It’s not all about you, Bruce and Bono: This is why the Rock Hall is so lame.
It’s also not the Boss’ fault. But as long as Hall of Fame favors personalities over impact, it gets history wrong.
The history of rock and pop is like a giant iceberg: Only a tiny portion of it is readily visible.
Creating a monument to the beautiful, complex and diverse history of rock and pop is an exceedingly difficult task. This makes the idea and successful execution of “The” Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame very challenging (creating a fish-tank full of Hall of Fames targeted towards specific genres and interests would be a more realistic enterprise, though certainly less appealing to HBO). To further complicate matters, those who run the Hall apply a personal bias that diminishes the already limited credibility of the enterprise.
Last week, I addressed one outstanding omission to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame (Kraftwerk). But there’s a lot more to say, including what the new crop of nominees reveal about the organization.
First, let’s address how personal bias is clearly altering the complexion of the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. I only need to say three names: New York Dolls, Todd Rundgren, and the MC5. All clearly belong in any institution honoring creative and stylistic musical innovators who also achieved a high public profile (the omission of the Dolls, inarguably one of the most influential acts in the history of the genre, is especially confounding). These exclusions are so heinous that one can only conclude that somehow, something about these particular acts got under somebody’s skin. If one or more people have the ability to veto deserving artists just because of personal bias, we can basically toss the entire legitimacy of the enterprise out the window.
Other omissions may not be personal, but instead reflect a consistent artistic bias of the Hall. For instance, the Carpenters made exquisite pop records constructed with a grace and skill comparable to Brian Wilson, George Martin, and Phil Spector; they were also a huge part of people’s lives and a generational touchstone. They belong in the Hall as much as other high-pop acts like the Mamas and the Papas, Neil Diamond, and Abba (all selections I agree with, by the way), yet clearly the “While we were listening to Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers in the 1970s we thought (fill in the blank) were uncool” bias of the Hall is going to block their entry.
How about the Monkees? They made fantastic music, they contained at least one bona fide musical genius (Michael Nesmith), and they produced not only one of the best rock films ever made (Head), but the strangest and most combative rock TV special ever produced (33 1/3rdRevolutions Per Monkee, which is nothing short of a 60-minute acid blues prime time freak out). But I sincerely doubt the Monkees will ever get in the Hall. Now, listen, and listen close: Joan Jett began her career in a manufactured band, and her most famous hits were written by other artists; it’s arguable (but barely) that she is as artificial a construction as the Monkees, and she’s in the Hall. And true, the Monkees didn’t play instruments on their early hits, but the Dave Clark 5 are in the Hall, and drummer Dave Clark didn’t play on any of his own hit records.
A further problem – and a big one — is that the people operating the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame may know something about the genre, but they don’t know enough. For instance, the 1920s/30s minstrel singer Emmett Miller not only helped mainstream the blues, but his inventive and pioneering vocal style influenced everyone from Hank Williams to Bob Dylan; in his own way, Miller belongs in the Hall as much as Chuck Berry does, but that’ll happen around the same time Jann Wenner calls and asks me to write about Neu! More shockingly, Alan Lomax, the ethnomusicologist and archivist who recorded some of the most important music of the 20th Century (and whose recordings taught everyone from Dylan to the Stones to Zeppelin about authentic American roots music), isn’t in the Hall. I say, without reservation, that Lomax should have been in the first or second Hall of Fame class.
(Courtesy of http://www.salon.com/)