What's Wrong with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

What's Wrong with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
13 Jul
2017
Not in Hall of Fame

Index



Can the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Be Fixed?

To be sure, many observers, both industry insiders and outsiders, have been aware of the shortcomings afflicting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for many years, and in addition to pinpointing the specific issues touched upon briefly at the top of this article, they have also suggested a number of solutions.

But although these issues and their suggested fixes are valid points, they are ultimately the equivalent of Yossarian—remember him from our earlier analogy?—bandaging Snowden's relatively superficial leg wound while not addressing the more serious—even fatal—abdominal wound concealed by Snowden's flight jacket.

Make no mistake—these observers have made excellent points and, like the bandage to Snowden's leg wound, their solutions can only help. But will they help enough to save the Hall?

Bandaging the Leg Wound

Even though he is a voting member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, music critic Rob Tannenbaum has been very critical of the Hall. In a 2015 article for Billboard, he noted that the Hall's nominating committee "has often been justly criticized for being homogenous," quoting an anonymous former committee member who described it as "too old, too male, too white, too rich" although, ironically, several committee members were dumped in 2006, with one stating that, "I was fired for being too old. That's what I was told."

Tannenbaum returned at the end of 2016 calling the spade an explicit spade: "BOOMERS REVERE BOOMERS" (his all-caps, not mine), although Tannenbaum directs this not at the nominating committee but at the voting body—himself included—noting that "many of these voters are older than the Atlantic Ocean . . . [a]nd by comprising a majority, they control the vote." Going even further in the wake of the 2016 inductions of Chicago, Deep Purple, and Steve Miller, he emailed a member of the nominating committee (of which Tannenbaum is not a member), "Better groups won't get in until you take away voting rights from older, conservative voters," to which the committee member replied, "You nailed it."

Rob Tannenbaum
Rock writer Rob Tannenbaum has been a vocal critic of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame--and he's one the Rock Hall's many voters!

To redress the problem, Tannenbaum offers two suggestions: One is "to add hundreds of younger voters who don't think music of the '80s and '90s is crass and distasteful," although he cautions that:

"[D]oing so would probably contradict the Boomer music canon Rolling Stone created and perpetuates. If Chic is as good as Deep Purple, then the magazine's long dislike of disco (and, broadly, Top 40 pop) might seem, in retrospect, dubious. What if all the great music wasn't made in the '60s? What if Sgt. Pepper isn't the greatest rock album ever made?"

Echoing Tannenbaum's point is Jillian Mapes, whose "adapt or die" Millennial perspective sees "Baby-boomer favorites historically [receiving] the rock and roll glory, and young music lovers were left to feel like all the great, big changes in rock and roll had come and gone by the time they showed up."

Mapes, a Northeast Ohio native with some affection for the Cleveland-based Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, thinks that the Hall will become relevant to post-Boomer generations as their artists become eligible—she quotes a Generation X colleague's offhand observation upon Nirvana's induction into the Hall: "Oh, I guess I have to care now"—but in order to achieve that, the Hall must recognize "the divergent path taken by popular music in response to the rise of Internet culture. The nomination committee needs to accept two things throughout next two decades: genre terms ain't nothing but marketing tools, and that influential-but-not-popular bands did—and will continue to—change popular music." (This point is echoed above in our observation about the Velvet Underground.)

Tannenbaum's second suggestion is to eliminate the voting pool altogether and leave that to the nominating committee, which even Jann Wenner conceded "is a more educated, elite and sophisticated group of people. The broader voters are more like me—I loved a certain period of music, but I'm not deeply committed to knowing everything that's going on."

Recall how we noted that as rock and roll continues to evolve, it requires a greater effort to keep up? That, unless you are an industry professional or an obsessive amateur, your understanding—your aesthetic reflection and aesthetic judgment—will be defined by your biases, prejudices, and limitations? That appears to afflict the very voting body of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Another item to recall with respect to the voting body is that many of that body are current members of the Hall of Fame. Given the 25-year eligibility period before a candidate can be put onto a ballot, that usually puts the candidate into middle age by the time he or she becomes an inductee, thus aligning with the "older, more conservative voters" mentioned by Tannenbaum—and thus perpetuating the age bias he alleges is causing issues with the Hall.

In addition, having inducted members of the Hall as voters may reinforce an insularity that other Halls of Fame try to mitigate. For example, the Baseball Hall of Fame maintains two separate voting pools: The first pool comprises the voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA), often referred to simply as the "writers," who vote exclusively on recently retired players. The second pool, for what I'll call generically the veterans committee, closely resembles the voting pool for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—current Hall of Famers and baseball industry insiders including media figures, historians, and executives.

The baseball veterans committee evaluates all non-players (including owners and executives, umpires, and "baseball pioneers") as well as players who typically have been on the writers' ballot without gaining election to the Hall. While there have been historical instances of veterans committees electing players whose credentials have been substandard compared to players elected by the writers (and, overall, the writers' selections have been more judicious and discerning than have the veterans committees'), recent veterans committees have demonstrated a marked parsimony with respect to players.

