BROOKLYN, N.Y.— The man formerly known as Cat Stevens quietly walked on stage at the Barclays Center arena to be honored at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 2014 induction ceremony.
Now known as Yusuf, the singer-songwriter of 1970s folk-rock hits such as "Wild World" and "Moonshadow" converted to Islam and turned his back on pop music stardom at the end of the decade.
Thursday during the ceremony, Yusuf re-entered that fray after being introduced by Art Garfunkel.
The 65-year-old, dressed in a crisp gray suit over a yellow T-shirt, drew surprised laughs from the crowd when he thanked Rock Hall voters for electing "someone who doesn't drink, doesn't do drugs, doesn't throw television sets out of hotel rooms and only sleeps with his wife.... It's a slightly bold move — and very rock 'n' roll."
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland is dedicated to showcasing the history and significance of popular music. Every year abut 600 voting members decide which artists to induct into its hall of fame. This year Linda Ronstadt, Nirvana, KISS, Hall & Oates, the E Street Band and Peter Gabriel were among those being honored.
It's a star-studded event where inductees and their peers take the stage (Thursday's guests included Courtney Love, Joan Jett and Lorde). Tickets to the sold-out event started at $50 for the upper reaches of the arena, and $3,000 for seats at one of the 81 tables on the arena floor.
A special with highlights from speeches and performances from this year's ceremony is scheduled to premiere May 31 on HBO.
Though Yusuf's performance of signature pop hits "Father and Son," "Wild World" and "Peace Train" was a highlight Thursday, it was a ceremony as noted for who wasn't there as who was.
Nirvana lead singer and songwriter Kurt Cobain, E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons and keyboardist Danny Federici and Beatles manager Brian Epstein didn't live to experience being welcomed into the institution.
Cobain's mother and sisters accompanied surviving Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic onstage following the introduction by R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, and his mother, Wendy O'Connor, suggested that the group's induction "would have made Kurt very proud. He might not have said so, but he would have been proud."
Grohl and Novoselic lauded Cobain's tragic journey. "You've got to remember: Nirvana never moved to the mainstream," Novoselic said. "The mainstream came to Nirvana, and that was our crisis."
Cobain's widow Courtney Love also elicited surprised reactions — including some boos — from onlookers when she stepped to the microphone for a few words, before turning to hug Grohl and Novoselic, with whom she's battled over various aspects of Nirvana's legacy in the years since Cobain's death almost exactly 20 years ago (April 5, 1994). Love said their daughter, Frances Bean, was ill and could not attend.
Cobain's influence on others manifested during the performance by Novoselic, Grohl and latter-day guitarist Pat Smear in which they were joined by a series of female lead singers, starting with Joan Jett for "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon on "Aneurysm" and Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, on "Lithium."
It concluded with 17-year-old New Zealand singer-songwriter phenom Lorde leading all Nirvana's guest singers on the closing number, "All Apologies."
Another new inductee, Ronstadt, wasn't on hand because Parkinson's disease has rendered the highly regarded vocalist unable to sing or travel.
Carrie Underwood and Emmylou Harris joined a quintet that included Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks and Sheryl Crow to sing several of Ronstadt's biggest hits, including "You're No Good," "Blue Bayou," "It's So Easy" and "When Will I Be Loved."
"Linda Ronstadt was a shining example to any woman who ever stood in front of a mirror and sang her heart out," said Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey, noting with affection that when he and Don Henley were part of Ronstadt's backup band and told her they wanted to form a group of their own, their employer "fully supported us."
Genres apart, KISS' Gene Simmons was in attendance and Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello introduced the flashy performer. Famous for wearing face paint and breathing fire, Simmons (one of four original members there) was flameless and dressed in a suit rather than the stylized alien-warlord getup.
"We formed this band 40 years ago and critics be damned," he said.
The band's outrageous theatrics and heavy reliance on pyrotechnics repelled music critics back in the day but garnered KISS millions of young fans, many of whom are now middle aged. "KISS came into my world in 1975," said Brooklyn resident Anthony Sianu, wearing a detailed face painting akin to those of his favorite group. "I'm 45 now. I've taken a lot of abuse over the years for loving KISS. But it's about time they were inducted."
Two inductees from the Northeast — Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and pop duo Hall & Oates — drew some of the biggest reactions from the Barclays Center audience, and Springsteen was given a hero's welcome when he came on stage to welcome his longtime bandmates into the hall that had inducted him individually in 1999.
The E Street induction segment was the longest of the 51/2-hour marathon event, stretching out nearly an hour with Springsteen's introductory remarks, acceptance speeches by nearly all the band's current and former members, plus members of Clemons and Federici's families, followed by a generous performance segment that highlighted the individual players on "The E Street Shuffle," "The River" and "Kitty's Back."
Peter Asher, half of British Invasion duo Peter & Gordon and future talent manager and record producer for Ronstadt, James Taylor and others, gave a combined welcoming speech for Epstein and Rolling Stones manager-producer Andrew Loog Oldham. Oldham recently explained his decision not to attend, saying he'd been unhappy with the Rock Hall's two-fer approach to inducting him and Epstein simultaneously, and without consulting him as to the manner in which he would be inducted.
Nevertheless, Asher elegantly saluted both for their unorthodox approaches and long-term vision for their clients: "I'm very proud tonight to have been asked to induct the first two managers in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, each of whom managed one of the most important ensembles in music history, let alone just rock 'n' roll, and each of whom guided his band from anonymity to global stature, but in very different ways."
Hall & Oates poked fun at their younger selves — and at some of their fellow inductees: "Luckily for you, there are only TWO of us," Oates said wryly on the heels of the extended string of E Street Band acceptance speeches.
During a short technical glitch as they began their performance, in which Hall's vocal monitors weren't working, he started into a shaggy-dog tale of the streets of his hometown before crew members remedied the problem and the duo restarted their performance of "She's Gone," which led into "I Can't Go For That" and "You Make My Dreams Come True."
Coldplay's Chris Martin started the musical introductions for Peter Gabriel with a fanciful reading, ostensibly from the Bible, in which he whimsically quoted "from the book of Genesis" and related a loopy tale in which "Phil the Collins" was visited by an angel named — naturally — Gabriel.
In his own time at the microphone, Gabriel said, "In the end, the core of what you are and who you are is the place where your heart is."