The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame sucks; here’s how to fix it
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a joke. I think we all know this, but if you’re new to the issue a quick illustration should suffice: Madonna is in it. Rush, Kiss, Cheap Trick, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Deep Purple, Big Star, The Cure, Devo, Dire Straits, ELO, Hüsker Dü, INXS, Jethro Tull, Judas Priest, The Moody Blues, Motorhead, My Bloody Valentine, New Order, Peter Gabriel, The Replacements, Warren Zevon, XTC, Yes and Graham Parker aren’t. I could go on. And on. And on and on and on. But, in the interest of brevity, I won’t.
This is frustrating for a lot of people. Many of the artists would probably like to be acknowledged, and their fans no doubt take the slight personally. And the critics, gods, imagine trying to think about this if you’re a serious professional covering music.
All of us have probably wondered, from time to time, how an idea as intuitively awesome as a rock and roll hall of freakin’ fame went so very, very bad. Part of the answer is obvious enough: money. We’re talking about an industry that attracts more soulless whores than a pimp convention and the world would surely be a better place had Jann Wenner been smothered in his crib. But one can’t escape the feeling that it’s even more complex than that. In short, for a project to get this fucked, you really need the involvement of true believers with no brains and a tractor-trailer full of righteous intentions.
Which brings me to this recent item, from Bob Lefsetz’s widely read newsletter. (For some reason, this particular mailbag item doesn’t seem to have been archived.)
Subject: Re: Handicapping The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
…Each year we are reminded that rock n roll is meant to be defined by the Hall as the broadest possible definition of that term so all the genres considered pop music are in our purview, definitely hiphop. Rakim, the heart and soul of the duo, is still considered by many rappers and critics as the best rapper of all time and a seminal figure in hiphop’s aesthetic development. In many ways nearly all modern rappers are descended from Rakim. You cannot tell the story of hiphop without telling the story of Eric B & Rakim so the story of hiphop that the Hall is telling is incomplete (it’s also missing LL Cool J). These are more than “memorable acts” they are the people who shaped a genre that is critical in the overall history of modern popular music which is how the Hall defines rock n roll.
And there you have it: “the broadest possible definition of that term.” Which is why so many legit rock & roll luminaries are out in the cold and the likes of Madonna and several hip-hop acts are in. But the problem is that the broadest possible definition of “rock & roll” doesn’t include hip-hop. Before you get worked up, I’m not here to dog rap. It’s a form with plenty of legitimacy in its own right. But – and let’s be very clear here – it is not rock & roll. Touré and the rest of the committee have, in the interests of pandering to as many corporate industry interests as possible, convinced themselves that rock is something it is not.
Here’s the thing. Rock & roll is a type of popular music. It is not another term for popular music. Popular music had been around a long, long time before Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Elvis showed up. It was, in the mid-1950s, a new kind of popular music, one that challenged the establishment and paved the way for the greatest golden age of popular music in history.
Hip-hop is likewise a type of popular music, but it’s one that traces its lineage most directly back through funk, which was a derivation of R&B, which was a parallel development to rock & roll. To summarize, hip-hop is not a form of rock & roll. Both hip-hop and rock & roll are forms of popular music. Call me pedantic if you feel you must (and if you know what the word means, which if you think hip-hop is rock & roll you probably don’t), but history is history and facts are facts.
By way of analogy, let’s say we’re talking about dogs instead of music. And in the mid-1950s somebody developed this new breed that we’ll call the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Terrier (pictured, right). It was the greatest of all breeds. It looked good, didn’t shed, pointed birds, retrieved ducks, herded sheep, kept the barn free of rats, protected the house, sniffed out bombs and drugs at the airport, found survivors in earthquake ruins, played with the kids, walked itself, fetched the paper and whipped up a mean frittata for Sunday brunch. It was such an incredible breed that many years later it was decided to establish a Muscle Shoals Rhythm Terrier Hall of Fame.
All was well until the proprietors of the institution realized that they were limiting their revenue potential by restricting the place to actual Muscle Shoals Rhythm Terriers. So they began inducting a whole other breed, the fashionable and popular Brooklyn Retriever, which was in fact descended from a common ancestor (the common ice age porch wolf), but otherwise had little in common with the true MSRT. Purists were outraged. I mean, the Brooklyn Retriever was a fine dog, but see that sign over the entrance? It rather specifically promises visitors an exclusively Muscle Shoals Terrier experience.
That’s where we are. The Muscle Shoals Terrier Hall of Fame is, thanks to fuckwits like Wenner and Touré, rapidly filling up with Brooklyn Retrievers and Long-Legged Disco Hounds and all kinds of other dogs that are simply not Muscle Shoals Rhythm Terriers.
In the interests of promoting harmony in the dog world, some have suggested that, you know, a Brooklyn Retriever Hall of Fame wouldn’t be a bad thing. But the best answer is far, far simpler, and it applies to that abomination in Cleveland as well.
If you look closely at the argument that Touré makes in his letter to Lefsetz, it is clear that he’s trying to make a case for shoehorning all commercially viable forms of music into the only HoF available at present. And certainly, this approach represents a lot less financial risk than trying to build a whole new facility. So the marketing guy in me gets where he’s coming from completely. But you just can’t pretend that red is blue without smart people looking at you like the idiot you are.
So here’s the simplest solution in the world. And it makes even the hardass purists like me happy. Change the name of the damned place to the Popular Music Hall of Fame. Or even the Pop Hall of Fame. I might carp a little that rock and pop aren’t the same thing, but intellectually I get that rock is a form of popular music, which is where the term “pop” comes from. In other words, I can live with it. So Dear R&RHoF Committee: do it today and stop clowning yourselves.
Also, as much as I love Muscle Shoals Rhythm Terriers, I think we’d all be just fine with the Dog Hall of Fame.