Ideas and imagination…unfettered.

Living a Rock and Roll Fantasy

Living a Rock and Roll Fantasy

If you’re a huge film fan, your dream scene may be a seat at the Academy Awards. If you’re a football fan, going to the Super Bowl may be your thing. Love baseball? Attending the World Series would be a homerun. For music fans there are a couple of options: the Grammys being one. I got to do the other: The 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles.

Attending this would have been an auspicious event at any time. How could it not be when you have some of the biggest names in the world of music and film gathered together in one place to celebrate the accomplishments of history-making musicians and producers? What made this particular RRHOF so special was that I got to be in attendance when my favourite band was inducted: Heart. The icing on the cake was that the original lineup of the band would be performing together for the first time in over 30 years. Talk about a fan dream-come-true. But wait, it gets even better. My best friend’s favourite band was also being indicted: Rush. There was only one thing to do, grab awesome seats, airfare and head West. That’s just what I did.

I arrived in Los Angeles just as an unseasonal heat wave hit the city. The skies were blue, the breeze was tinged with desert heat and the air was crisp with excitement as the ceremony drew nearer. My friend Tod—who lives in LA for work—was as ready as I was to get to the Nokia (Get Him to the Greek?). What a great time two friends of 35 years would have watching their respective rock heroes get such a prestigious honour. We met in high school in Toronto and became fast friends over music. As teens we shared our love of Heart (me) and Rush (Tod) as well as other great bands of the time. Like the honourees, who would have thought that 35 years later, we would be in LA for one of the biggest nights in music?

It was clear from an audience perspective the night belonged to Rush and Heart as fans of both were all over the place.

Andrew & Tod at the Nokia Theater

Andrew & Tod at the Nokia Theater

Gussied up in our glad rags, Tod and I headed to the Nokia Theater. The night was buzzing with excitement and fans of both Heart and Rush were in full view—especially Rush. Before heading to the ceremony, we joined some Heart Mongers who had traveled to Los Angeles from around the country to celebrate and have some nosh and drinks. Then it was time to get the show on the road. As a side note, someone needs to explain to me why my little Sony digital camera was confiscated by security on the way in (you’d think you were at an airport), but when I got to my seat, I saw a sea of flashes as iPhones and other gadgets were being used to take pictures. Huh?

Inside the theater fans of all the inductees were strolling around singing the praises of their idols. I have to say the number of Rush T-shirts I saw was incredible. As a Canadian—and a Torontonian—I have always known that Rush is a big deal globally, but the number of their fans who came to the ceremony was unbelievable. It was clear from an audience perspective the night belonged to Rush and Heart as fans of both were all over the place.

Juts before going to our seats, we ran into actor Colin Hanks who was waiting in the beer line. That wouldn’t be the last time we’d cross path that night. That’s the fun thing about being at a big industry event in LA, celebs are everywhere. We took our seats (centre section above the orchestra section) and waited for the show to begin. As we chatted with our seatmates about who they were most looking forward to seeing, I spotted a man who indirectly launched the career of my favourite band: Mike Fisher. For those who don’t know, he was Heart’s manager for a while as well as Ann Wilson’s boyfriend way back when. He was also the protagonist in one of their first classic songs, Magic Man. As he walked by, I said hello, told him I’d been a Heart fan since 1976 and how excited I was by the evening. He was very gracious and shook my hand. Another cool little moment in rock and roll history.

Finally, the house lights went down and the crowd cheered as the show began. Jann Wenner, co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine and mega-mogul publisher walked onstage to introduce the night. He was greeted by applause—and a very loud chorus of boos from the Rush contingency. Evidently, there is some animosity between Wenner, Rush and the fans and they didn’t waste any time letting him know how they felt. That’s rock and roll for ya.

As the LA crowd cheered for Toronto’s hometown boys, I got tears in my eyes. It was a sudden, unexpected moment of patriotic pride.

02f228ba5df3428485771c401c51a714-bd5c25c86c8b49569e13d9acf23a6710-1Wenner gave a brief speech about the RRHOF and began to introduce the roster of inductees. This is when something truly amazing happened. As he listed off the honourees—Randy Newman, Albert King, Quincy Jones, Public Enemy, and Lou Adler—the cheers grew. Late, great disco diva Donna Summer’s name was greeted with big cheers. Then he started to say, “Tonight we will also honour the First Sisters of Rock…” and before he could say Ann and Nancy Wilson, the crowd burst into cheers as people jumped to their feet. As a Heart fan I was proud and excited to see such exuberance for the band. Then came the house quake.

As Wenner began his preamble to Rush, he managed to get out, “Then we have three guys from Toronto…” The place went berserk. A deafening roar exploded in the Nokia Theater as everyone leapt to their feet for an extended cheer that lasted about 2-1/2 minutes. It was incredible and, as a Canadian and Torontonian, I found unexpectedly moving. As the LA crowd cheered for Toronto’s hometown boys, I got tears in my eyes. It was a sudden, unexpected moment of patriotic pride.

With the introduction done, the ceremony began. Don Henley of the Eagles took the stage to induct Randy Newman. After his induction, Henley, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, John Fogerty all joined Newman onstage for a jam. Tod leaned in and whispered to me, “It’s only been 20 minutes and we’ve already got our money’s worth!” That was just the beginning to an unbelievable night. John Mayer inducted Albert King and played some wickedly nimble guitar afterward. Cheech and Chong talked in Lou Adler—who was sitting with Jack Nicholson. Spike Lee and Harry Belafonte teamed to induct Public Enemy while a surprising appearance by Oprah Winfrey heralded the induction of Quincy Jones.

