By Brian Ives
There were a lot of great moments at tonight’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but Pearl Jam were clearly the headliners. Making the occasion more of a big deal was the fact that they were being presented by a prolifically bearded David Letterman (filling in for Neil Young, who had to cancel earlier in the week).
“I can’t begin to tell you what an honor and a privilege it is for me to be out of the house,” he said. His speech would veer between his usual sense of humor and some really earnest moments, including where, at one point, he called for the Hall of Fame to induct his friend Warren Zevon (and how that hasn’t already happened is a mystery). “I know Neil Young was supposed to be here. People are asking why – the truth is that he can’t stay up this late.”
“For 33 years, every night I got to experience the gift and the blessing of live music. CBS saw me using the wrong copier and they fired me!” But getting serious again, he said, “When I got here, I remembered: ‘Oh my God, what a gift live music is.”
“I first met most of the people involved in Pearl Jam, they were in a band called Mother Love Bone. And then in 1991 things in the musical culture changed with an album called Ten. it had anger to it, and it appealed to 20-something people who felt left out. I was almost 50 and even I felt pissed off! It was easy to dance to, but that’s another story…”
“They were something more than a band. they were a true living cultural organism. They would recognize injustice and they would stand up to it. They would stand up and react. In 1994, these gentlemen risked their careers by going after those beady eyed blood thirsty weasels at Ticketmaster…”
Mass booing from the audience.
“And because they did, I’m happy to say that today every concert ticket in the U.S.A. is free!” He soon joked that one of the balconies at Barclays was filled with former Pearl Jam drummers.
He listed many of their classics: “Jeremy,” “Rearviewmirror,” “Sirens,” “Given to Fly,” “Yellow Ledbetter,” marveling that the latter didn’t make Ten. “They have too much good material, they decide we don’t want to put this song on there, so later it’s released as a b-side. 25 years later, it’s an anthem. For a lot of people that song would be a career!”
“They were on my show ten times, every time they were there, they would blow the roof off the pace. I’m not talking figuratively: for two years I did a show without a goddamn roof on the theater!”
“You know the song ‘Black?’ There was a period in my life where I couldn’t stop singing ‘Do do do do do do do!’ How many times does this refrain occur in the song? I had to go to a hypnotist!”
He recalled singing that refrain on his show frequently. “One day, I’m doing the show and the door bursts open and in comes Eddie Vedder. he looked me in the eye and said, ‘Stop doing that.’ And I was cured, ladies and gnetlmen!”
“I had three shows left to go and Eddie Vedder was on that show, and he sang ‘Better Man,’ I liked to tell myself it was because it rhymed with ‘Letterman.’ At the end if the show Eddie Vedder came up to me and handed me this,” pointing to an acoustic guitar, with his son Harry’s name on it.
“He gave me a letter for my son,” as the monitor showed a photo of Harry smoking a cigarette. “We’ve had him to all the best clinics!”
But he then got serious: “If there was a club for cynicism, I’d be the president… except for things like this!” He read the letter in which Vedder told Harry that if he learned to play one song on the guitar, he’d get him a new one.”
He then introduced the band, and Stone Gossard took the mic, to thank many of the people who have worked, behind the scenes, for the band, thanking most of them only by their first name.
“Maybe the most important reason to be here tonight is to honor the people who work so hard to make this band flourish and function. This award is as much for you as it is for us.”
Former drummer Dave Krusen said, “Pearl Jam saved my life.”
Matt Cameron thanked his brother and sister, who took him to his first concert: David Bowie’s Station to Station tour. He thanked his brothers in Pearl Jam, and in his other band, Soundgarden (another glaring omission from the Rock Hall, by the way).
Mike McCready recalled being a Boy Scout in 1976 when a friend told him about KISS, changing his life. He also thanked his first band, Shadow, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers for taking Pearl Jam out on an early tour.
Jeff Ament lamented that many of the band’s influences – including Roxy Music and Jane’s Addiction, hadn’t been inducted yet (and we agree).
Eddie Vedder — in a speech that will surely make conservatives groan — talked about global warming. “We’ve got a lot of evolving to do, it’s evolution baby. Climate change is real. That is not fake news, and we can not be the generation that history will look back up on, and ask why didn’t we do everything humanly possible to solve this crisis.”
“Anything is obtainable: the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series is proof. But we don’t have 108 years.”
Moving on to himself, he said, “Lucky and grateful are two things I am every day. I want to publicly apologize for making my bandmates suffer for the singer who was climbing on the rafters and hanging off of pipes. They didn’t deserve that. They didn’t know that their singer was really an Evel Knievel. it was the power of music.”
He thanked his family and said, “If somehow Chance the Rapper sees this, I want to tell you my daughter Olivia loves you and thanks for the great work you’re doing in Chicago!”
He thanked former drummer Jack Irons: “I was working as a crew guy at a Joe Strummer gig, I got to meet Jack; without him, none of this would have happened. Jack, thanks so much. Thanks for your friendship and you were a great drummer for our group.”
“We had a few drummers, they were all kings, every one of them was great, but Matt Cameron kept us alive for the past 15, 16, 17 years, when we weren’t sure what was gonna happen, he helped us not just to survive and to thrive,” noting that he’ll probably be inducted again, with Soundgarden.
“I love these people so much. I feel like we’re halfway there to deserve this, but this is very encouraging.”
They then performed “Alive,” with Dave Krusen on drums, their first performance with their original drummer since 1991. Then Matt Cameron replaced him for “Given To Fly,” which Vedder dedicated to Michael J. Fox, who wrote about how the song inspired him in his memoirs. That was followed by “Better Man.”
And then for the all-star jam, they were joined by Journey’s Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain, Rush’s Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson and Yes’s Trevor Rabin and their former drummer Jack Irons for Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” The audience surely would have stayed for more, but with that, the show ended.
If you missed it, HBO will air an edited version of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on April 29 at 8 pm ET.