Lying in a room in the crown plaza at JFK that smells like it’s been used by someone washing their dog, awaiting news from the travel agent to see if we can get out of New York today – at the second attempt – is not my idea of the perfect way to unwind from a Hall of Fame induction weekend. Alas there’s nothing anyone can do about the weather. The whole of the North Eastern US has been suffering from an unusually disruptive weather event. What is it about JFK and me? The Boothbay Harbour incident is never far from the memory.
Thursday April 12th 2018
It was really lovely to be back in the US after a long break away, 2015 was our last visit I believe. John, Steph, Laurie and I flew from London Heathrow to Detroit and then on into Cleveland. As I think I mentioned in my Hall of Fame acceptance speech on the day, the customs officer offered his congratulations upon learning of the reason for my visit. That’s a first. The TSA girls (and boys) were extremely helpful too, but to be honest, they usually are. Alan flew from Manchester and came in via New York.
I have noticed on this trip that the ‘Delta team’ seem to have abandoned use of the word ‘turbulence’ in the preflight safety announcements choosing instead to say ‘rough air’. Rough Air??? What pray is rough air? Maybe the word turbulence implies some sort of gastric discomfort, who knows? Obviously part of new official ‘Delta-speak’.
When we came through the terminal in Cleveland we were met by many fans who were both excited and friendly. We were driven to the Westin hotel by our driver and once we got our rooms (ours wasn’t ready, at 7pm!) we were happy to kick back and relax. John suggested we find a sushi restaurant so I did the honours and we all walked the 4 blocks to a restaurant that was suspiciously devoid of customers. I think we got away with it as some of the Google reviews we read later were quite scary. One of them even described projectile vomiting (sure fire way to distract custom) The sushi did look like it was the kind you wind up and watch it whizz around the table. Still we survived and slept like logs.
Friday the 13th – Party day
Waking up in the fireplace the next morning, I remembered that my freshly composed speech needed to be sent to the production team to input into the autocue. The same for all of us. Now I’ve never had cause to use one before but I thought that on this occasion it might be wise to take up their offer considering the number of people watching. I asked if we could have a quick check of the thing, just so I didn’t get up there on the night only to realise I couldn’t see the damn thing because I had the wrong glasses. It turned out to be not only a huge tv screen halfway down the hall but a huge lifesaver. It was very easy to see. It soon dawned on us that there was no-one….that’s right, no-one to induct the band and we would be handed the stage to do whatever we wanted. There was not even a plan to hand us our awards. I know this because I asked and they improvised by saying they’ll just put them on our table and we can carry them up….or something.
Over the next few hours we pondered this rather awkward scenario and I must say there was more than just a feeling of abandonment. For personal reasons, Mark chose not to appear and as it turned out the others who were inducted, David and Pick were also absent. We later learned that those artists who were invited to induct us subsequently pulled out when it became known that Mark wasn’t to be there. In some ways I can understand that as they probably weren’t aware the three of us were making the effort. A very unfortunate and slightly sad set of circumstances.
Time for a museum visit. We set off in a taxi to an art exhibit in a very cool neighbourhood (West side near Franklin park) and a venue called Transformer Station wherein there was a stunning exhibition by an amazing young artist called Dana Schutz. Some of you may know, my wife Laurie is an artist and Dana has long been a favourite and she was keen to have John come and view. Wonderful that this coincided with the HoF event. The paintings are fantastic and well worth a visit if you ever get the opportunity. After viewing, we sat in the warm sunshine and had the most spectacular coffee outside a cafe converted from an old fire station. The buildings in this area are really beautiful. We then made a quick trip to ‘Mabels’. PROPER ribs and an extensive bourbon and whiskey menu which included Moonshine!
Then it was back to the madhouse that was the Westin hotel, and get dressed for the Friday Hall of fame inductee party. We were ferried over to the Hall of fame which is only 2 blocks away and walked through a marquee tunnel along a red carpet to the party which seemed to be attended by everyone and his mate. There must have been 2000 people there, but what a party. Fabulous food, drinks and music AND a personal tour of the incredible Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The folks at the actual Hall of Fame could not have been nicer and to this day remain communicative and open. We were ushered up to the 3rd floor, where we saw our humble little corner. It wasn’t until I noticed my signature on the plaque with the rest of the inductees over the years that it really hit me what’s going on here. I ordered another gin and tonic and took some time to take it all in.
At this point I really must say that if you like music and its history, you must, MUST visit this museum. It’s wonderful.
Saturday April 14th 2018 – Show day
The 4 of us had decided that we would make a trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art after learning that it is ranked the 2nd best in America after New York’s MOMA. It didn’t disappoint, what an incredible collection. We stood no chance of seeing everything they had to offer as it was important to get back to the hotel for our 5pm red carpet call, which turned out to be 6:45pm. In full evening garb and as the itinerary insisted HMU ready. What was HMU, I googled it to read ‘hit me up’. Surely not. Laurie suggested ‘high maintenance underwear’ before we realised it was ‘hair and make-up’. Not surprising that we didn’t know as that’s a part of our dressing room routine that has long been abandoned. Ready we were and I must say that we looked pretty good. John, Alan and myself with our girls, Steph, Sheila and Laurie.
