When I first read the article in the Star-Ledger about the upcoming New Jersey Hall of Fame ceremony and realized I had the afternoon/evening free, I figured it would be something interesting enough to write a blog entry about. Despite organizers' claims that most, if not all, the living inductees would attend, I assumed that was a longshot. There was probably a good chance that Buzz Aldrin and Norman Schwarzkopf would show, but Bruce Springsteen and Meryl Streep seemed far less likely to accept their awards in person (well, I was right about one). Still it seemed like a good way to spend an evening, and at $23 for a ticket in the fourth tier of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, it was a fairly cheap night out, too. Plus I might learn something about the inductees and I'm a big fan of learning.
So, after an early afternoon stop at the Hoboken Arts and Music Festival, I headed over to NJPAC for the red carpet arrivals. I got there about 45 minutes before the arrivals were supposed to start, but that worked out fine because as I got there, so did Buzz Aldrin and Toni Morrison, so I got a good spot and started snapping away.
It wasn't a very star-studded red carpet, but that suits New Jersey just fine. And speaking of "suits" (killer segway), I realized when I got there that I was severely underdressed. Luckily, I wasn't wearing my standard band t-shirt, but I was the only person wearing jeans that I could see. Eventually, I would spot a few others, and when I did, I felt they we shared a bond--a Jersey bond, a working-class kind of thing. Even if I felt like dressing up, it just wouldn't have seemed right to get all gussied up for the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Plus I was sitting in the first seat of the last row in NJPAC, so once I got in, there was precious little chance that anyone would see what I was wearing anyway.
But enough about my wardrobe, let's get to some red carpet photos.
Buzz Aldrin (or, as one snazzily dressed patron of the arts called him, "Buzz Aldrich")
Yogi Berra and the never-ending Yogi entourage
H. Norman Schwarzkopf
Former New York Football Giant Harry Carson, who, along with Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano, inducted Vince Lombardi into the Hall
That was about as exciting as it got, though I also have pictures of Mary Higgins Clark, Emme, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker if you're interested. Everybody was looking to see Bruce, but most realized that if he did show up, it was pretty unlikely that he'd walk the red carpet.
And that set the stage for the introduction of the inductees inside NJPAC, after a short montage of Jersey sights that were sporadically and somewhat inexplicably applauded (I get cheering for photos or clips of the inductees, but it seemed a little odd to be cheering for inanimate objects like the facade of Caesars Palace and Lucy the Elephant). The inductees (and those representing the deceased) walked onto the stage in darkness and were announced individually and given a spotlight. At that point, I wasn't even really thinking about Bruce showing up, until they got about halfway through and I noticed a guy all the way at the end who kinda looked like Bruce. Then they announced him, and the people dressed in jeans erupted (I couldn't see what the ground floor was doing, but I suppose they were pleased, too). The "Broooce" chants (always just a little annoying, particularly at events such as this that aren't solely focused on him) inevitably followed. For balance, some people shouted "Yogi!" and some screamed out Sinatra's name. I thought of screaming "Wizard of Menlo Park!" but thought better of it. For the record, though, Edison was my favorite inductee.
It occurs to me that I haven't mentioned the entire inaugural class, so now's as good a time as any: Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, Robert Wood Johnson, Vince Lombardi, Malcolm Forbes, Frank Sinatra, Yogi Berra, Buzz Aldrin, Toni Morrison, and Bruce Springsteen (Meryl Streep and Bill Bradley were also inducted, but both wanted to appear in person to receive the honor, so they postponed their induction to another time...but it should be noted that Meryl Streep attended a Broadway play opening on the night of the NJHOF ceremony, so I'm pretty sure she could've been at NJPAC). Not a bad class, but I would've thrown Walt Whitman in there. For reasons I don't quite get, he was placed in the "History" category (with Barton, Edison, Einstein, and fellow loser Woodrow Wilson) rather than "Arts and Entertainment" (where he could've gotten in over that ungrateful witch Streep) or even the "General" category, where he surely could've knocked out Harriet Tubman. Nothing against her (it's hard to argue against Harriet Tubman's contribution to humanity), but she barely lived in New Jersey, using Cape May as a base for the Underground Railroad for a short while. The Hall of Fame even waived the already flimsy requirement that you only need to have lived in New Jersey for five years to qualify for induction for Tubman. On the bright side, however, in about seven months I will be eligible for the New Jersey Hall of Fame, which means I better start getting my speech ready.
Most of the speeches—both the inductions and the acceptance speeches—were pretty brief throughout the ceremony, so everything moved along quickly. Teaneck's own Phoebe Snow sang a few songs in between the speeches, which was a pleasant surprise (if you are not moved by the sound of her voice, I would rather not know you), and house band La Bamba and the Hubcaps did a good job backing her up and providing some musical segues for the speeches (Edison's induction, for instance, was followed by a few bars of "You Light Up My Life").
And then something happened. From stage left came a man universally associated with New Jersey. He said a few words to the crowd, picked up his guitar, and launched into song.
Yessir, Joe Piscopo was singing.
Man, that was a whole bucketful of not good. Be glad I didn't shoot video. It brought a pleasant evening to a sudden halt. But it was over soon enough. Afterward, I concocted a scenario in my head. Since the organizers didn't think Bruce was going to show, they needed to find someone else to induct Frank Sinatra. "How about Piscopo?" someone suggested. Phone calls were made, Piscopo was miraculously available, and plans were established. Then it's Sunday and Bruce shows up with some words he's prepared for Sinatra's induction. It is then an intern's job to break the news to Piscopo. "Mr. Piscopo, there's been a change of plans—Bruce showed up," the intern said. "You can go home if you want." Outraged, Piscopo finds one of the event organizers and unleashes a torrent of verbal abuse. The beleaguered organizer cries uncle and asks Piscopo, "What if we let you sing a song?" Piscopo, angry but assuaged, agrees. All is well.
I can't imagine it not going that way.
Anyway, Bruce inducted Sinatra with a so-so speech, and then Danny DeVito came out to induct Bruce. After making a big show of adjusting the mic to his level, DeVito launched into a long, somewhat rambling speech about the importance of Bruce. Then Bruce came out to accept the honor and gave a pretty kickass speech that ended with a benediction for New Jersey, which I feel like carrying in my wallet. I'm not a born Jersey boy, but as a native Staten Islander, I feel like I might as well be (particularly since I was geographically closer to Jersey than I was to Manhattan). And Bruce's benediction captured pretty well what it's like to be the perennial black sheep/underdog, which could apply in equal parts to Jersey and Staten Island. (Yes, the quality of the video isn't great, but considering I was shooting from the last row, I think it's quite good.)
And then Bruce joined the band on guitar for a cover of Sam and Dave's "I Thank You" before stepping up to the mic for "Glory Days," the second half of which (captured below) featured DeVito on backing vocals and air guitar, which is something I reckon I will never see again.
It was, like most nights, a good night to be in New Jersey.