When the Sex Pistols and Blondie Caused Trouble at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
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The ever-popular argument over who does or doesn’t get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame causes plenty of arguments among fans. Tempers can flare at the induction ceremony too, as what’s supposed to be a moment of celebration turns into a platform for airing long-held grievances.
Of course, just a few years earlier, Ozzy Osbourne had different feelings about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: “Just take our name off the list. Save the ink. Forget about us. The nomination is meaningless, because it’s not voted on by the fans. It’s voted on by the supposed elite for the industry and the media, who’ve never bought an album or concert ticket in their lives, so their vote is irrelevant to me. Let’s face it, Black Sabbath has never been media darlings. We’re a people’s band and that suits us just fine.”
Osbourne changed his tune when Sabbath finally got in, but other artists were less flexible that year.
The Sex Pistols decided not to take part in the festivities and posted a grammatically challenged letter of explanation: “Next to the Sex Pistols, rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain. We’re not coming. We’re not your monkeys, and so what. Fame at $25,000 if we paid for a table of $15,000 to squeak up in the gallery goes to a non profit organization selling us a load of any old famous. Congradulations. If you voted for us, hope you noted your reasons. Your anonymous as judges but your still industry people. We’re not coming. Your not paying attention. Outside the s—stem is a real Sex Pistol.”
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame president Jann Wenner read the letter to the slightly amused audience at the ceremony. But the Sex Pistols’ no-show wasn’t the biggest news of the night, or its most disruptive one.
After being inducted by Shirley Manson from the band Garbage, Blondie guitarist Chris Stein, drummer Clem Burke and singer Debbie Harry were joined onstage by all of the group’s past members – including bassist Nigel Harrison, guitarist Frank Infante, bassist Gary Valentine and keyboardist Jimmy Destri. Each had his own back story.
Harrison and Infante had been involved in lawsuits against Stein and Harry over money they claimed they were owed from their time in the band. Valentine had been slated to take part in Blondie’s 1999 reunion, but instead was ousted at the last minute. Destri had recently been let go for a variety of reasons, including substance abuse.
Infante spoke up at the ceremony, complaining in front of the gathered crowd about not being invited to play with his old band. “I’d like to thank the Hall of Fame for inviting us, and for not writing me, Gary and Nigel out of rock ‘n’ roll history,” he said. “This is like one of the greatest gigs you could do as a musician. … Actually, one thing that would make it better would be if we could actually perform for you tonight, but for some reason, some of us are not allowed to do that. I don’t know what we could do about that. I’d like to play.”
Watch Blondie at 2006’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction
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Infante then took his appeal directly to Harry. “Debbie, is that allowed?” he asked. “We’d like to play with you guys – me and Nigel. Pretty please! Pretty please, Debbie!”
Harry proceeded to make her way to the podium, only to cut him off. “Can’t you see my band is up there?” she asked.
“Oh, your band? I thought Blondie was being inducted tonight,” Infante shot back. Harry then proceeded to list Blondie’s current members. “Are they being inducted?” Infante replied. “I don’t know!”
Harrison appeared to be ready to salvage the moment. “It’s nice to see everyone out of the courtroom,” he said. “That’s the first positive thing.” But Harrison then picked up where Infante left off: “I gotta say, after watching all that footage of us tonight, I felt I was going to my own funeral. It’s messed up for us. We wanna play, obviously, we were part of it. We’ve been led to believe we weren’t part of it. It sucks. Welcome to bingo night.”
At the press conference following the ceremony, Stein was clearly angry. “The reason I’m holding onto this,” he said while grasping his hall of fame trophy, “is in case I run into any of those f—ers!”
Burke, in a 2016 conversation with Ultimate Classic Rock, remained stung by the on-stage drama. “I thought Chris’ backstage comments were a bit drastic,” he said. “But everyone has a right to say and do as they please, as there really are no rules in rock ‘n’ roll. And that’s what makes it what it is: freedom of expression.”
Still, he added, the evening was forever altered.
“The circumstances surrounding our induction made what could have been one of the happiest days of my life into a very dark and stressful one,” Burke said. “Regardless of our business arrangement with the former band members, I still considered those guys to be my friends and would have been fine with standing together with them on the Rock Hall stage. For many reasons, it was not to be. All original members of Blondie were being inducted, and although we thought there would be some sort of protocol, that all went out the window, and the whole thing, for me, turned into very embarrassing public display.”
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