Even R.E.M., inducted while still relatively young, had to overcome crisis to reach this point. As Eddie Vedder noted in his otherwise whimsical induction speech, drummer Bill Berry suffered a brain aneurysm onstage in 1995 and subsequently retired from the band; his performance Monday at the Waldorf Astoria was one of the evening's most hotly anticipated. R.E.M. chose three relatively subdued songs, the best of which was a shimmering "Gardening at Night." The dotage of indie rock had officially begun. At least Michael Stipe, in a gleaming white suit, made a dashing older man.
It was Smith, though, who pushed through the creeping solemnity to bring back that reckless rock spirit. Joining her friend Stipe and his bandmates, she ripped into "I Wanna Be Your Dog," an extended snarl by Iggy Pop and the Stooges, whose induction next year now seems inevitable. Then she led a stage full of inductees and random celebrities in a rousing version of "People Have the Power," a song she wrote two decades ago with her late husband. Smith has transformed that song by sheer force of will from a marginal catalog cut to a progressive anthem. Mentioning her departed soul mate again, with a huge smile instead of tears, Smith showed that there's still some truth in the idea of rock immortality.