"This band has carried their faith and the great inspirational and resurrective power of rock 'n' roll with them. They have never faltered, only a little bit. They believed in themselves, but more importantly they believed in you, too."
With those words, Bruce Springsteen formally inducted U2 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Monday night at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.
Bono, who turned the induction speech into its own art form with his unique, poetic, and enthusiastic speeches when he inducted Bob Marley and Springsteen into the Hall of Fame in 1994 and 1999, respectively. It's only fitting, then, that Springsteen would return the favor, and he more than lived up to the challenge.
Topping off the evening with a toast that was also part roast, Springsteen's speech was a glorious, and oftentimes hilarious, marvel that clearly demonstrated his appreciation for and friendship with the band.
The Boss described The Edge as "one of the selfless guitar heroes of all time" whose "guitar playing creates enormous space and vast landscapes."
The Edge's soaring guitar has been held down for nearly 30 years by Adam Clayton's elegant bass and Larry Mullen Jr.'s vibrant drumming. "Together Larry and Adam create the element that suggests the ecstatic possibilities of that other kingdom, the one below the earth and below the belt, that no great rock band can lay claim to the title without," Springsteen said.
Demonstrating his giddy, self-effacing side, Springsteen went on to compliment the drummer's good looks, referring to him as the requisite good-looking member, something somehow overlooked in Springsteen's E Street Band which, he joked, had to settle for a more basic "charismatic" appeal.
Then there's Bono.
"Where do I begin?" Springsteen asked of the iconic lead singer, a rhetorical question that led him into a bender of a riff on the man's global, and much publicized, ambitions. "Jeans designer, soon to be World Bank operator, just plain operator. Seller of the Brooklyn Bridge… oh oh no, he played under the Brooklyn Bridge. Soon to be mastermind of the Bono Burger franchise, where more than one billion stories will be told by a crazy Irishman. Now I realize it's a dirty job and somebody has to do it, but don't quit your day job yet, my friend. You're pretty good at it and a sound this big needs somebody to ride herd over it. And ride herd over it he does, he has a voice big-hearted and open, thoroughly decent, no matter how hard he tries."
Carrying the physique, as Springsteen put it, of an ex-rugby player, he continued, "Shaman, sheister, one of the greatest and most endearingly naked messianic complexes in rock 'n' roll. God bless you, man. It takes one to know one, of course."
No topic was too sacred for Springsteen, particularly when he seemingly strayed off course with a story about his own private life. "There I was sitting on the coach in my pajamas with my eldest son. He was watching TV. I was doing one of my favorite things, I was tallying up all the money I passed up in endorsements over the years and thinking of all the fun I could've had with it.
"Suddenly I hear 'Unos. Dos. Tres. Catorce.' I look up. But instead of the silhouettes of the hippie wannabes bouncing around in the iPod commercial, I see my boys! Oh my God! They've sold out!
"Personally," Springsteen said, "I live an insanely expensive lifestyle that my wife barely tolerates. I burn money and that calls for huge amounts of cash flow. But, I also have a ludicrous image of myself that keeps me from truly cashing in. You can see my problem. Woe is me."
Alas, The Boss found out through his own manager that U2 didn't take a dime for the commercials.
"Smart, wily Irish guys," Springsteen commented. "Anybody can do an ad and take the money. But to do the ad and not take the money…That's smart. That's wily."
The Boss then went to joke about one of his own dreams, that of a red, white and blue iPod signed by Bruce "The Boss" Springsteen. As he advised his manager, "no matter how much money he offers, don't take it!"
In response to Springsteen's performance, Bono came up to the mic and said, "Born in the U.S.A. my arse! That man was born on the north side of Dublin. His mother was Irish--the poetry, the gift of the gab. Isn't it obvious? In fact, I think he's tall for an Irishman.
"Rock 'n' roll is the sound of revenge, so make your enemies interesting, I would say, ladies and gentleman," Bono said during his acceptance speech. "But not tonight. Tonight, when we look out into the audience, we don't see any enemies, we only see friends. This country has taken this band into its bosom, all the way, from the very beginning."
Showing good humor all around, Bono joked about how it was Irish Night, what with "Paddy" Sledge and The O'Jays ("a tribe from the west of Ireland") also being inducted.
His comments were merely in jest but did hit close to home. U2 virtually dominated the night. It was an hour-long celebration of all things Zooropan that climaxed with a four-song set that kicked off with "Until the End of the World," complete with Bono strolling through the audience and giving a champagne shower to those who helped the band blossom, including Jimmy Iovine, Interscope Records president and producer of U2's "Rattle and Hum," and Jann Wenner, editor and publisher of Rolling Stone magazine and Rock Hall co-founder.
"Pride (In the Name of Love)" followed, with a smooth segue into Springsteen's "Promised Land." The Boss then accompanied the band on a rousing "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and the set was polished off with a magnificently rocking rendition of "Vertigo."
Bono acknowledged that U2 wouldn't have been able to start and flourish in today's music industry, which is suffering from a lack of long-term vision today. It was Frank Barsalona, the talent agent and fellow inductee, who helped U2 get its start.
"I would like to ask the music business to take a look at itself and ask itself some hard questions because there would be no U2 the way things are right now," Bono said. "That's a fact."
In the pressroom after the ceremony, Bono elaborated on the sentiment, noting that Springsteen didn't have a hit single for 10 years and it was questionable if Neil Young ever had a "hit" single. In today's marketplace, if you don't have a hit single, you don't get a second chance.
As for the induction itself, the band is honored, but, as Mullen said, "We've been defying gravity for a long time. It's a big occasion and you've got to be careful you don't upset people, but to be absolutely honest, I would really have liked this maybe 10 years down the line. It's a great institution, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To quote Karl Marx… oh no, Groucho Marx, I'm just not sure that I'm quite ready to accept institutionalization. But it's a great thing and I'm happy to have it."
When asked about Bono's other "career pursuits" such as the World Bank gig and Nobel Peace Prize, the rest of the band was quick to warn people of giving Bono any "ideas." But Bono brushed off all the chatter, joking about a lack of time due to his weekend paper route. Ultimately, he's happy just being a rock and roller. (And, as for being president, Bono's often joked that he doesn't want to move into a smaller house.)
The night was finished off with a note to the fans, who were not thanked by the foursome during their acceptance speeches. "We find it hard to actually say 'thanks to the fans,'" Bono said in the pressroom. "The reason we don't do that is because U2 fans don't want to be patronized. They know how important they are to us. They know that they have given us an extraordinary life. We've let them down here and there, not a lot.
"This year we had some difficulties," Bono added. "The tour very nearly didn't happen. We had some problems and as a result of scrambling to keep the tour together we didn't look after our fans getting tickets the way we want them to. Larry's apologized on behalf of the band. I would like to do it again. Just to repeat, we have a great relationship with our audience and we want to thank them for the great life they have given us."
• Originally published at Interference.com.
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