RollingStone: Madonna, Mellencamp, Cohen Honored At Emotional Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction

3/11/08, 7:55 am EST

As Iggy Pop and the Stooges pounded through punked-up reinventions of inductee Madonna’s “Burning Up” and “Ray of Light” Monday night at the 23rd annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, it was only the most extreme example of what the show did all night long: find unexpected common ground between disparate genres and eras of music. The broad range of newly inducted artists included John Mellencamp, the Ventures, Leonard Cohen and the Dave Clark Five, the last of whom inspired the evening’s most impassioned speech: fan Tom Hanks vividly described hearing the British Invasion band’s hits coming out of a “speaker the size of a soda can” as a kid. “Joy is eternal,” Hanks said. “Joy was in the music of the Dave Clark Five. Their records still jump out of any speaker.”

Justin Timberlake inducted Madonna with a light-hearted, flirtatious speech. “The world is full of Madonna wannabes. I might have even dated a couple. But there truly is only one Madonna,” he said, adding, “Though I’m pretty sure Little Richard would disagree, the truth is that nobody has ever gotten into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while still looking this damn fine.” He also told a story about Madonna giving him a B-12 shot: “That’s what Madonna was and will continue to be for all of us: A shot in the ass when we need it most,” Timberlake said.

Madonna seemed moved by the occasion, appearing close to tears at a couple points as she gave a lengthy, heartfelt talk. She offered a brief history of her career, describing her first stabs at music: playing drums along with Elvis Costello records, and strumming four chords on a guitar. She thanked an old ballet teacher “who told me I was special,” and talked about songwriting in mystical terms: “Luckily, I have been miraculously and mysteriously possessed by some kind of magic.” And she introduced Iggy Pop as a kindred spirit, “another ass-kicker from Michigan.”

In his affectionate induction speech for Mellencamp, Billy Joel celebrated him as an American rebel at a time when the nation needs one. “This country has been hijacked,” Joel said. “People need to hear a voice like yours to echo the discontent in the heartland … Someone’s got to tell ‘em don’t take any shit, and John, you do that very well.”

Mellencamp traced his fighting spirit to his youth, beginning with surviving spinal bifida as an infant. “I’m lucky to be standing here for any number of reasons,” said Mellencamp, who choked up as he thanked his mom and dad, who both attended the ceremony. Before kicking into a fierce version of “Authority Song” (backed by a band that included his teenage son, Speck, on guitar), which he turned into an audience sing-along, Mellencamp said, “I still feel the same way today as I did when I wrote it twenty-five years ago.”

Lou Reed inducted Leonard Cohen, reading selections from his lyrics. “We are so lucky to be alive at the same time Leonard Cohen is,” he said. Of all the honorees, Cohen seemed most surprised to be there. “This is a very unlikely occasion for me. It is not a distinction that I coveted or even dared dream about,” he said, adding a joke that played off a famous quote about Bruce Springsteen: “So I’m reminded of the prophetic statement of Jon Landau in the early Seventies: I have seen the future of rock and roll and it is not Leonard Cohen.”

As John Fogerty inducted instrumental rockers the Ventures, he recalled that he and his Creedence bandmates spent time “picking apart these Ventures songs to see how they work and getting a great education along the way.” The Ventures then played note-perfect, reverb-swamped versions of two of their biggest hits, “Walk Don’t Run” and “Hawaii Five-O.” Early in the show, Ben Harper inducted the late blues harpist Little Walter, and Jerry Butler of the Impressions inducted the Philly soul production team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.

The evening ended with Mellencamp, John Fogerty, Joan Jett and Billy Joel jamming on an explosive, garage-y version the Dave Clark Five’s “Glad All Over” that recalled the all-star jams of the Hall of Fame’s early years. The Dave Clark Five’s singer, Mike Smith, died of pneumonia just two weeks before the ceremony. But drummer and bandleader Clark said that he was grateful that Smith was aware of the honor. “Mike tried desperately to be here with us tonight,,” he said. “But at least he knew he was a hall of famer.”
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