Rock Hall: Fame or Shame?
From now until Monday, The Second Disc will be bringing out some features and opinions on Monday’s upcoming Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions. Let’s start with a column that ultimately addresses what a mixed blessing the Hall can be.
Few music-oriented entities draw so much criticism and debate as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In its 25-year history, it has inducted 165 artists into its ranks (with another five to be inducted on Monday), spurring decades-long debates about which of them were truly worthy, what constituted the nature of rock music and so on. But if some reports to be believed, the Rock Hall could continue to lose the dwindling credibility it grasps onto and turn into a legacy edition of the Grammys.
Roger Friedman, famed gossip columnist for The Hollywood Reporter, filed a story in January speculating that in 2011, the eligibility gap will be lowered from 25 years (as in, artists are up for nomination 25 years after their first release) to 20.
It’s easy to dump on Friedman’s credibility; in 2009, he was fired from FOX News for posting a review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine based on the infamously leaked workprint of the movie, in which he touched on how easy it was to find the film online. But he’s also a gadfly who seems to have good sources within the Rock Hall. In 2007 he filed a report stating that The Dave Clark Five was actually voted as the fifth nominee but then-newly designated Rock Hall chairman/Rolling Stone founder/publisher Jann Wenner decided to induct Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five (allegedly the sixth-highest vote-getter) instead. (A spokesperson denied vote fixing to the Cleveland Plain Dealer and The DC5 were inducted the next year.)
Whatever the veracity his claims may be, one may look at this potential decision with derision. Friedman’s report says the committee is sweating the shallow pool of brand-new inductees for 2011 – apparently Sting is the only definitive choice – and would change the rules to get artists like Guns N’ Roses, Green Day, Nirvana or Public Enemy into the ranks.
There are two problems with this line of thinking. One is obvious, the other less so.
First, the obvious one (which even Friedman points out): there are plenty of already-eligible artists who deserve induction into the Rock Hall. Chubby Checker, Neil Diamond, Billy Preston, Carole King, CHIC, KISS, Mary Wells – those are just a few names that should have no trouble getting in. And yet a band like KISS were only first nominated this year.
The other problem is this: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame needs to make a more definitive, credible statement about what they’re trying to put on a pedestal. Their Web site states, “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. is the nonprofit organization that exists to educate visitors, fans and scholars from around the world about the history and continuing significance of rock and roll music.” Which is fine and dandy. But what they need to do is educate people on what rock and roll truly is – it’s not a few chords, electric guitars and an amp. It’s a tradition that bleeds through all genres, be they pop, R&B, rap, dance or country.
In recent years people have balked about some of the inductees. This year, ABBA is being inducted. Many would say that’s absurd, since they did disposable disco. No way! Their discography was some of the most popular dance music in the entire world. People who would never go to a Broadway show will go to see Mamma Mia! Their popularity is but one part of their significance, though – their tunes are really good.
Same with the rap acts who’ve been inducted, namely Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five (in 2007) and Run-D.M.C. (in 2009). Their instruments might have been wheels of steel instead of six strings, but they moved as many just the same.
And let’s not forget some of the artists who are already in. Acts like Ray Charles, Isaac Hayes, Solomon Burke, The Jackson 5, Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, The Bee Gees, Miles Davis and Madonna greatly expanded the horizons of how rock is and sounds. To flush out an act on such dubious merits as “well they’re not really rock artists” is a fool’s errand.
When the time comes for Guns N’ Roses, Green Day and Nirvana to get their due, it will be a deserved honor indeed. But that time shouldn’t be next year. Now, Wenner and company need to skip the ageist nonsense and put the real rock back into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.