Bono's Rock 'n' Roll Revenge

Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame | John Mayer

Bono's Rock 'n' Roll Revenge

The poets were waxing last night, and the moon was waning, as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted its 20th-anniversary class at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York.

I am most proud of the inclusion of R&B legends The O'Jays and soul singer Percy Sledge. The former group had been waiting for years. The latter made it on his first try, thanks to his classic hit "When a Man Loves a Woman."

"I'm just glad they didn't give it to me after I died," Sledge told me before the show started.

It could have happened. Lots of dead R&B and doo-wop stars have yet to be included in what has become in recent years a very white Hall of Fame.

But with The Dells coming in last year, and Sledge, The O'Jays and blues star Buddy Guy inducted this season, the Hall of Fame seems very much back on track.

The swollen attendance in the Waldorf Ballroom was an indication of that. The place was more packed than I have ever seen, with movie stars, rock stars and music executives all dolled up in their black-tie best.

Of course, that didn't stop the overzealous security firm, Elite, from treating the guests as if they were ex-cons.

The other inductees for the night were U2 and The Pretenders, inducted respectively by Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young.

Rod Stewart ushered in Percy Sledge, Eric Clapton and B.B. King toasted Buddy Guy and Justin Timberlake did the honors nicely for The O'Jays.

There were wildly animated and vivacious special performances by Jerry Lee Lewis and Bo Diddley — two graduates from the first class of 1985.

Some of the celebrity guests: Catherine Zeta-Jones; Richard Gere and Carey Lowell; Michael J. Fox; Dan Aykroyd; Charlie Rose; Christy Turlington and Ed Burns; John McEnroe and Patti Smythe.

Rockers Rob Thomas, Jon Bon Jovi, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, John Mayer and Pink Floyd's Roger Waters were also spotted buzzing about.

My own table included Bo Diddley, as well as Philadelphia International founders Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who wrote all those Philly soul hits from the early '70s such as "Backstabbers" and "When Will I See You Again?"

Because of the sardine-like situation, we abutted Chrissie Hynde's table. The silken voiced Pretender is a strict vegan, so no leather. She carries a vintage vinyl purse, wears Stella McCartney clothes and has been living in Brazil, of all places.

"I had to get as far away from our culture as possible," she told me.

But how's her Portuguese?

"Not so good," she replied with laugh.

There were lots of speeches, including an emotional one from Sire Records founder Seymour Stein, who was introduced by rapper and actor Ice-T.

"He played calypso music for me when I first went to see him," Ice-T recalled, "and told me I had great eyes."

Famed concert promoter Frank Barsalona was inducted by three "Sopranos" in character: Silvio (Steve Van Zandt), Tony (James Gandolfini) and Bobby (Steve Schirippa).

It was very amusing, as Van Zandt compared the way Barsalona once cut up the country among promoters to the mob's similar approach for organized crime. A little too close for comfort.

Bono won the runner-up prize for best speech as U2 accepted.

"Rock and roll is the sound of revenge," he said, then caught himself. "This country has taken this band into its bosom."

He also warned the many executives that a band like U2 would not make it today in the current climate.

"It's time for the music business to ask some hard questions," he said.

But with the new Warner Music Group focusing more on an IPO than chart hits, Bono didn't get too far.

Springsteen scored big for the second year in a row in the speech department. Later, he joined U2 on stage for a rocking version of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."

The Boss told me later that he wrote his own speech, which wasn't surprising. It was as insightful and as much fun as the one he gave last year for Jackson Browne.

He complimented Bono for his marketing abilities, saying: "Soon there'll be Bono Burger, where one million stories will be told by a dirty Irishman."

Springsteen said that one night while his son was watching TV, he counted up all the endorsements he hadn't done to support his "insane lifestyle."

He facetiously said that after seeing U2's iPod commercial — for which they received no money — he called his manager. He suggested they do a "red, white and blue iPod signed by Bruce 'The Boss' Springsteen."

"No matter how much money they offer, don't take it," Springsteen joked.

There were a lot of executives from the dying industry to applaud the proceedings. They sat at team tables and gobbled up filet mignon. The Warner folks, including Edgar Bronfman and Lyor Cohen, were there for Stein and Hall of Fame chairman (and legendary Atlantic Records founder) Ahmet Ertegun.

The Universal gang — Doug Morris, Sylvia Rhone, L.A. Reid, Jimmy Iovine — came to support U2. And the Sony BMG crowd was not absent: Clive Davis, Andy Lack, Sir Howard Stringer, Charles Goldstuck among them.

Me, I'm still feeling dreamy from seeing Neil Young play with the Pretenders on "Message of Love," "My City Was Gone" and "Precious."

U2 also knocked out killer cuts like "Vertigo," "Until the End of the World" and "Pride (In the Name of Love)."

The O'Jays — one of whom revealed to Aykroyd that he'd sung on the original "Rubber Biscuit," which the Blues Brothers later covered and made famous — did a medley of "For the Love of Money," "Love Train" and "Backstabbers."

Clapton and B.B. King whomped out some blues with Buddy Guy. Jerry Lee Lewis (looking like a little taxidermized) woke up and banged the keys on "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and Bo Diddley demonstrated why his famous, eponymous song is the basis of every rock record since 1954.

John Mayer, Security Risk

You know John Mayer. He won the best-song Grammy for "Daughters." He dresses in velvet jackets. But when U2 took the stage last night at the Waldorf, Mayer almost got into trouble.

He stood up in the front row to support Bono. But one of Lou Palumbo's walking refrigerators lumbered in front of Mayer in case the folk rocker decided to get too effervescent.

Mayer and several industry execs quickly backed off before they got trampled.

Palumbo's squad is the least likeable of all the security teams in town. It's a wonder that anyone hires them, when Chuck Garelick's GSS and Mike Zimet do such a good job.

After Diddley's performance, his female guitarist and manager went to the ladies' room together. Palumbo's team tried to deny them re-entry.

"You can see I'm still sweating from being onstage," the guitarist pleaded. The guard did not care in the least.

Palumbo himself is a puffed-up kind of agent who thinks his militaristic stance will win him respect.

When I approached my table last night he blocked the way, acted as if I was a gatecrasher, then physically removed me.

"I'll see you in handcuffs," Palumbo told me.

It was only after Rock Hall execs came to my rescue and chastised him that Palumbo let go, albeit reluctantly.

Was this really necessary at a black-tie event? Maybe it's time for everyone to redefine the word "Elite."