UV_RRHOF_OprahAs an aside, I’ll say that one of the best and worst parts of awards shows and these types of events are the acceptance speeches. Some are eloquent, heartfelt and mercifully somewhat brief (let’s say, under 10 minutes). This night, most of the speeches were succinct and cogent. And then there was Flava Flav. The clownish member of Public Enemy prattled on endlessly in an explosion of narcissism that left the audience gritting its teeth and even his fellow band mates looking as if their patience was stretching to the breaking point. Luckily, Chuck D as able to save their induction with a smart and humourous speech. Any future celebs please remember that brevity is appreciated.

I will say my three most anticipated artist inductions were Donna Summer, Rush and, of course, Heart. Summer’s husband and three daughters were introduced by Kelly Rowland and gave a lovely speech before Jennifer Hudson took the stage to sing Summer classics Bad Girls and Last Dance. Actually, she didn’t just sing them she tore them apart. Hudson blew the roof off of the Nokia Theater with her tremendous voice as everyone in the audience danced and sang along. Wow!

The moment I—and Heart Mongers everywhere—had been looking forward to was next. Walking onstage to the funky beat of Heart’s classic Straight On, Chris Cornell gave a great induction speech for Heart, citing Ann and Nancy Wilson’s indelible influence on singers and musicians of any gender. Then, out walked the Wilson’s and the original lineup of Heart: Roger Fisher (the aforementioned Mike Fisher’s guitarist brother), Howard Leese (guitar, keyboards), Steve Fossen (bass) and Michael Derosier (drums). They were met with a huge standing ovation and were clearly moved and thrilled to be there and recognized.

Ann and Nancy gave shout outs to the Heart Mongers and the Mongers shouted back with loads of love.

Ann and Nancy each gave speeches that spoke to everything from being working moms to being understood and having a voice. However, the thing that I loved most in their speech was their admiration and appreciation for their fans that have stuck by them through decades of music, stylistic and band member changes. Ann and Nancy gave shout outs to the Heart Mongers and the Mongers shouted back with loads of love.

Then the moment arrived, the reunited Heart took the stage and with a nod to Monty Python (Ann saying, “And now for something completely different”) launched into a blistering version of their first hit, Crazy On You. The entire audience was on its feet and cheering as the band tore through their classic as if 34 years hadn’t passed. It was amazing. It was also the first time I had seen the original lineup play as I was “too young” by my parents to see them in 1978 when they headlines Vancouver’s PNE. It was worth the wait!

The original members left the stage and Ann and Nancy, joined by current Heart keyboardists Debbie Shair, played a beautiful acoustic version of Dreamboat Annie. The lights dimmed as more people took the stage then a lone spotlight illuminated Nancy as she ripped into the opening chords of Barracuda. The stage exploded in lights as the current incarnation of Heart, joined by their Seattle pals Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) and Jerry Cantrell (Alice In Chains), plowed through the classic rock anthem. Ann Wilson’s voice soared on the high notes and literally growled, “wouldn’t cha, Barracuda!” as fists punched the air. It was a mighty performance all around.

As Heart ended the crowd went nuts…and stayed that was as the apotheosis of this already mind-blowing night was upon us. Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins took the stage to induct Rush. As they did, that thunderous roar that greeted Jann Wenner’s first words about the band was unleashed again, this time longer and louder. I lost my mind when Heart was inducted so it was fitting that my friend Tod got to blow his lid when it was Rush’s turn. Grohl and Hawkins—clearly Rush devotees—looked thrilled to be talking in Rush and asked the musical question: “When the fuck did Rush become cool?” much to the thrill of the fans.

Tod’s and my rock and roll fantasy from our respective basements
in Markham was realized.

Finally, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart walked onstage to accept their accolades as the crowd went wild. Lee and Peart gave warm and sincere speeches but it was Lifeson who probably delivered what will be one of the most famous Hollywood award show speeches ever given. It consisted of one word, repeated over and over, with appropriate miming for emphasis on mood changes: ‘Blah”. As he gesticulated the audience cheered and howled. Their moment had finally come—so had Rush’s. After their induction, Rush played Tom Sawyer and The Spirit of Radio. But before the actual band emerged, the Foo Fighters came out in classic 70s Rush drag—wigs, moustaches and white kimonos—to play the 2112 Overture. It was very funny and also very impressive that these guys could do such a great job of playing Rush. No small feat.

Finally, the night ended with an all-star jam that had everyone onstage for a performance of Crossroads by Cream. It was an amazing night that showed that the power of music—whether it’s rock, blues, disco, jazz, or hip hop—has the power to unite people from all over the world for one common cause: celebration. Tod’s and my rock and roll fantasy from our respective basements in Markham all those years ago was realized.

andrewv100x100Andrew Vail’s writing career began in Halifax when he was but a child. In Grade 4, he wrote and produced his own series of comic books entitled “Freaky The Frog”, the on-going tale of a little misfit frog and his pals of the pond. Marvel Comics never came knocking but Andrew knew he loved to create and tell stories. Since then, Andrew has worked in advertising, PR and publicity; has interviewed politicians, rock stars and very interesting yet not-so-famous movers and shakers. He has published articles in a variety of local and national magazines and websites.

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  1. Excellent write up, I felt your excitement in every word.

  2. So happy for you (and Tod) to have been a part of this exciting, memorable night of Rock!! It must have been amazing to see Heart get inducted, and icing on the cake hearing the crowd cheering for our hometown boys (RUSH!). Great article Andrew.

  3. Jealous MUCH. I just peed a little. WELL DONE!

  4. awesome article.I got goosebumps,I can not wait to see it!!!!I just saw Rush on Friday night in Raleigh and hope to see my gals next month.

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