The weather gods made sure it was absolutely tipping it down so rather than walk the 30 yards to the venue and another red carpet, we drove in a luxury bus. A very very cold Carrie Keagan (I mean cold, her hands were freezing) interviewed us on the red carpet in front of a large crowd of people who probably couldn’t get tickets to the event. The air temperature was almost zero, a sign of some bad weather ahead? We answered some questions and were ushered by a team of 4 to our table. These girls and a guy stayed with us throughout the evening ensuring we knew what was going on, where to be and most importantly, when to hit the stage. With the huge arena filled, 7:30pm and the show rolled into action with The Killers playing a fabulous version of American Girl, a tribute to the wonderful and sorely missed Tom Petty. Then came Howard Stern. An induction speech which compared record sales to semen counts. Very Howard Stern!
Bon Jovi and band took to the stand and all gave heartfelt but very long winded speeches which prompted a feeling of ‘losing the will to live’ (my friend Glyn Johns had warned me about this, he’s been inducted twice) then they took to the stage and wowed the crowd with the greatest of their radio hits with JBJ not even attempting to hit the high notes, I guess no-one really cares. (with the exception of me) It seemed like the show had peaked, after one act. Then without warning, when people were still drawing breath, the Dire Straits 6 minute video intro rolled. I’m not sure ANYONE actually heard a word that was said as they were too busy in recovery from the Bon Jovi battering and finding out where they could get a well deserved Gin and Tonic, me included. No problem! fully laden drinks (party) carts rolled between the tables. In no time I heard the pre-recorded voice-over (not even a real live actual person to announce us) call our names and the next thing I knew, I was ascending the steps to the stage with Alan and John. There we were, no inductee, just an open mic. John stepped up. There was a calmness that descended upon the three of us. I looked to my left and saw Paul Schaeffer sitting at the piano. I waved, he waved back. After John’s wonderfully impromptu self-induction speech, I stepped to the mic.
The next thing I remember is being shaken by the hand from everyone at the front of the stage as we walked to our seats. I think it went ok. All I know is that I got to thank my wife, Laurie for the last glorious 30 years of marriage and of course the fans, for everything. My sole priorities for the evening. My Gin and Tonic was lacking ice but drinkable at my place setting so I downed it in one.
The rest of the show simply flew by, the absolute highlights being the Sister Rosetta Tharpe tribute by Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes and Jerry the Nina Simone segment with an incredible Andra Day, Lauryn Hill backed by the fucking amazing ‘the Roots’. There was an after-show party, in fact there were two. One in the venue and one at the hotel. We stayed up late and hung out at the hotel party. It was nice.
Sunday/Monday April 15th/16th 2018 – Travel Days!
We had said our goodbyes to John and Alan as we all had different flights out of Cleveland. Laurie and I decided to head to a Mexican restaurant next door to the Hall of fame. We wanted to revisit as we didn’t have time see everything on the party night. Once again, we were offered congratulations by diners in the restaurant who recognised us, they were so lovely. Laurie and I then headed across the road in the bitter freezing rain to the Hall of Fame. When we cleared the security and walked in, once more we were greeted with such kindness and offered food, drink, a tour…we just wanted to see some more of the basement displays and hit the shop. In the time available we did this and met the president of the Hall who offered us a lift back to the Westin.
At 4pm, our driver arrived to take us to the airport where the trouble started.
Flights in and out of JFK were severely delayed and we were unlikely to make our connection to London. This was the case but it was also the case for hundreds of other irate passengers who queue’d at the help desk to get rebooked. We had priority access but it still took nearly 2 hours to get this done, mainly because the airlines still use dialup phones to communicate with each other. It was utter chaos, we had missed all flights to London that evening and with no hotel offered we were left to our own devices to find one. Laurie manage to get the last available room at the Crowne Plaza. Next door to the infamous Renaissance hotel mentioned in the Boothbay diary (I’ll re-post that). A convoluted and excruciating journey then took place on the JFK air train and then shuttle bus in the driving, freezing rain to the hotel. We walked in to learn that room service had just finished but the bar was open for another 30 minutes. We ordered as much drinkable wine as we could drink in the allotted time and went to bed exhausted. The travel day continued into Monday and the rain was like stair rods with extreme wind gusts and hail. Delays continued but fortunately not for the transatlantic flights and it looked like VS138 was on time to depart at 8:30pm.
After check-in at JFK terminal 4 I was asked to get the statue out of its case for the TSA, an official looking chap happened to notice this, came over and said he was a huge fan and offered his congratulations. It turned out that he was in charge of air traffic control, rather stupidly, I’ve forgotten his name so if he reads this, please get in touch so I can say thank you as he ensured we were prioritised for our take-off. According to my friend Matthew who captains Virgin planes, taxi’ing at JFK can take up to 60 minutes. (by another amazing coincidence, Matthew actually captained our aircraft to JFK from Heathrow. Our taxi time was less than FIVE minutes and we jumped a queue of 30 aircraft. Yes, 30! (this was confirmed later) Our captain, Steve Skinner came up to me during the flight to say that in all the time he’s been flying, he’s never experienced such a queue jump at JFK. All the other aircraft in the queue were wondering “who the fuck is onboard VS138!” The pope?
We settled into the flight back to Blighty that was too short for any meaningful sleep and I have never been so relieved to hear the word ‘turbulence’ uttered in the safety briefing.
Next morning I was back in the studio with Mark.
What a strange week.