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Robbie Robertson inducts Van Morrison

"It doesn't get any better than that, does it?  Let me tell you what kind of a man we're dealing with here.  I've known him since about 1969, after Astral Weeks and Music From Big Pink came out, and we both felt kind of a musical connection.  And when I was working on the Band's second album, he dropped by to visit.  I was playing around with a little guitar idea, and he asked me where I learned to play like that.  And I said I didn't know, and he got up and left.  Not too long after, he moved to Woodstock, New York, where we were living at the time, and one day he came over to my house, and I was in the middle of writing a new song.  Well, he had some ideas, and before too long, we finished it up, and that night we went into the studio to record it.  We played it down once so everybody could learn it, then we played it again, and put it down on tape, and he got up and left.  But this was the night he became the Belfast Cowboy.  A few months later, the Band was doing a tour, and we were going to play Boston, and my man Van was on the show.  I always wanted us to play a show together, so went he went on, I went out into the hall to catch him.  Well, it was great to hear these songs live, and he was singing his little Irish soul out.  Then, about halfway through, he was in this real emotional part of one of the songs, and he got down on the floor of the stage, and was singing from the floor.  When the song was over, he didn't get up and leave.  He stayed on the floor, and sang the rest of the show laying on the floor.  Next, Van joined us for "The Last Waltz," which was definitely the highlight of the evening for me.  Then some time later we did a song called "That Was a Wonderful Remark," from Martin Scorcese's The King of Comedy.  So we've always crossed paths over the years, or I'd get these random phone calls in the middle of the night, asking, "What's going on?"  And I'd say, "Can you be a little more specific?"  And he'd go on about some new spiritual leader, or politics or something, and finally he'd get around to music.  Well, I'd tell him about some interesting things that I'd heard, and after everything I'd mention, he'd say, "I hate that.  Yeah, I hate that too."  He'd say, "It's not real.  It's like wallpaper."  And I'd say, "Well, what are you into?"  And he'd say, "Bobby Blue Bland and Yeats."  A likely combo.  Well, a while back, my man Van was doing a concert here in L.A., and I hadn't heard him or seen him in a while, so my wife Dominique and I thought we'd go check him out.  We arrived at the hall, and one of Van's crew said he wanted me to go to the dressing room before going out and taking my seat.  Well, we went back, and he was there all alone, and we talked for a few minutes about nothing in particular, then the Irish L.A. crowd dropped by, paid their respects, and then they headed to their seats.  Finally, Van said, "Why don't you come up and play a song with me tonight?"  And I told him, "Aw, jeez, I'd rather just sit back and enjoy the show."  And he said, "Come on, we'll do Caravan.  You know that one."  I said, "If I have to come up and play, it's going to be a distraction; that's all I'm going to be thinking about for the whole show, and I won't be able to enjoy it the same way."  He said, "I'm asking you as a friend to come up and play."  And Dominique said, "What's a matter with you? Your friend is asking you to go and play with him." He said, "I'll tell you what.  I'll do the whole show, then you just come up in the encore," and explained that in the middle of the song, he would break it down real quiet, and that he wanted me to come out and start playing, and that we'd build it up, and we'd build it up, and then kick it into the end, the 'Na na na na,'" the section we were just playing in the thing there. So before the encore, we went backstage, and they had this guitar all ready, and he repeated the arrangement idea to me again.  So he went back out and started doing the song - but he was doing it, like, 190 miles an hour, and I thought, "You can't play nothing at this tempo."  And it went on, and on, and on, and then he ended it.  I thought he forgot, and I was off the hook, but then they started playing some jazz song; then Van steps up to the mic, and with great flare, introduces me.  Now, if you're gonna do a jazz song, I'm not the one to call.  So I walked out on the stage, where I wanted to assassinate him on the spot, and said to him, "What the hell is this?"  And he kind of twirled around and said, "I don't know."  Then I remembered back when we first met, and he asked where I learned to play like that, and I said, "I don't know," and I thought, well maybe this is a payback.  So anyway, I was trying to figure out what key they were in, what the chords were, and this god-awful sound was coming out of my guitar, and Van was saying, "That's it, that's it," and the guys in his band were yelling, "You got it man!  You got it!" And I thought it sounded like Yusa Vlatief [?] on acid.  But then it started making some kind of strange sense, and pretty soon the audience was yelling and standing up, and it was like being in a nightmare from jazz hell.  Then all of a sudden, he grabbed the mic, danced over to me, and sang in my face, "What a wonderful night for a Moondance..."  And then I knew where we were.  When the song was over, he whispered to me that he had some plans for us after the show.  But this time, I got up and left, and Dominique and I escaped into the night.  So that's what kind of man we're dealing with here.

Van Morrison's body of work is astounding; it speaks for itself.  We don't need to name off these songs - we all know how it affects us.  And in the tradition of the great Irish poets and the great soul singers, he is the Caruso of rock and roll, and I'll treasure his music and his friendship forever.  So it is my honor to induct my man Van into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tonight.  Thank you. 

 As you might have guessed, Van isn't here tonight.  He just got up and left.  But he sent me this fax to read to you.  And it says, "Ladies and gentlemen, due to work commitments in Europe beyond my control, I am unable to attend this induction dinner, and personally receive my award.  However, thank you very much for inviting me, and I would like to take this opportunity of wishing you all a very enjoyable evening, and hope that everything goes well.  Best Wishes, from Van Morrison." 

There's a new band of musicians that I know, that you can hear some of Van's influence in their songs, and I thought it would be appropriate to have some new blood as well on this occasion.  So doing a Van Morrison classic, let me introduce Counting Crows."