"A real friend and mentor is not on your payroll."
Those were the words of an unusually talkative Prince last night when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Prince opened last night's show with a blistering medley of "Let's Go Crazy," "Sign O' the Times" and "Kiss" before accepting his award and acting almost normal for a change.
Alicia Keys and the guys from OutKast — Andre 3000 and Big Boi — inducted Prince at the Waldorf Astoria Ballroom in front of a star-studded crowd that included Mick Jagger; Keith Richards; Bruce Springsteen; Steven Van Zandt; Dave Matthews; Yoko Ono; Don Henley; actor Michael J. Fox; Lenny Kravitz; Tom Petty; Jeff Lynne; Kid Rock with new girlfriend Jaime Pressly; Peter Wolf; Robert Plant; "The Sopranos"' Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli and Drea Matteo; Chris Rock; Sean "P. Diddy" Combs; "Saturday Night Live"'s Jimmy Fallon, Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler; plus funkmasters George Clinton and Larry Graham; John Mellencamp; the Beach Boys' Al Jardine; the Lemonheads' Evan Dando with Mick's daughter Lizzie Jagger; plus director/writer Cameron Crowe; famed author Tom Wolfe (in his trademark white suit); Beatles PR legend Pete Bennett and famed Philly deejay Jerry Blavatt; and a clutch of executives including Ahmet Ertegun, Clive Davis, Sony's Sir Howard Stringer, Andy Lack and Donnie Ienner.
Mind you, those were just the guests. They came to see the Chicago R&B quartet the Dells — who've had the same lineup for 50 years — finally get inducted alongside Traffic (Stevie Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason), Jackson Browne, Bob Seger, ZZ Top and the late George Harrison.
Was it a great night? Yes, but it was also a white night, and one with such a long stretch between Prince and the Dells that Chris Rock looked like he was nodding off. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation would have done well to think through having Browne, Seger and the bearded ZZ's all on the same program with no women and few people of color.
It was Chuck Barksdale of the Dells who put it best when he told the audience that his group was accepting for "The O'Jays, the Whispers, and the Chi-Lites. They're not going to wait 50 years." The Dells were the only act among the seven inductees who were not allowed to perform two numbers. Even Harrison got two, and he's dead.
Nevertheless, there were some grand moments in the four-hour show, with Mick Jagger doing the honors inducting the only non-performer of the night, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner. It was thanks to Wenner that the room had some extra celebrity sizzle. He had the Stones, plus Yoko, and Sean Lennon with his new girlfriend, actress Leelee Sobieski, among his guests. Wenner also had his wife Jane, who founded Rolling Stone with him, plus their three sons and his live-in boyfriend, Matt Nye. Wenner has always been cutting edge, and last night was no exception.
And what about Yoko? She stayed away from the Harrison table, which included George's widow, Olivia, his son Dhani, Petty, Lynne and Apple Records' longtime chief Neil Aspinall. But Ono's standoffishness didn't extend to son Sean, who hugged Dhani after he had come off stage from playing his father's songs with Petty and Lynne. In fact, it was a lovely moment because the two boys — whom I've had the chance to see several times in the last year — are two of the nicest, most polite, well-raised kids you could hope to meet.
A bigger question for the night might have been: Where was Paul McCartney? Well, I will tell you. This morning Sir Paul is arriving in New York to have meetings with the J. Walter Thompson ad agency regarding a project for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "He could have come in a day early to salute George," griped a board member. Well, he didn't. It's possible that Paul is played out on the subject of George, having grudgingly participated in the Concert for George and consequent film.
But this does give me the chance to say something about Olivia Harrison. During George's life, she was not well known, she was no Yoko or Linda McCartney. But Olivia, who is American, has proven to be the kind of widow and keeper of the flame Harrison can be proud of. She is an enormously gracious woman, well spoken and thoughtful. Unlike some famous widows, Olivia has done nothing but show her love and respect for her late husband and his fans. What a treat it's been to see her and Dhani make sure George Harrison's life is remembered.
"Despite his fame, his truth will never be outshined or forgotten," Olivia Harrison said of George last night.
The big news out of last night's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner at the Waldorf? (I mean, besides the fact that the press was let in for the first time ever?)
Here it is: The Beatles are indeed about to sue Apple Computers over the iPod, iTunes and Apple Music. You may recall that I broke the story last year that Apple Computers long ago signed an agreement with the Beatles' Apple Records that they would never ever ever have a company called Apple Music and that they would never ever ever go into the music business.
Indeed, several years ago Apple Computers actually paid the Beatles a whopping $48 million for copyright infringement. That was when they signed the agreement. But when Apple's Steve Jobs launched the iPod and all its ancillary products, I told you that the Beatles would get litigious.
Now I'm told that the suit is imminent and that the only remaining questions are which jurisdiction it falls in, the U.S. or the U.K. Meantime, the Beatles' songs are just about the only ones not carried on the iTunes service. Now you know why.
Maybe one of the political candidates should sign up Bruce Springsteen as a speechwriter. He's so good that at the after-party last night, Jackson Browne begged Bruce to give him the testimonial he wrote about Browne.
Springsteen, citing 55-year-old Browne's good looks and lustrous mane of hair, recalled that in the early '70s — when Bruce and the E Street Band used to open for Browne — the California singer-songwriter seemed to draw lots of beautiful women to his shows.
"He was a bona fide rock 'n' roll sex star," Springsteen said. "Being a little competitive, the E Street Band and I were sweating out our shows. And we were drawing rooms full of men — and not that great-looking men! Jackson was drawing more women than an Indigo Girls show!"
Springsteen praised Browne for his masterwork song, "Late for the Sky," and cited several more of his songs like "The Pretender," "Rock Me on the Water," "Take it Easy" and "Doctor My Eyes."
"These are the songs [the Eagles] wish they'd written. Me, too. Along with 'Like a Rolling Stone' and 'Satisfaction.'"
Someone had better tell Mayor Mike Bloomberg: Rock stars smoke indoors.
At last night's ceremony in the Waldorf there was more than one white cloud rising over the dinner tables. The first to start puffing, I think, was Jane Wenner, who lit up while estranged hubby Jann was giving his acceptance speech.
In short order, Keith Richards — I mean, well, of course — found a cigarette, followed by John Mellencamp and Kid Rock.
Meanwhile: Prince fans jammed the three-tiered nightclub called Black on West 56th Street last night for a special show following the Hall of Fame event. Black was called Exit until the night before last. But that's another story.
At 3 a.m., Prince was still jamming with Maceo Parker and Candy Dulfer, among others, for a crowd that included Anita Baker, Alicia Keys, Chris Rock, Edie Falco, the "SNL" crowd and hundreds of loyal fans.
Reinventing himself as an R&B crooner, the diminutive genius played versions of "I Feel for You," "Nothing Compares 2 U" and "Sign O' the Times," mixed with snippets of things like Keys' "Fallen" and many other jazz and funk riffs. He sang like an angel, and for all I know, he's still singing now. But even Rock and his pregnant wife had to leave around 2:30. a.m.
It was a long night for Prince. He kicked off the Hall of Fame show at 8 p.m., returning at the end of the program to play a blistering solo on George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne.
As the Dells sang so succinctly, "Oh, what a night!"