They represented the anti-establishment, so it was a bit odd to see the Ramones so happy to become part of the music establishment as members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But for the remaining members of the punk rock originators – whose lead singer, Joey Ramone, died last year – Monday night’s induction at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel represented long-overdue respect for the band that helped revolutionize rock with their rapid-fire, guitar-heavy songs.
“I’d like to congratulate myself, and thank myself, and give myself a big pat on the back,” joked Dee Dee Ramone. “Thank you Dee Dee, you’re very wonderful.”
The Ramones were inducted along with another of punk’s first generation, the Talking Heads. Also inducted were Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, former teen idol Brenda Lee, soul maestro and “Shaft” score creator Isaac Hayes, and hitmaker Gene Pitney.
Stax Records co-founder Jim Stewart was inducted in the non-performer category. Inducted posthumously was country guitar picker Chet Atkins, as a sideman.
Petty, who wrote hits like “Refugee” and “Free Fallin,'” was inducted by the Wallflowers lead singer Jakob Dylan. Dylan recalled how he used to watch from the wings as his father Bob Dylan performed with Petty as part of the Traveling Wilburys.
Petty and the Heartbreakers performed “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “American Girl” as his daughters danced in the audience.
Petty said he was sincerely humbled to be a part of the evening – somewhat of a surprise, given his sometimes sarcastic take on life.
“It’s very easy to be cynical about the hall of fame,” said Petty backstage. “But on the other hand, it’s really a beautiful thing for someone like me. I dedicated my entire life to this music.”
Lee was just as honored by the induction.
“I feel like Cinderella at the ball,” said Lee, who recorded her two best-known songs – the ballad “I’m Sorry” and the holiday standard, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” – before her 16th birthday.
“It is a long way from the Georgia cotton field to the Waldorf-Astoria.”
Joey Ramone, the lead singer of the Ramones, had anticipated the day that the Ramones would be inducted into the hall. But it came about a year too late – he died in April 2001 from cancer.
Still, his mother said he died knowing that the Ramones – whose groundbreaking songs included “Blitzkrieg Bop” – would find their place in the hall someday.
“He felt pretty sure they were going to be inducted,” said Charlotte Lescher. “It was important for him to have recognition for what they did. He never felt they were really recognized.”
Eddie Vedder, the lead singer of Pearl Jam, echoed those sentiments as he inducted the Ramones, which he described as the precursor for bands like his own and Nirvana.
“Something very unusual is happening here tonight, and that is this industry is paying some respect to the Ramones,” said a Mohawk-wearing Vedder in a long, rambling speech, which he interrupted twice to swill on a bottle of wine.
The Talking Heads, who dissolved in bitterness in the early 1990s, played their first live gig in 18 years. They performed “Psycho Killer,” “Burning Down the House” and “Life During Wartime,” cuts that tracked their progression from arch, minimalist rockers to a funk orchestra.
“I’d like to thank the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for giving this band a happy ending,” drummer Chris Frantz said.
However, backstage, the band said the media had overplayed their differences, and even caused them.
“If it wasn’t for the press, we wouldn’t have had the acrimony,” said bassist Tina Weymouth.
Grammy winner Alicia Keys, not even born during Hayes’ early 1970s heyday, inducted the veteran soul singer. Earlier, Hayes directed an orchestra and added the spoken-word passages of his best-known hit, “Theme From Shaft.”
To a music industry audience, Hayes pleaded for musicians of his generation to get all that’s owed to them for their past work.
“I’m just asking you to practice some business ethics and a little humanity,” he said. “Do the right thing by me and my contemporaries.”
At the end of the evening, Hayes joined the traditional all-star jam, although it was missing some faces, including the Ramones, Tom Petty, Lee, Keys, Vedder, and a few other participants. The jam was hampered by long delays in between songs and technical difficulties.
When asked why the Ramones hadn’t participated in the closing festivities, the Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison said with a smile: “The Ramones don’t jam.”
VH1 will show highlights of the ceremony Wednesday night. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland.