Something I thought I’d lost forever:
I watched Cat Stevens perform three of his songs that marked my introspective teens on stage with a big and great band to celebrate his induction into the Rock Hall of Fame.
Yeah, I know, the event happened in April, in Brooklyn. But the four hours of acceptance speeches and musical segments — hello, Peter Gabriel, KISS, Hall and Oates, Linda Rondstadt, E Street Band and Nirvana, too — debuted on HBO Saturday night, so I fired up the DVR.
Stevens had dropped out of the popular music world quite famously to become Yusuf Islam, study art and his spiritual self, and all I was left with were the records, memories of that early 1970s burst of poetic and melodic genius and vague stories about how off-the-grid strange he may have gone.
But Art Garfunkel warmed everybody up to Stevens’ reemergence into a popular embrace with an induction speech that started with a joke — Cat’s breakout album “Tea for the Tillerman” wouldn’t have made the charts in 1971 of Art and Paul Simon hadn’t of broken up, the man had the nerve to say — and included the declaration that several personas in a man’s life are OK, a sign of strength, even.
And Yusuf Islam was charming at the podium, if a bit uncomfortable, thanking Art, thanking his family, thanking his fans, thanking his God, and cracking back with a joke about the Rock Hall having the audacity to induct somebody who doesn’t drink, do drugs and sleeps only with his wife.
Boy, did he look comfortable playing Cat Stevens songs with that guitar and great band. Two songs about leaving and a last about coming back, he made sure to point out before launching into a thunderous version his his hit “Peace Train,” complete with a gospel chorus.
I got chills.
I have a new set of Cat Stevens memories. In high def. The show remains on the DVR.
Later came Bruce Springsteen inducting his E Street Band.
Memories of this band, I have plenty, just about 40 live concerts strong now.
Springsteen was eloquent, illuminating, confessional, as he talked of the many decades of time that he’s shared with these musicians who’ve become the friends — and wife — of his life.
I loved seeing Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez back behind the drums and David Sancious again working the keyboards, two original members who left the band as years moved by. I bowed for all these folks I’ve watched and heard do so many marvelous things up there with Bruce. I realized that during those 21 years covering music for the big daily, I was privileged to interview three of them — Steve Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren and Max Weinberg. And I thought about how all three had great praise for their time with this band, the music that they made with this band.
I smiled as Bruce told me things I never knew.
Sancious was the only one of this big crew who ever actually lived on E Street!
I nodded as Bruce described the terms of this family, nuclear and band. He waved to Patty and children and smiled at all the musicians. They had times of great joy and times of great pain. They had years of disagreement and years of achievement. They helped each other in big and small ways, and they hurt each other in small and big ways.
Springsteen talked of the night before his induction into the Rock Hall a decade ago, when Steven visited him and disclosed his innermost thought that the E Street Band should really be going in the next day alongside Bruce. Bruce said he thought about that statement and decided that rules are rules, and went on with his sole reward.
Bruce Springsteen has regrets.
He was honored to be at last welcome the best band in rock and roll into the hall with him.
But two most important E Streeters were not there to share the moment, keyboardist Danny Federici and sax man Clarence Clemons, both gone too soon.
Bruce sighed. Winced. Bowed his head.
That great, big band of musicians played “The E Street Shuffle.”
Redemption and faith restored. On my DVR.
Who’s your favorite in the Rock Hall of Fame class of 2014? Did you dig the music of Cat Stevens? Do you think Bruce Springsteen should have not accepted his induction into the Rock Hall a decade ago without the E Street Band?