It wasn't so easy for legendarily wry Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger to praise Jann Wenner on Monday night. Jagger was invested with the job of inducting Wenner into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — an organization Wenner founded 19 years ago, by the way.
Jagger came to praise Wenner, not to bury him. But in highlighting the publisher's achievements in the early days of Rolling Stone magazine, Jagger wound up pointing out the current scrappy and tabloidy ways of Wenner's other magazine, Us Weekly, for contrast and comparison.
He said, "A bad review in Rolling Stone could ruin sales, but a scandalous story in Us could ruin your life."
Then, with a Jagger-esque twinkle in his eye, the 60-year-old bad-boy singer added, "Rolling Stone is a beacon on a newsstand that contains The Star, the National Enquirer and," he paused for effect, "Us Weekly."
Jagger also recalled Wenner's attempt to interview him recently for a long piece in Rolling Stone, as the publisher had invented "the very long interview" many decades ago. During the process, Wenner declared, "I feel like a cub reporter!"
Jagger replied, "A cub reporter with a G4 Gulfstream [private jet] waiting for you!"
Now, not to minimize the incredible impact and influence of Rolling Stone in its early days, Jagger — who wore black track shoes, jeans, an open-collared Oxford shirt and a blazer to this black-tie event — recalled what news coverage of the pop world was like before Rolling Stone began publication in 1967.
"There were magazines called 16 and Tiger Beat," he said. "They would ask you if you liked blondes or brunettes, what kind of soda you liked. Do you remember, Keith?" he said in an aside from the podium to bandmate Keith Richards.
"They posed you with sheepdogs in airports," he said. "Then Rolling Stone came along and innocent triviality was swept aside. They wanted to know your opinions of Vietnam, the Beatles and your sexual preference."
Jagger is a phenomenon, certainly. At age 60 he remains handsome and lithe, with deep indentations in his face where most men his age have jowls. Under stage lights they look as they were carved in stone, and give Jagger an appearance of symmetrical vitality that could not be accomplished by a face-lift.
It's also unlikely that he weighs much more than when he sang "Let's Spend the Night Together" on the "Ed Sullivan Show" 35 years ago. I would guess his waist size hasn't changed much, either.
Richards, on the other hand, likes to give off the aura of court jester. Refusing to prepare remarks for the induction of Texas blues trio ZZ Top, Richards instead relied on ad-libbing. This had mixed results.
Surveying the ZZ Toppers Billy Gibbons' and Dusty Hill's trademark long beards, Richards quipped, "I hope these guys aren't on the run. Their disguises won't work."
Backstage, Richards spoke admiringly of The Dells, even though he didn't speak to them. He did participate in the big jam session at the end of the night, though, playing hot licks through Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" and Dave Mason's "Feeling Alright" with an all-star band that was masterfully guided by David Letterman's musical director Paul Shaffer .
More about Prince 's big night Monday, in which he behaved himself, acted nearly normal, and was actually kind of charming. I liked the fact that at both the induction ceremony and later at his after-hours concert he called the evening "lovely." In his own Prince way, he had a good time.
But is Prince plotting a return to Warner Records? I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago. His remarks last night in his acceptance speech seemed to indicate a new conciliatory mood.
He actually said, "Thank you, Warner Bros. Records, for granting me the permission ... to have freedom."
Interesting, since under the old Warner regime Prince changed his name to a symbol and scrawled the word "slave" on his cheek for videos.
By the way, Prince thanked only one person by name last night: Larry Graham, the legendary bass player for Sly and the Family Stone and his own Graham Central Station.
Prince also got at least two people at different ends of the age spectrum up and dancing: Sean Lennon rocked out to Prince's opening, while Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun was so moved by the Purple One's rendition of Eric Clapton's solo on George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" that he leapt up from his seat and started boogieing, hanging the handle of his cane on his wrist.
One other funkmaster got sentimental last night, too: during The Dells' performance, wild man George Clinton slow-danced around his table with his granddaughter. As Prince would say, it was lovely.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that the Style section in the New York Times declared the traditional tuxedo dead and gone for black-tie occasions.
P. Diddy must have taken that to heart Monday night. He wore a track suit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner, where he was seated between MTV's Judy McGrath and Tom Freston.
For a while, Diddy played with his cellphone gadget, made calls and tried to look entertained. But once Prince was done with his opening number, Diddy was ready for something else. Apparently not a fan of Traffic, or of live musicians, the King of Sampling departed.
But not before it was established that he doesn't follow the charts. When I told him his Bad Boy Records 10th-anniversary CD might finish at No. 1 this week, he voiced shock.
"Really?" he said. (It came in at No. 2, after all.) "I'll have to check that out."
He was gone soon after.
Diddy's appearance at the Hall of Fame dinner does present a question for the future shows. As we start to get away from the so-called "golden" rock era, will new inductees lip-sync their material? Will instruments be played? Will songs be sung? Let's hope we never have to find out.
Just in case you're interested in finding out more about the Rock Hall inductees, here are some recommendations for albums by these artists:
The Dells: "Anthology," a two-CD set on Polygram featuring four versions of their classic, "Stay in My Corner"; Jackson Browne: "Late for the Sky"; Traffic: "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" and "John Barleycorn Must Die"; George Harrison: "All Things Must Pass" and the underrated "Living in the Material World": Bob Seger: "Live Bullet" featuring "Katmandu"; and Prince's "Sign O' the Times" as well as his "Greatest Hits" album.
Just in case you thought I'd forgotten, here it is, one more time, for old time's sake, in no particular order: "Fifth Beatle" Billy Preston, Motown legend Mary Wells, the Moody Blues, producer/writer extraordinaire Todd Rundgren, Procol Harum, the O'Jays, Stax Records legends Rufus and Carla Thomas, Ashford and Simpson (as writers, if not performers), the Chi-Lites, plus the Five Royales and several doo-wop groups that should now be "grandfathered" in under the Early Influences category. There are more, I know; everyone's got a name. But I do think the Hall has been unduly rude to Chubby Checker, who had a hit with "The Twist" twice and once with "Let's Twist Again." Let's give him his due, already.