Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Just Another Commercialized, Self-Congratulatory Establishment

First Published in Pressplus1 Online Magazine:

I am not one to bemoan educating younger folks about the great music that the second half of the 20th Century has produced... But is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame really the way? I suppose it can help but it doesn't really need to be there to provide this. At the very least, their own exclusivity raises questions of how they leave in or out who they want at whim.

With the help of books (almost a lost concept now that we have the internet at our behest) along with the music itself, I learned plenty. And I keep on learning. Now, surfing the web enhances and improves on that but the basis came by listening and reading. All this Hall of fame cheesiness serves to do is to get aging fans a glimpse of their aging heroes getting an honour from aging executives, journalists and other media types who make/made the rock scene run.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum

Hey, no problem with growing old, but what they leave out and how they present memorabilia just rubs me the wrong way. It does bother me that while classical and jazz music have gone academic, getting PBS specials, preservation projects and museums, rock & roll has to be lowered to becoming a commercialized shrine. It was always a phenomenon about breaking up the ennui but underneath it all was the seedy desire to get some bang for the buck and that's manifested itself over the past 25 years or so.

Reflecting on these last 25 years, perhaps rock is making a slow transition to being old, buried and cultist itself. Or it's fragmented so often that we can't really say it's gone into the underground like jazz did. It's all music history but we just like to categorize it in order to coherently speak of it.

So is the monster known as rock & roll really that becoming of a staid museum or of stuffy intellectual analysis? No not really, unless it's going to be done in documentary form and as well as Martin Scorcese has captured it with his series on the blues, not to mention No Direction Home, a look at Bob Dylan's early years that should be required viewing for fans of the 60s culture in general.

But to be reduced to an exclusive club that has become just like the Grammys, putting notoriety ahead of influence? That grinds my gears a tad. A Hall of fame in general is not necessarily like curse to creativity or anything. No mere mortals get in and it's not necessarily a popularity contest, or else Glen Campbell'd be in for crying out loud.

The Sex Pistols' letter of rejection to the HallMind you, I don't loathe them the way John Lydon has made clear he does, when he and the Sex Pistols refused to show up for their own R&R HOF induction ceremony via a barely legible, crudely written letter. Articulate and verbose isn't protocol for the Pistols, after all. But hey, Lydon hates almost everything anyway, right?

Still, despite being against the Hall on principle, the Pistols were one of the few to mock their own awarders. That and they had a legitimate gripe that to bring any friends or relatives, one had to shell out $25,000 for their own 10-seat table.

Then Madonna's rather hastened induction in 2008, in my opinion, gave her the opportunity to thumb her nose at authority once more, drafting in Iggy Pop & the Stooges for her two performance slots. It was a shot fired across the bow at the Hall for a particular complaint many were carrying — the long-standing snub to the convention-defying, groundbreaking Iggy & his former bandmates.

One year later, Iggy & company were in but Ron Asheton had passed away due to a heart attack, thus shaming the Hall. As always, what Madonna wants, Madonna gets. This mishandling of the Hall that I speak of all makes sense considering rock has been cheapened and cashed in on endlessly for its prime years of ruling the charts. I don't quite mean musically, just marketing-wise.

Madonna gets what Madonna wants: Iggy in the HallIt's hardly a new phenomenon, just one magnified by the tech revolution's spawning of the global community. So is the fact that a star can be born out of barely anything remotely talented, so therefore the promoters have been just as vital in causing the great fame known to rock fans since the genre exploded onto the pop scene. When a generation of artists faded for the most part and became primarily known for their "oldies," nostalgia bucks became the target.

I only feel sorry for the 50s legends that never got the true corporate push when they were relegated to the circuit in the 60s and 70s, barely struggling to get along. They had to "sell out" just to keep their lifestyle going. And the black musicians who played a big role got it even worse due to racism.

Putting aside the crass presentation of rock's history by the Hall, I must pick a bone with the induction decision making. If you're going to have a Hall of fame, why not at least get it right? Most of the time, those who deserve it do get in. But when we look at the reasons — influence, importance, timelessness, achievements alike — then this is not held up 100% of the time.

Lynyrd Skynyrd and Iggy Pop & the Stooges were obviously short-lived, lasting in their first finalized lineups for 6 and 7 years respectively. Both had to wait at least a decade after eligibility but Madonna and U2 get in immediately? Politicking at its best. These latter two artists are no doubt more famous worldwide and made people way more money, therefore their recognition comes sooner.

Bono with Fergie at the Hall's 25th AnniversaryWhatever happened to treating everyone fair? Is their criteria dependent on being known worldwide or something? And does a Hall of Fame have to get on that gravy train? What's to gain? They can put display cases of Bono's Zooropa tour wardrobe or Madonna's famous cone-shaped bra before inducting them in.

