by DAVE BARRY
Monday, September 4, 1995
I have many memories of
the historic opening weekend of the Rock and Roll Hall
of Fame, but what I'll remember the longest is getting
into an argument with Bruce Springsteen's guitar player.
To understand how this
happened, you need to know that I belong to a rock band
called the Rock Bottom Remainders, which consists mostly
of authors. The other members include (in alphabetical
order) sports columnist Mitch Albom, humor writer Roy
Blount Jr., media escort and singer Kathi Goldmark,
Simpsons creator Matt Groening, rock-book author Dave
Marsh, thriller writer Ridley Pearson, one-person horror
industry Stephen King, rock critic Joel Selvin and actual
literary person Amy Tan.
If I had to describe, in
one phrase, the type of band we are, the phrase I would
select is: "A pretty bad type of band." I'm
not saying that we are 100 percent totally horrible
all the time. Sometimes, when people hear us, they give
us compliments such as, "Hey, you didn't suck so
bad on that one song." But mostly people tell us,
"Don't quit your day jobs!" I would venture
to say that we hear that particular phrase more than
any other band in history.
That is why I am still
baffled by the fact that the Rock Bottom Remainders
were invited to perform as part of the ceremonies surrounding
the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
in Cleveland. Specifically, we were asked to perform
at the big gala Friday-night dinner party to benefit
the Hall. This made no sense. Having the Rock Bottom
Remainders perform on behalf of music is like having
Mike Tyson teach a course on dating etiquette.
But we did get invited,
and since we have very little talent and play only about
once per year, we thought it would be a good idea to
rehearse. Band members started arriving in Cleveland
on Wednesday, and that night some of us went to watch
the Indians play the Blue Jays in Cleveland's beautiful
new baseball stadium. As it happened, TV actor David
Birney was sitting two rows in front of us. A woman
sitting directly behind him recognized Birney; she wanted
to get his autograph, but didn't have a pen, so she
turned to us and asked if anybody had one. One of us
handed her a pen; she got the autograph, then turned
around and handed the pen back. She was so excited about
getting David Birney's autograph that she failed to
notice that the person she was returning the pen to
was: Stephen King.
I started to feel like
a real rock musician on Wednesday night, when we rode
back from the ballpark to the hotel in a limo. The driver
informed me -- I swear I am not making this up -- that
I was sitting in the exact same seat where Courtney
Love once threw up.
The Rock Bottom Remainders
spent most of Thursday rehearsing our repertoire, which
consists mostly of "classic oldies rock" songs,
defined as "songs that contain three or fewer chords
and reached the zenith of their popularity before Kurt
Cobain was even born." We also spent a lot of time
getting nervous as various people reminded us, repeatedly,
that (a) our audience was going to contain many heavy
hitters in the music industry, not to mention performers
such as Elton John; and (b) the tickets cost $1,000
And so we practiced relentlessly,
whacking away at our instruments hour after hour until
finally, magically, it started to happen: We stopped
sounding lame and sloppy, and we started sounding lame,
sloppy and exhausted. So we quit.
That night, at the hotel
bar, the gala's producer, Mark Cheplowitz, told us how
we got invited to play. "We were talking about
Cher or maybe Tina Turner," he said, "but
then we thought, hey, let's try taking this in a completely
Oh, swell. Us instead of
I did not sleep well Thursday
night. I felt like a prisoner on Death Row, except that
at least a prisoner on Death Row has the hope that the
governor will decide, at the last moment, that the prisoner
does not have to sing in front of Elton John.
Friday night, as the sun
set over Lake Erie, we got on our bus and headed to
the big tent where the gala would be held. As we were
led through a black-tie crowd of VIPs, I almost walked
right into a tall man. I looked up: It was Steve Cropper.
Who is only a guitar god. As the pathetic excuse for
the Remainders' lead guitarist, I felt really swell,
knowing that Cropper was in the audience. I was seriously
thinking of playing with a paper bag over my head.
The band was led back behind
the tent, where two motor homes had been parked so we'd
have a place to become even more nervous. I was sitting
with some band members in the motor home when a small,
headband-wearing man came in. This was Nils Lofgren,
who for many years has played lead guitar for Bruce
Springsteen's E Street Band. He is really, really, really,
really, really, really, really, really, really, really
He wanted to play guitar
He -- Nils Lofgren -- wanted
to play all night, on every song.
And I had to tell him no.
Here's why: We'd heard
that he might want to join us for the night, and the
consensus of the band was that, because Lofgren is really
(repeat nine times) good, he would make the rest of
us look even worse than we already are. So the band
decided to let him sit in on one song, period. The band
also agreed that, as spokesperson, I would be the one
to tell Lofgren this.
And thus I, a humor columnist,
had to stand there in a motor home and tell a world-class
rock musician -- a musician who, the next night, would
be on stage playing with Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Berry
and Jerry Lee Lewis -- that, hey, thanks for the offer,
but we can only use you on one song.
So I told Nils Lofgren
this, and he would not accept it. He argued with me.
At times he was almost pleading. This was just too surreal,
so finally I caved in and told Nils, OK, two songs near
the beginning, plus you can come up at the end for a
few more songs, including our big production-number
version of These Boots Are Made For Walking, featuring
Amy Tan dressed as a total slut.
And Nils Lofgren thanked
me. He was actually grateful for this opportunity to
potentially flush his career down the toilet. The guy
just really loves to play.
As it turned out, our performance
went well. The crowd -- perhaps this is an indication
of how much drug usage really goes on in the music industry
-- actually seemed to like us. People clapped and danced
and sang along, screaming "WILD THING!" when
we play Wild Thing, and "LOUIE! LOUIE!" when
we played Louie, Louie (not that there is, technically,
any difference between these songs). And the crowd went
berserk when, as we concluded our rendition of the 1958
Royal Teens hit Short Shorts, four male band members
dropped their pants and bunny-hopped off the stage in
their underwear. Despite the musical subtlety of this
and our other songs, Nils Lofgren seemed to have no
trouble following along and playing killer solos.
In other words, it was
The next day the band visited
the Hall of Fame and Museum, which is also cool, featuring
all kinds of exhibits, guitars, contracts, letters,
costumes, posters and more, including Roy Orbison's
geeky high school yearbook photo. My only criticism
is that they don't play the music loud enough, so that
at times it feels a little too museum-y and not enough
rock-y. At one point I was with a group of people watching
a museum movie on the history of rock, featuring clips
from many songs; we were getting a little rowdy, singing
along at times, and a very serious suit-wearing man
in the row in front of us whirled around and glared
back at us and said, "Please stop talking!"
Then he went back to studying the movie intently, as
though it were a rare manuscript, instead of Ozzy Osbourne.
This seemed wrong. If you can't yell and stomp in the
house of rock 'n' roll, then where can you? So my advice
to the people in charge of the museum is: Crank it up.
But otherwise, as I say, it's great. On Saturday night,
we got to go to the big stadium concert, featuring real
musicians, including our bandmate Nils, up there playing
with The Boss. The concert also featured a surprise
appearance by Bob Dylan, who, in one of the evening's
highlights, dropped his pants and did the Bunny Hop
in his underwear.
No, he didn't. In fact,
you will be shocked to learn that, in the entire six-hour
concert, not a single band performed Short Shorts. But
it was still excellent.
Sunday morning, as I was
getting ready to leave Cleveland, I ran into Lofgren
at the airport. I told him we thought he did a pretty
good job, and could play with the Remainders any time.
"Rock 'n' roll,"
I have to agree.
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