Be a champion on the walls of the hall of fame

Hoo boy.

There have been previous inductees in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who have turned their noses up at the honor, but this year, veteran rocker Steve Miller basically dropped a big turd in the Rock Hall punch bowl with his withering remarks following last week’s ceremony.

“This little get-together you guys have here is like a private boys’ club, and it’s a bunch of jackasses and jerks and f–king gangsters and crooks,” he said in a post-ceremony press conference and later interview, adding that the organizers disrespect the artists and make the induction experience “so unpleasant.  And every artist you talk to will tell you that.  You need to become more transparent (regarding the nomination process), and you need to include a lot more people.”

Miller’s comments may have been rude, unprofessional, and lacking taste and class…but hey, so is a lot of rock and roll, isn’t it?

His incendiary diatribe is certainly not a first.  In 2006, the Sex Pistols, Britain’s most in -your-face punk band, made it brutally clear in a rambling, incoherent letter that they would not be attending any induction ceremony.  “Next to the Sex Pistols, rock and roll and that Hall of Fame is a piss stain,” it began.  “Your museum:  Urine in wine.  We’re not coming.  We’re not your monkey, and so what?”  In 2012, Guns ‘n Roses frontman Axl Rose basically gave the middle finger to the Rock Hall, saying, “I strongly request that I not be inducted in absentia… Neither former members, label representatives nor the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should imply…that I am part of any purported induction of Guns ‘n Roses.”

Ever since the idea of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was first floated back in the early 1980s, critics took the opportunity to trash it.  “Preposterous,” “idiotic,” “laughable.”  Many felt that institutionalizing something as rebellious and anti-authority as rock and roll was oxymoronic — with an emphasis on the moronic.

Rock and roll music, they said, is inherently populist.  It’s “the sound of America’s disenfranchised and dispossessed cultures,” wrote Tim Sommer of  the Salon.com news/entertainment website.  “It’s the angry but ecstatic dynamite of the MC5 and the apocalyptic beauty of Tim Buckley.  Any attempt to memorialize it in a single building or organization is destined to fail.”

On the other hand, a hall of fame and museum, by definition, would be an elitist shrine created by and voted on by a “politburo of industry insiders” who carry the baggage of personal biases for and/or against specific artists and genres, rendering it “immediately irrelevant and exclusionary.”

But rather than being the cheesy embarrassment some predicted, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, has turned out to be an architecturally amazing structure that houses an astounding array of artifacts and information about the strange exhilarating world of rock music.  Anyone with even a modest appreciation of rock and roll can get lost in the place for hours and hours, marveling at the arcane collectors items (John Lennon’s school report cards), the iconic outfits worn by rock idols from multiple eras, the comprehensive interactive displays teeming with historical data and fascinating trivia, and the special exhibits that have visited the hall on a rotating basis.

Is there enough Motown?  Enough death metal?  Enough roots rock?  Enough pure pop?  Who can say?

Let’s face it, it really is kind of a fool’s errand in the first place to attempt to determine which artists and genres belong in a hall of fame to rock and roll.  Since its birth in the mid-’50s as a mongrel stew of blues, country, folk, jazz, bebop and R&B, rock and roll has spawned an astonishing and dysfunctional family of offshoots, each of which may or may not be considered rock music.  You could make a plausible argument for or against any of these subgroups:  folk rock, acid rock, country rock, Top 40, soul, progressive rock, bubblegum, singer-songwriter, funk, punk, heavy metal, new wave, classical/orchestral rock, disco, techno, dance club, hip-hop, retro swing, electronica, Americana, emo, and I’m sure I’ve left out a couple dozen more.

To no one’s surprise, various factions have been arguing every year about who is qualified to be enshrined, who should be inducted ahead of whom, how many inductees per year, which genres are under-represented, which genders, which ethnic groups, which regions of the country and the world, yada yada yada.  There are really no right or wrong answers here, just a huge clusterf–k of opinions with almost everyone going home unhappy.

For the first three or four years, the selection of nominees met with little resistance.  After all, who could argue with such pioneers as Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown and Elvis Presley?  Or Bo Diddley, Bill Haley, Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson and Roy Orbison?  Or The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, The Supremes and The Drifters?

And yet, even then it was clear that rock and roll included more than pure rock and roll music.  The R&B of Brown, Gaye, Franklin and Robinson was a decidedly different cup of tea than the rockabilly of Berry, Holly, Lewis and Perkins.  King and Waters, meanwhile, were true bluesmen, and Dylan’s music was folk-based.  The variety that defines rock and roll was already evident.

From The Who to Simon and Garfunkel, from Hank Ballard to Bob Marley, from The Four Tops to The Four Seasons, the inductees in the Hall’s first ten years offered a cornucopia of styles and influences, and that diversity has only continued to grow almost exponentially ever since.  Look at 2012, when the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Donovan, The Small Faces, Laura Nyro and The Beastie Boys were installed in the same year.

But naturally, not everybody is happy about that diversity.  It took many years and a lot of arm twisting for Kiss to be inducted in 2014 because some purists found them all show and no substance.  Two years later, Gene Simmons of Kiss publicly ranted that hip-hop music, and N.W.A. in particular, were NOT rock and roll and shouldn’t qualify.  “You’re killing me,” he said.  “They don’t play guitar.  They sample and they talk.  They don’t even sing.”