And when the icon you grew up with gets in, you feel old, which I know will be a crisis point for Gen X'ers when Pearl Jam gets in sometime in the next decade (2016 is their eligibility!). Pearl Jam's constant triumph of will over the corporate machine and its legions of fans should be enough to get them in right away.

But lord knows, after pissing off MTV (for not making videos) and Ticketmaster (for demanding they lower ticket prices for fans), Pearl Jam is hardly on their way because they pleased capitalists alike. Anyway, time irons out both the pretenders from the real things but also goes easier on groups that generated howls of revolt in their time.

The Eagles are a shining example of a mega-successful band that survived on classic rock radio, broke up in their prime and managed to outlast the majority of the negative press from rock circles that said they were bland, boring, sterile and overhyped.

There was a lot of it from critics who'd gone through the 60s and were sickened that the end result produced a safe, commercial, banal 70s supergroup answer in essence. Yes, the Eagles, despite their record breaking achievements, were scathed in their time too. Meanwhile, there's a case like Genesis. They got in a few years back, after 5 years of eligibility or so, but hardly on the backs of their prog rock days with Peter Gabriel.

Grandmaster Flash - Legitimizing hip-hop as rockI am positive that the fact Genesis survived well enough to enjoy megastardom a decade later made their prog heroism all the more relevant to most and got them inducted. U2 and Madonna are still big draws in concert and release albums plenty of people care about, even if some feel their former work overshadows it — a criticism mainly heard about U2.

The ones who toiled in obscurity but put greatness down on record need their respect. Before giving Madonna and U2 their due, why not focus on the influences who didn't achieve superstardom? Recognizing Grandmaster Flash was a step in the right direction but done right away, as if to legitemize hip-hop within the rock elite community.

And believe me. A big list is out there of deserving inductees. Despite their universal respect, several have not been inducted and have little chance of seeing such an honour. Now I know there's only so much room and I do not want or expect all the following to get their due. Behold the shame:

Captain Beefheart, the Replacements, the New York Dolls, the Fall, Nick Drake, Husker Du, the Jam, Bill Withers, Loudon Wainwright III, Marianne Faithful, John Prine, the Mekons, Todd Rundgren (?), Nina Simone (?), MarsHall Crenshaw, Joy Division/New Order, Big Star (now hardly a living embodiment due to the passing of Chris Bell in 1979 and Alex Chilton earlier this year), Nick Lowe, Mott the Hoople, Graham Parker, Kate Bush, Kraftwerk, Lee Dorsey, Television, Roxy Music, XTC, Tom Waits, Sonic Youth (unless you go by their major label debut which wasn't until 1988), the Spinners, Warren Zevon...

Tom Waits - Too odd for the Hall?Woo, I need a breather. I could be forgetting some. Do all of them really need to get in? Well, if you lower the bar enough then yes. The Hall's carrying double standards. While all we hear about it how KISS isn't in, these luminaries are left out in the cold.

Yet every musician and his dog from the 50s get their due so any point about cult artists being exempt is ludicrous. I will not begrudge the 50s and 60s for getting mad hype in the Hall, because those eras were arguably better than what came after. However, I sense a little bit of exclusivist bias perhaps.

Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers? As important as they were in doo-wop, they barely lasted and one could say if not for the fact Lymon was a 13-year wunderkind and "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" was classic, they'd hardly be a blip on the radar.

Richie Valens got in, and despite being very influential in his short time for paving the way for Chicano rock and Latinos in American pop in general, it wasn't a long or productive enough time.

Buddy Holly had two years on him and made dozens more recordings that were even more influential. Valens going down in lore for his death being in the same crash as Holly is another helping point that got him inducted (awww, no love for the Big Bopper? Ok, I kid).

Hall of Fame and Grammy alike - Rewarding the household names that rake in the doughFor some odd reason the Jann Wenner/Rolling Stone hierarchy tends to ignore several greats who were around when their magazine became an institution in the 70s. What it comes down to is that the R&R Hall of Fame is getting a bit too mainstream and doesn't acknowledge those who don't have their greatness reflected by album sales.

In short, it's becoming too much like the Grammys, or an exclusive club that you need friends and confidantes on the inside of to get notoriety if you're not a household name. This Grammy-like mentality rewards those who fill people's lines with cash, not necessarily those who fill hearts with inspiration. Many, it can be argued, fall into the bin of "Not Well Known Enough" and some won't lose any sleep over being passed over, but for fans these snubs seems like too offensive a slight to let pass.

The criteria for who gets in is also sometimes lost, and often an artist's former glories in bands play a part. George Harrison may have been a fine songwriter, but after his first album never really became as special as either McCartney or Lennon's solo careers. I don't deny the Hall its right to exist or be highly visible. But shaping up is indeed in order or the Hall will degenerate into a bad joke.

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