The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is an ironic concept.
When going against the grain becomes elitist.
The most famous person behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jann Wenner, was a rebel when he first published his magazine in 1967. But the success of his magazine made him part of the Establishment. Once you are in the mainstream and rich, you are no longer a rebel. By definition you cannot be.
Over the years Wenner and his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame cronies have tried to stay relevant and in touch – even though they’re too rich and too old. Don’t feel bad, that’s how it goes. It’s happening to all those “heritage” rock bands, and it’s happening to me too. For as hip as I like to think I am with the cool rock and roll jobs I’ve had all my life, I have an 18 year old at home who reminds me without even trying that I’m soooo not cool.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has sanitized the glorious, dirty, loud and impolite bastard child that is known as rock and roll. The panel of voters – The Establishment – decides who gets into the Hall of Fame… and who doesn’t. I believe (but may be wrong) that the popular vote accounts for 1% of the final tally. 1%!! Business people who may know how to crunch numbers and write convoluted contracts have more weight and influence than the fans who invest themselves and their money. 99 to 1. The elite have more voting power than the musicians who these days barely make a living playing in crummy bars, often enduring less than ideal living conditions, simply because, like many of us, those musicians live and breathe rock and roll. There’s no money to be made unless you’re in an A-List act with a sponsor. I’m sure there are musicians on the voting panel, but it’s very likely that every single one of the voters has to follow a set ideology. How else could you explain Donna Summer being voted into what is known as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? She’s so far removed from rock that Wynton Marsalis is probably closer to the rock and roll family tree. And I don’t expect him to be voted in anytime soon. But you never know.
I understand that a certain control on voting is required in order for the process to not get completely out of hand. After all the internet is a tricky beast when it comes to “audience participation”. But could the internet do any worse than what’s been happening with the Hall of Fame?
It’s disturbing to me that these pop stars have been inducted, while Deep Purple had to wait 25 years after their first year of eligibility. The list of actual rock stars not inducted is quite staggering. Read the list and you’ll be amazed, not that they all belong in there, but it’s mind boggling. After being snubbed all these years I was surprised, and perhaps a touch disappointed that Deep Purple accepted and politely showed up instead of, you know, going all Steve Miller on the Hall.
Steve Miller. You know you’ve sanitized the whole thing to death when a guy like Steve Miller, one of the most mainstream of rockers, shows up for his award and calls out the whole ridiculous concept. Sure he could have stayed home and written a press release as a form of protest. But to him I raise my glass for showing up and doing what he did and saying what he needed to say on their own turf. Steve Miller, of all people, brought swagger to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’m not even a huge fan of his, but he scored a million respect points with me. On the moxie scale, he’s up there with John Lennon telling the Royals to rattle their jewellery.
The suits who vote aren’t rock and roll either in musical appreciation, vision, or in attitude. Take a look at the board members. Although the powers that be would certainly be quick to try and underline the noble intentions of the Hall (these artists need to be immortalized and have their place in history, blah blah blah…), their sole reason for being is to make money.
Of course there is nothing wrong with making money. After all, it’s money that brought every musical genre to the masses, whether rock or country or whatever style you like. It is people with money who throw money at talent that has no money in the hopes of making money. Simple formula, and when done right everybody wins. But there’s a difference between earning money and whoring yourself out.
The pop hit factory generates a lot more money than rock and roll. This is why the Hall includes Madonna, Grandmaster Flash and Donna Summer. They’ve all sold albums by the truckload and left huge shadows on pop culture and music so surely someone will pay to see their old stage clothes and hand written lyrics. I have no doubt that Taylor Swift, arguably the most powerful person in music right now will be inducted one day. But is she rock and roll?
I have no gripe against Madonna, or the Queen of Disco, or N.W.A. My gripe is the words Rock and Roll on the building. Call it what it is, The Popular Music Hall of Fame or whatever clever name you can think of. Then you can induct anyone you want and I won’t lose any sleep over it. That’s obviously what the Establishment wants and what it’s been doing. It sells tickets.
Rock and roll at its origins was a form of expression from outcasts. That was the beauty of it. It was dangerous. It went against the Establishment. Your parents hated it. But that “dangerous” element is gone. It’s been washed and disinfected and made to fit the mainstream box nicely – the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – as opposed to altering the mainstream. How dangerous can something be if parents like it too? I recently saw Black Sabbath’s The End Tour. I spotted far more comfortable loafers in the audience than leather jackets – a timeless symbol of rebellion and certainly rock and roll.
There is very little that is rock and roll about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – the very concept of a Hall of Fame goes against what the music and its values originally stood for.
Rock and roll has been sanitized to fit the mainstream to such a large extent that many of its true flag waving supporters and believers have been shut out. Unless you can afford the $500 concert tickets, or the $10, 000 Hall of Fame ceremony tickets, you aren’t invited to the party anymore. Unless of course, you can play guitar.
Mike Lang loves rock and roll and generally sees the glass half full. No, really.