Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach has had multiple “sleepless nights” since inducting Steve Miller into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last Friday night. Miller has become the unlikely focal point of the ceremony after calling the music industry “fuckin’ gangsters and crooks” and lobbing verbal grenades at his record label rep (“I wanted to pull him by his necktie and kick him in the nuts”) and the Hall of Fame itself (“Everybody is kind of a dick and an asshole.”)
But while many on social media have applauded the 72-year-old rocker’s candor, Auerbach, who grew up a huge Miller fan, sees it differently. “He said, ‘The whole process was unpleasant,'” Auerbach tells Rolling Stone. “And for [Black Keys drummer] Pat [Carney] and I, honestly, the most unpleasant part was being around him.” The group left Barclays Center midway through Miller’s performance and never came back.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, the typically jovial Auerbach sounded despondent, using the word “disappointed” numerous times to describe his encounter with Miller and experience that night. For the first time in 30 years, an artist has essentially recanted his induction speech, with the guitarist-singer, speaking on behalf of the group, wanting to explain his side of Friday night.
What do you think about what’s happened the past four days?
Um, well, I guess Pat and I definitely… [Pauses] I guess we felt, I don’t know, we read a lot of things and we got a really uncomfortable feeling when we first met Steve. He had no idea who we were. No idea. The first thing he told us was, “I can’t wait to get out of here.” He knew that we signed up to do this speech for him. And he made no effort to even [laughs uncomfortably] — he didn’t even figure out who we were. I don’t live in New York City. This is like three days out of my life flying from Nashville and leaving my kids at home.
It was just a real eye-opener for us. Because as we get older, I hope that when I’m in my twilight years, I can look back and be grateful to the people who have appreciated me and to be able to give back. Because music is about sharing and passing on inspiration and that was his opportunity to do that; not just lashing out in a way that was just completely unfocused.
“I just had a couple sleepless nights. He really disappointed us.”
What was your initial reaction when you realized that he didn’t know or care who you were?
Pat and I were both definitely disappointed, to say the least. But you never really know what to expect when you meet quote unquote “superstars.” Rock & roll superstars, it used to be different for them. Playing stadiums and selling millions and millions of albums. It’s almost like he doesn’t have respect for the younger generations and how hard it is in the business today. When he made his first record, he did it at Olympic Studios with Glyn Johns. Pat and I made our first record in a basement with broken gear.
But we were there for the same reasons. Because we love music and because I felt like we had a connection just because I come from a place where I love blues music and so does he. And at least we had that connection, but that ended up not mattering in the end.
After he found out who you were, did he make any attempt before or after your speech to say anything to you?
A very mild attempt and it was disingenuous. It almost made it feel worse. He said, “The whole process was unpleasant.” And for Pat and I, honestly, the most unpleasant part was being around him.
You told Rolling Stone after the event, though, that you said, in response to him asking who you were, “That’s why we love you. You don’t pay attention to anything that’s going on in the business.”
Yeah, we didn’t want to stir any shit. We realized right away that he didn’t care, so we were trying to tiptoe around him. But the more we keep hearing about it, the more I just wanted to let people know how we felt about the whole situation.
Looking back on the whole event and its aftermath, do you regret accepting the invitation to induct him?
Uh, yeah. Pat and I both regret it. [Long pause.] It’s unfortunate. Of course there are problems in the music industry. Of course. But we were there, unpaid, on our own free will, to come celebrate his achievements and spread the joy of rock & roll. To inspire kids to pick up guitars. To play music. And it felt like we were doing the opposite.
Was there anything he said to us or backstage that rang true?
Listen, I just want people to know that he’s allowed to say whatever he wants, of course. But he does not speak for me. He does not speak for Pat. And some of the things he said is just [pauses, sighs] I don’t know. I really don’t know. It’s weird. He called the whole thing “a boys’ club.” The Steve Miller band has had 35 members and no women. It was just very disappointing, And I’m not looking for anything, really. I just wanted people to just know how Pat and I felt. That’s all.
Did you stick around after the induction to…
[Replies immediately] We were so disappointed that as soon as we got offstage, we left while he was playing. We left immediately. We walked right outside and left the fucking building. I went back home and picked up my guitar.
“I hated the feeling in my gut of being connected to that negativity.”
What was the conversation like between you and Pat after you guys go offstage?
You know Pat and I, we don’t do that kind of shit! We don’t do speeches. We’ve never done a speech! We put ourselves out there to begin with. That’s not our comfort zone. So we weren’t wanted by him there, so we sure as fuck weren’t going to hang around. That’s about what it was like.
Everybody at the Rock Hall was great. It’s always so easy for a fucking artist to rag on a big institution. It really is. And a lot of times you have to do that and it’s necessary. But me personally, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has only ever really brought me joy since I was a teenager! I used to go there with my dad [when] they would do workshops. They’re responsible for a lot of really positive things in my life. So when they asked us to do this, as much as I wanted to do it for Steve Miller, I wanted to do it for the Rock Hall. Because it has been a form of inspiration for me. It really has. I don’t care if it sounds corny or not, but they have been. It just all felt pretty terrible.
You know what happens in this business, the longer Pat and I are in it? When you get wealthy, when you get famous, it doesn’t change you. It only amplifies who you are deep down inside. If you’re just a grumpy guy, then you’re just an extra grumpy guy [laughs]. But we learned just as much from that as we do from meeting nice people.
Was this a “teachable moment”?
Yeah, of course! Of course. I just want to know that I can look back and be grateful to people and help people to be excited about music. I guess that’s what it should have all been about. We were genuine fans and we didn’t sugarcoat it! We didn’t sugarcoat it! We definitely feel the connection because we were from the Midwest and we’re making blues-based music. I don’t know. It was just, I don’t know. I just had a couple sleepless nights. He really disappointed us.
Anything else to add?
There’s a time and a place to stand up and be angry. But when people are honoring you for how great you are, that’s not the fucking time or place. It was the only story everyone talked about. It overshadowed Kendrick [Lamar]’s message of positivity and it’s totally unfortunate. And I hated being a part of that. I hated the feeling in my gut of being connected to that negativity.
Would you induct someone again if asked?
[Laughs] Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know, man. I really don’t know. I think I’d rather stay at home and hang out with my kids, to be honest.