Minutes after inducting Rush into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame late last night at L.A.'s Nokia Theatre, Dave Grohl stood outside his dressing room, still wearing the vintage white kimono he sported as the Foo Fighters nailed "Overture." "It's terrifying to play your favorite song in front of your favorite band," he said. "It's one thing to sit in the basement to sit in the basement and woodshed 2112, and it's another to stand in front of Rush in a fucking kimono and a wig. Tonight was one of the most special nights of my life."
Grohl's biggest moment? "I met Neil Peart for the first time at rehearsal. This man was as influential to me as any religion. And he said, 'So nice to meet you, can I make you a coffee?' And he made me a coffee. Later on that night, I went to dinner and had a couple glasses of wine and I started fucking crying, because my hero made me a coffee."
It was just one emotional backstage moment during last night's ceremony, where Rush, Heart, Randy Newman, Public Enemy, Donna Summer, Lou Adler and Quincy Jones were inducted. "When we first found out, I don't think it really dawned on me what it meant," Rush's Geddy Lee told Rolling Stone. "And in the days building up to this tonight, I've started reflecting on our lives and what this actually does mean in the context of music, popular music."
"It was magical," said former Heart guitarist Roger Fisher, tears filling his eyes after reuniting with the band after his departure in 1980. "It was a very healing moment, and just created closure for all the pain and negativity in the past."
The performers paying tribute took the night seriously as the inductees; before honoring Albert King, Gary Clark Jr. stood in the stairwell with his unplugged Epiphone, playing blues licks and obsessively tuning; DMC practiced his rap for the "Crossroads" finale in a communal green room (no one complained); Mike McCready and Jerry Cantrell carefully worked out the guitar fingering for their set with Heart. Before the show, as audience guests like Jack Nicholson and Robbie Robertson hung out, Jackson Browne stood stage-side by a guitar rack. "I'm missing the social part of the evening, but I don't want to have two seconds to get ready," he said.
The night was also a chance for rock stars to be fans. John Mayer, who inducted King, rushed out in the middle of the ceremony to catch a red-eye to New York to rehearse for New Orelans Jazz Fest, but not before stopping in the hallway to introduce himself to Tom Morello. "I'm a huge fan," Mayer said. "I just bought a whammy pedal," The two talked guitars for a few minutes. "You made a pedal an instrument, very few people can do that," said Mayer. "Jimi Hendrix. You claimed the whammy. That's huge, to claim an entire effect pedal." Morello grinned.
As Mayer stepped into his Escalade, he was still blown away by Rush's fans, who cheered the band for several minutes when Hall of Fame Chairman Jann S. Wenner's mentioned the a "band from Toronto." "Man, I want Rush fans to come to my shows now, that is some fandom," Mayer told Rolling Stone. "If you're a Rush fan, you should get in any show free."
Even Rush were surprised by their fan turnout. "They went nuts," said Geddy Lee backstage. "We were totally surprised. I had no idea our fans would dominate the crowd tonight."
They certainly got some surprises; Alex Lifeson's three-minute-long speech was comprised of only the words "blah, blah, blah" - maybe a comment on Rush only being inducted now after being eligible since 1998. "That's performance art right there," Morello said, cracking up while watching the speech on a backstage monitor next to Chuck D, who added, "Understood. He said it all right there."
What was Lifeson trying to say in his speech? The band laughed off the question in our interview. "Enough words preceded it," Lifeson said.
"God only knows," said Lee. "We're done here. I've got some serious drinking to do."
Flavor Flav had another memorable speech, rambling for several minutes as Chuck D urged him to quit and the audience grew weary. "Being kind of the leader of a group for 26 years, you sometimes have to be a youth counselor, or camp counselor," said Chuck D. "Flavor is Flavor because of many different reasons, he brings it out onstage, and it's about how to taper that, and he went outside of the taper. But this is the biggest day of his rock & roll life."
The end of each ceremony always raises the question: who will be inducted next year? One strong possibility is Nirvana, who will be eligible – their first single, "Love Buzz," was released in 1988. "Wow, I didn't even know that," said Grohl. "Interesting. Well, hopefully they make us wait as long as Rush did, because did you see all their fucking fans out there tonight?"
Additional reporting by Matt Diehl
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images