February 06, 1989 12:00 PM

They are not quite at the threshold of Geritol, pensions and Social Security, but some of rock and roll’s more illustrious princelings are reaching that certain age when they’d rather not think about such things. Small wonder then that irony was the headliner at the fourth annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, as the honorees warded off age and respectability with self-mocking humor. Mick Jagger, 45—who once said he “couldn’t imagine singing ‘Satisfaction’ at 40″—ruefully accepted the Rolling Stones’ elevation to what he called “the waxworks of rock.” The Who’s Pete Townshend, 43, said joining the Hall “means you’re finished, doesn’t it?” Little Richard, 56, who was an inductee himself in 1986, was another dubious presenter. Decked out in his trademark sequins and glistening pompadour, he sang a stirring tribute to Otis Redding and then screamed out in pseudo-rage, “I don’t know why you all don’t record me. I’m still here and I look decent.”

The singer’s comic pitch drew applause and laughter from the biggest names in the music business, gathered two weeks ago at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for what Atlantic Records chairman Ahmet Ertegun called “a celebration of the most important artists of the most popular music in the world.” No one accused him of overstatement. Though the $48 million Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum in Cleveland isn’t scheduled to open until 1992, the annual induction dinner has become the music event of the year. Along with the Rolling Stones, this year’s new Hall of Famers were Dion, 49, Stevie Wonder, 38, producer Phil Spector, 48 (see page 84), the late Redding, the Temptations, and early influences Bessie Smith, the Ink Spots and the Soul Stirrers.

At least temporarily putting a stop to stories of their feud, the Stones’ main mouth embraced the band’s wild man, Keith Richards, 45, as they took to the podium with guitarist Ron Wood, 41, and former Stone Mick Taylor, 41. (The notoriously shy Charlie Watts, 47, and Bill Wyman, 52, were not present.) In awarding the Stones their statuette, Pete Townshend carried on the tone of the evening with a pretty good imitation of Don Rickles. “It’s wonderful to note that Ronnie Wood, at his tender age, still has his own teeth,” he said. “Bill Wyman got such a big advance for his book…obviously, the book is expected to sell more copies than the last couple of Stones albums.” In turn, the Stones seemed somewhat puzzled by the honor, and fearful of premature interment. Jagger quoted French avant-garde poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau: “Americans are funny people. First you shock them, then they put you in a museum.”

For all the determination not to seem self-important, the rockers were touchingly eager to praise their musical ancestors. Daryl Hall and John Oates, a team again after recent solo projects, paid tribute to their inspiration, the Temptations. “We tried to emulate them,” Hall said, “but we never got close.” The evening was also a time to reflect—not always nostalgically—on the industry as it used to be. Dion recalled that he earned little more than $14,000 for his 1962 hit, “The Wanderer.” “Bruce Springsteen has $42 million on him now,” he said. “And that’s for the kid who parked his car.”

The Boss, on hand with his band member-girlfriend, Patti Scialfa, laughed as loud as the rest, and soon joined the inductees onstage—along with Tina Turner, Paul Simon, Lou Reed, Hall and Oates, Pete Townshend, Anita Baker and Little Richard—for the evening’s 60-minute all-star jam. Highlights included Wonder playing keyboards on “Satisfaction,” Springsteen recalling the late Roy Orbison with a heartfelt rendition of “Crying” (Orbison’s widow, Barbara, was seated at Bruce’s table), and Turner singing “River Deep, Mountain High.” Tina’s ex-husband, Ike Turner, a guest of Spector’s, had already split.

Still around 24 years after he summed up “My Generation” with “I hope I die before I get old,” future inductee Townshend seemed to share Jagger’s fear of becoming a museum piece. Offering an epitaph to the festivities, he conceded the inevitable but pleaded with the Stones, “Guys, whatever you do, don’t try to grow old gracefully. It wouldn’t suit you.”

—Steve Dougherty, and Peter Castro in New York

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