Friday, December 14, 2007

Radio Friendly Unit Shifters, Dept.

Madonna, John Mellencamp, Leonard Cohen Lead 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees : Rolling Stone

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (R&RHoF) announced their 2008 inductees on Wednesday. You may recall my dissection of the '07 Induction Ceremonies many months ago. Well, this is what you have to look forward to next spring:

John Mellencamp
Leonard Cohen
The Ventures
The Dave Clark Five

The nominees who did not make the cut were the Beastie Boys, Afrika Bambataa, Chic, and Donna Summer.

Before I add my little bit o' value to this news, a quick note. I read on the FOXNews site--hey, news is news, okay?--that there were reports surfacing last March that the Dave Clark Five had actually made the induction cut last year but Rolling Stone publisher, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation chairman, and superannuated weasel Jann Wenner had bumped them in favor of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five because "(they) couldn't go another year without a rap act." Wenner is characterized in this piece and elsewhere as a dictatorial thug who purged the Foundation board of everyone but yes-men now that he's free of the mediating influence of the late Ahmet Ertegun. The piece is worth a read, as it sounds to be sourced on the inside of Wenner's vanity fair. In a similar vein is this interesting article from the MTV website on the workings and composition of the nominating committee at the R&RHoF. And if you're wondering when the fuck your favorite band is going to be inducted, try Future Rock Hall, which does a very nice job of listing which acts have been overlooked and which acts are reaching their eligibility date, along with other data breakouts.

That all said, a few thoughts of my own on this crop of inductees and the R&RHoF in general. This year, as in previous years, one of the biggest questions left unanswered is: what constitutes "rock and roll"? According to the R&RHoF site, "The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors the legendary performers, producers, songwriters, disc jockeys and others who have made rock and roll the force that it is in our culture." Which is fine, but does nothing to define the breadth of the pool from which nominees are drawn. If previous inductees are any indication, it is a pretty expansive bit of property. Alongside the aforementioned Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, we see the O'Jays, Percy Sledge, Isaac Hayes, Earth, Wind & Fire, James Taylor, Bob Marley, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and most of Motown's roster. I'm not sure how elastic a definition of a genre can be before it loses any semblance of integrity, for none of the performers I mentioned ever worked in a genre or sub-genre that attached "-rock" as a suffix. They were soul or funk or rap or reggae or folk or gospel acts, period. Looking at this year's crop, Madonna and Leonard Cohen are not "rock" artists under any reasonable definition of the term. And, no, I don't think having a "rock'n'roll attitude" counts towards qualification.

So, should the name of the operation be changed to the "American Music Hall of Fame"? Well, no, given that there are any number of British Invasion and post-Invasion groups already inducted. How about the "Good Music Hall of Fame"? Well, that raises two problems. First, if you don't call it the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you don't have a hook on which to hang your museum and your induction extravaganza, irrespective of any convenient boundary-blurring you may do when no-one's looking. Once you remove the fig leaf of "rock and roll" from your project and let everybody in, what you gain in inclusiveness, you lose in distinctiveness. Wouldn't jazz, with its century-long history, swamp the boat? How about classical? Or country? The second problem is much more difficult to address and that is the why, how, and wherefore of the R&RHoF's nomination criteria. I'll just toss out a few names. Genesis. Roxy Music. Jethro Tull. Deep Purple. T. Rex. Yes. The Stooges. Captain Beefheart. Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Okay? Now, are you going to tell me that John Mellencamp should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ahead of even one of these acts? He's certainly had a creditable career, a number of Top 40 hits and albums. He's shown his heart to be in the right place with his work on Farm Aid and Vote for Change. He followed his folk-blues muse even when sales flagged. But can anyone say that, from the standpoint of originality, popularity, or influence, he should be inducted before Genesis or Roxy Music or Captain Beefheart or Yes?

And that's where the thing breaks down. Because of the museum and foundation and other trappings of officialdom, selection for induction into the R&RHoF is seen as an official imprimatur of excellence by a Great and Knowledgeable Establishment of Unimpeachable Taste and Objective Insight, an honor comparable to selection for Cooperstown, with all the requisite statistical and empirical data to support each nomination. But it isn't. Not at all. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame selection committee is a bunch of old music critics angling to get their favorites chosen for, and their enemies excluded from, a museum of pretend prestige. Otherwise there is absolutely no way to justify the induction of Percy Sledge with absolutely no ties to "rock" of any sort and only one single ever to make the Top 10. Someone--and here, I'm looking at you, Dave Marsh--had a hard-on to get him included and he succeeded. A similar story is told in the linked MTV article about one board member's persistence in getting ZZ Top inducted. There is no great scheme of things, no overarching mandate of aesthetic fidelity. There is no litmus test to separate dyed-in-the-wool rock'n'rollers from genre poseurs. There is no benchmark of quality or originality or influence against which to measure candidates. It's basically "people who might've appeared in Rolling Stone who could draw an audience to the induction ceremony."

Which makes the passion and vehemence of the arguments online in message boards and comments fields a bit sad. Because these people arguing and pleading and praying for the induction of KISS and Linda Ronstadt and Yes actually feel like their favorite artists are being dissed or ignored by the Great Validating Body of Music. When, in fact, the truth of the matter is that there's no-one behind the curtain but some wizened little men with bad haircuts, narrow viewpoints, and long grudges. And the whole affair signifies nothing more than the triumph of venality and pettiness over quality and integrity. In short, a microcosm of the music business which, as we all know, has nothing to do with music and everything to do with business.


Anonymous said...

Pop is pap, not rock 'n' roll. chic?! donna summer??!! Disco whores, and rock ain't spelled d-i-s-c-o.
Leonard Cohen's work isn't rock, it's every gloomy Sunday you've lived through, without being The Blues.

Might as well start inducting hockey players at Cooperstown.

the sobsister said...

That's the question I had and have: how are the acts selected for nomination and who selects them?

I'm hoping to get an answer from the R&RHoF folks.

That said, let's not be dissing leonard, chic, donna, or disco. All part of the magical tapestry that is our music.