Ice Cube of N.W.A. responded, “Are we rock ‘n roll?  You goddamn right we are.  Rock and roll is not an instrument, not even a style of music.  It’s a spirit that’s been going on since the blues.”

Hey, can’t we all just get along?

As for the malcontents like Miller, they’re decidedly in the minority.  For the most part, those who have been voted in over the past three decades have accepted the honor enthusiastically, graciously and professionally, albeit with a healthy dose of irreverence now and then.  And it’s often been very moving when a titan has been inducted by a disciple, like when Bruce Springsteen inducted Dylan, or when Melissa Etheridge inducted Janis Joplin, or when Hall & Oates introduced The Temptations.

Still, the induction ceremonies have not been without tension and controversial absences. Rules about inducting only a band’s original lineup has caused a fuss because it was sometimes selectively enforced, and because replacement members occasionally made contributions as important as or even longer-lasting than those of original members.

Chicago finally made the cut this year, but only the original seven members were installed, even though later additions like bassist Jason Scheff, drummer Tris Imboden and keyboardist/singer Bill Champlin each served in the band for more than 25 years.  When Fleetwood Mac was inducted in 1998, all significant members past and present were included, with the curious exception of Bob Welch, the vital guitarist/vocalist/songwriter who held the band together during the lean middle years before they became superstars.

Similarly, some members of Black Sabbath, Heart, Alice Cooper, Nirvana and other veteran bands were snubbed at induction time, while The Grateful Dead strong-armed the Hall into getting their way by threatening a boycott unless all former and current members (14 in all) were included.

Sometimes a band’s induction into the hall has been marred when a key member refused to attend because of ongoing personality differences.  Most famously, Paul McCartney was a no-show at The Beatles’ 1988 induction because he claimed it would be “disingenuous” to appear on stage with George Harrison and Ringo Starr (and the late John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono) because of legal matters still unresolved between them at the time. Other infamous refusals to appear included Diana Ross with The Supremes, John Fogerty with Creedence, Grace Slick with Jefferson Airplane, Roger Waters with Pink Floyd, Eric Burdon with The Animals and Neil Young with Buffalo Springfield.

By far the biggest stink raised about the Hall of Fame involves who has been inducted and who hasn’t.  Conspiracy theorists claim some artists have been blackballed by influential members of the nominating committee (especially by head honcho Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone) while others believe back-room attempts are made to ensure inductions from one genre over another, or newer artists crowding out older artists.

To be sure, the fact that only 40 people — music industry people, mostly — sit on the nominating committee and operate in secret doesn’t sit well with the public.  The voting committee, at least, is a bit more representative, with more than 750 members, including musicians, songwriters and journalists, and even the fans now get to vote for their favorites when they visit the rock hall (although their many thousands of votes are distilled down to only ONE vote in the counting process).

I’m a child of the ’60s and ’70s, and I believe there are a number of artists whose absence from the Hall of Fame is fairly glaring, especially in light of lesser bands from more recent eras who have been installed instead.  It’s very difficult for me to understand why The Moody Blues, Dire Straits, Jethro Tull, John Mayall, The Doobie Brothers, Yes, Bad Company and Roxy Music are missing from the ranks.  I could keep going:  Procol Harum, Little Feat, Journey, Joe Jackson, Spirit, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Three Dog Night, The Guess Who, and The Monkees.  (Yes, the Monkees!  Hey, in 1967, they outsold the Beatles and the Stones combined.)

Rock fans from a younger demographic would no doubt roll their eyes at some of these names, leaning instead in favor of what they feel are worthy bands from the ’80s and ’90s who deserve to have been inducted by now:  The Smiths, Kate Bush, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, Sonic Youth, The Pixies, New Order, Depeche Mode.

The battles about who is inducted will rage indefinitely, and here’s why.  Artists are eligible once 25 years have passed since their first official release.  As of this year, that brings the number of eligible choices to nearly 2,000.  If we assume 80-90% of those don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being nominated, let alone winning, that still leaves around 250 worthy candidates…but only five or six artists are inducted each year.  That translates to a lot of pissed off fans feeling cheated.

Oh, what the hell.  What does it really matter anyway?   It’s only rock and roll…

 

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One comment

  1. Paul Vayda · April 15, 2016

    You very effectively define the love/hate relationship that the grass roots rock world has with rock’s media elites. Yet the Hall’s allure to those who want to touch Rock n Roll in one place, keep people like me (3 times!) coming to see it. I revile that the Hall has excluded some of my personal favourites, while inducting artists of little fame who supposedly “influenced” rock in some arcane way. The hidden sarcasm in your boxed Elvis quote “Wise men say only fools rush in” says it all when it took until 2013 to induct Rush, one of the most popular bands in the world for 30 years. Excluding bands like Rush and Chicago until very recently, and totally snubbing Moody Blues and the Guess Who, while inducting groups like the Flamingos, really show the bias toward American roots over popular prog rock and “foreigners”.
    One missing element in your article – why has this happened? I have no idea who is in charge of all this controversy, and I would love to know.

    Liked by 1 person

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