, how could it not?  Some of my first memories dealing with music are hearing Nirvana through the walls to my sisters' rooms as a toddler.  In some ways, Nirvana's music shaped my taste more than any other band in history.  So I was expecting the experience of watching the two surviving members with a rotating cast of frontwomen (which was an interesting choice, but a good one as it turned out) to be a really cool experience, seeing as I don't think that there has ever been any iteration of Nirvana that has played at an age where I could fully appreciate them.

What was less expected was how cool I found the Linda Ronstadt tribute to be.  I will admit that I knew next to nothing of her career when she was one of the choices to be voted in to the hall of fame.  I knew that she was a singer, obviously, but I didn't know any songs that could be attributed to her.  While watching clips of her performances, I thought to myself: "Ah, a country-rock hybrid: this is ok; not something that I would actively search for, but entertaining enough."

Then the tribute started.

First came Carrie Underwood, who is one hell of a powerful singer, whatever my misgivings of her songs in particular are.  I'm not a fan, but anybody can see the talent.  She did a pretty solid job approximating Ronstadt's power on the mic.  Then, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris joined in and kicked ass with Underwood singing backup.  I was starting to like it a bit more.  After that, Sheryl Crow came on stage with Raitt, Harris and Glen Frey (who performed the induction) joining Underwood as backup singers.  At this point, I was all in on this, cause Sheryl Crow is fucking awesome.  Her voice was so strong and so natural; badass and beautiful all in one.  I was digging the performance intensely, and just when I didn't think that it would get any better, one miss Stevie Nicks waltzes up on stage, moves Crow to join the ever-expanding chorus, and belts out a tune the way that only Stevie can.  Finally, everyone joins in to sing "When Will I Be Loved" (the only Linda Ronstadt song that I immediately recognized).  The performance was so strong and so cumulative that I have been inspired to find Linda Ronstadt songs and give them a listen: if she inspired this many great performers, how can I not try her stuff out?

However, that paled in comparison to what transpired during the Nirvana tribute.  Like I said earlier, both Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic decided to be fronted by only women during the tribute, and it was the best possible choice.  First up was Joan Jett, performing "Smells Like Teen Spirit".  One, I'm a big fan of the song and two, I love Joan Jett so goddamn much: is there anyone alive who personifies rock 'n roll better than her?  I think not.  All of that being said, it worked as well as I would have ever expected: it was powerful, angry, relieving and friggin' awesome!  And they were just getting started: next up was Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth (the godparents of Grunge, so to speak), who screamed out "Aneurysm" with a pure, raw energy that is the very essence of punk and honestly looked and sounded like Kurt Cobain's spirit was being channeled by her.  It was poetry in motion.  Annie Clark from St. Vincent followed with one hell of a rendition of "Lithium" that was just a joy to listen to.  Finally, a most unexpected guest performer came up to perform "All Apologies": one Lorde, who is a brand new pop star best known for her hit song " Royals".  Out of all the possible choices to perform that song, a young pop star would not have been the first to come to mind.  Granted, Lorde isn't a prototypical teen starlet; her voice and presence is one of poise, not flash.  And boy, did that come through in her performance, along with a quiet, controlled anguish that really fit the song.  Her performance was the most dissimilar from the original in terms of sound.  In terms of the feeling behind the song, though?  It was absolutely in line with the other three, and capped off a perfect tribute.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the performances was that it made me appreciate Kurt Cobain as a performer and songwriter even more than I already did.  Think about this: how large is the the disparity in terms of age and style between Lorde and Joan Jett?  Yeah.  And both performed songs that fit each of their strengths very well, with Jett's confrontational, don't-give-a-fuck attitude and Lorde's composed rage.  Both of those songs are huge parts of Nirvana's song library, and, more to the point, written by Cobain himself.  How amazing is that?

Watching the entire ceremony was a wonderful experience; from Art Garfunkel singing verses from Cat Stevens' songs during his induction speech to the E Street Band finally getting their time in the sun to Courtney Love and Dave Grohl embracing one another on stage to the performances I just spoke of, it was an awesome event to witness and one that was, in many ways, inspiring.  It was a privilege to watch, and I hope that everyone who likes music has a chance to watch it as well.

Whether the Hall matters or not.


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