Bruce Springsteen released his first two albums 50 years ago, in 1973 — a year in which the top-selling single happened to be Tony Orlando & Dawn’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree.” Every fan of popular music was aware of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” of course, and Springsteen had not yet broken through the mainstream. But anyone who was aware of both would have undoubtedly seen them as representing opposite ends of the musical spectrum.
It took a half-century, but Springsteen and Orlando were finally onstage together, Oct. 29 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, standing next to each other as they sang backing vocals to the show’s grand finale, which was the Joe Cocker arrangement of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
It’s not that I never thought I would see this. I never could have even conceived of it happening.
The occasion was this year’s New Jersey Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Springsteen was there to induct his wife, Patti Scialfa.
“As a songwriter, Patti is second to none,” said Springsteen. “She has three albums out of greatly written work. Her deft lyrical work and her feeling for its soulful accompaniment is her hallmark.”
“Music is powerful,” said Scialfa. “It’s just so powerful. All kinds of music. … It can inform you. It can resonate back to you a part of who you are, who you’d like to become. I was fortunate to meet and work with so many brilliant musicians and artists, and find a piece of that world, a little piece of that world for myself. And I’m so deeply grateful to the many people I’ve worked with who have reflected back to me the beauty and transformative power of music.”
(To read the Scialfa and Springsteen speeches in their entirety, click HERE.)
Orlando was there as an inductee with his longtime friend Dionne Warwick doing the honors, in person, and Clive Davis and Joe Piscopo sending taped messages. Orlando called it “a major lifetime moment” for him, and said he will be retiring, in 2024, after 64 years in show business.
“The Sopranos” creator David Chase was inducted by E Street Band member and “Sopranos” actor Steven Van Zandt, which was kind of fitting, since it was a Van Zandt induction speech (for The Rascals, entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) that gave Chase the idea to use him as an actor in the first place.
I thought Van Zandt gave the best and funniest speech of the night. He described Chase as a “game-changer” and said that with “The Sopranos,” he “transformed a medium that once was … let’s face it, mostly mindless entertainment, with narrative depth, ambiguous morality, elevated anti-heroes to protagonists, and took TV from the bottom of the entertainment hierarchy, all the way to the top.”
Chase spoke lovingly about his family and about the Meadowlands, which he said has been a “creative wellspring” for him and “a dreamscape, especially at the age of 5 or 6. Blinking lights from the top of radio towers. The deep black rivers, which always got my attention. … I don’t know why, but it got me.”
(To read the Chase and Van Zandt speeches in their entirety, click HERE).
Danny DeVito served as the evening’s host, and was perfect in that role: funny, enthusiastic and down-to-earth. “It’s three years since I had to do this with pants on,” he said, referring to the fact that this was the first time the induction ceremony was in-person, again, after going virtual during the pandemic.
Smithereens co-founders Jim Babak and Dennis Diken, joined by Marshall Crenshaw on guitar and vocals and Graham Maby on bass, performed the Smithereens song “Behind the Wall of Sleep.” (The band was inducted into the hall in 2018.)
Glen Burtnik led the house band, which backed Orlando on “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” 2017 New Jersey Hall of Fame inductee Gloria Gaynor on her disco classic “I Will Survive,” former Rolling Stones backing vocalist Lisa Fischer on a gritty version of the Stones’ “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)” and former Billy Joel band member Mark Rivera on Joel’s power ballad, “This Is the Time.”
Burtnik and the house band also backed everyone on the show-closing “With a Little Help From My Friends,” which featured lead vocals by the Newark-based singer Freedom Bremner (who wore a “Newark Is for Artists” T-shirt) and Rivera.
Springsteen, Scialfa and Van Zandt were not onstage for the start of this song, but soon came out, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, and sang along, with Orlando joining them.
Other 2023 New Jersey Hall of Fame inductees include Tiki Barber, Sue Wicks, Finn Wentworth, Josh Weston, the late Steve Adubato Sr., the late Charles Edison, the late George Shultz, the George Segal, and the late Dorothy Porter Wesley.
Hall officials spoke, during the ceremony, about the opening of the New Jersey Hall of Fame Entertainment and Learning Center at the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, in the spring.
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