By contrast, the voting pool of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seems to be an amalgam of the "writers," the "industry insiders," and the "current Hall of Famers," and because of the lack of transparency into the voting process—an issue we will turn to shortly—it is difficult if not impossible to determine how each voting bloc is influencing the outcomes. But in addition to pinning the blame on Baby Boomers (I'll forego the all-caps here), Tannenbaum's suggested fix of having a nominating committee-like body perform the voting seems analogous to baseball's veterans committee.

But along with a Boomer bias, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's nominating committee also has a gender bias. For example, the 2015 committee, comprising 41 members, had only six women members (as well as only seven persons of color). That in turn has influenced which artists get listed on a Hall of Fame ballot put before the voters.

So, while Courtney E. Smith, author of Record Collecting for Girls, is enthusiastic about the next decade delivering "a huge number of important female artists from the '90s [who] will become eligible for recognition," citing Hole, Björk, Mary J. Blige, Sheryl Crow, Queen Latifah, Bikini Kill, Alanis Morissette, Mariah Carey, and Liz Phair, among others, she warns that "[i]n order to actually have a female-friendly decade, however, the Hall of Fame has to acknowledge that it has a woman problem," noting that as of the 2016 vote "[a]pparently only 37 female performers and bands with women meet those criteria [the Hall of Fame has listed as critical to induction]," adding that "[z]ero of the executives, managers, and producers inducted have been women. Only one woman, Carole King, has been inducted for her songwriting," and King, who was inducted in 1990 as a non-performer, was inducted along with her songwriting partner, former husband Gerry Goffin. (Smith's article cited here was published before Joan Baez was inducted into the Hall in 2017, raising the number of female inductees to 38.)

Smith's contention is seconded by Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, who perhaps more stridently calls out the Hall's inherent sexism, noting that "though the museum’s nominating committee generally includes at least a handful of women for voters to choose from, a look at how few women are ever chosen reeks of a kind of tokenism." And why this tokenism exists stems from the composition of both the nominating committee and the voting body, as Tannenbaum outlined with respect to Baby Boomer bias.

But Smith goes further, not just calling out the gender and age bias but also the race bias. She cites the Hall of Fame's own website as stating that the voting body contains a high proportion of Hall of Fame inductees "who are largely straight white dudes." Their conception of rock, Smith goes on by quoting freelance music critic Maura Johnston, is "coded to mean straight white male. It's meant to encompass people who espouse ideals of masculinity." Then to buttress her point, Smith uses the case of disco pioneers Chic, having been nominated an unprecedented 11 times without election, as an exemplar of this straight white male bias: "Like most disco artists, and the pop artists who would follow in disco's musical footsteps in the '80s and '90s, [Chic] created music that was first embraced by women, homosexual men, and minorities; by many Rock Hall voters it's considered to be feminine music and not pure rock."

Like Tannenbaum, Smith recommends changes to the voting pool, widening it to include voters under age 45, women, and minorities. She notes that this is already underway, citing the addition in 2013 of guitarist Tom Morello, a veteran of hard rock/heavy metal outfits Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine, to the nominating committee, which may have spurred the subsequent invitations to hard rock/heavy metal journalists such as Katherine Turman to become Hall voters.

However, Smith cautions that even if someone such as Morello, who as an African-American also increases the nominating committee's diversity, had helped to widen the Hall's scope—Tannenbaum notes that one of Morello's first acts was a "rant" in favor of Kiss, which was then voted to the Hall of Fame in 2014—heavy metal, characterized by Smith as "the dumber, more commercial little brother/offshoot of mainstream rock," nevertheless still "plays into the male-dominated narrative the Rock Hall is writing."

To redress the imbalance, Smith offers a variety of music-industry professionals who could help the nominating committee evaluate and promote "previously overlooked but female-heavy genres like mainstream pop, much synth-based music from the '80s, and singer-songwriters." She suggests media executives such as former MTV president Judy McGrath and label executives Megan Jasper (Sub Pop Records), Sylvia Rhone (Epic Records), and Julie Greenwald (Atlantic Records); former artist managers Sharon Osbourne and Mona Scott-Young; musicians Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney), Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth), and St. Vincent; and songwriters Linda Perry, Cathy Dennis, Diane Warren, and Esther Dean, among others, as worthy additions to the nominating committee—"demonstrat[ing] that it is easily possible to find enough women who are knowledgeable about and interested in the history of music."

Courtney E Smith
Author Courtney E. Smith calls for the Rock Hall to redress its gender bias.

And rather than indulge in the fashionable disdain for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Smith concludes with a trenchant rationale for its purpose:

"The reason this representation matters is that defining the canon is genuinely important. We already look back on past inductees as the most important people in the history of music, from Madonna to James Brown to Bob Dylan. . . . Making a point to induct more of the distinguished and deserving women in the history of music, and to give serious consideration to the multitudes of deserving women in rock who are about to become eligible for induction (and who make up much more than 11 percent of the possibilities), would be a huge step in the direction of equal representation in this venerable institution."

You almost have to admire Courtney Smith for describing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a "venerable institution" considering that even Hall of Fame inductees such as Steve Miller and Gene Simmons of Kiss have castigated the very "venerable institution" that lauded them, following in the footsteps of the Sex Pistols and their infamous description of the Hall as a "piss stain."

Yet even Miller's notorious rant:

"[I]f the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wants to be taken seriously, they need to put their books out in the public. They need to fucking become transparent. They need to stop lying. They need to stop all the bullshit and they need to clean it up and they need to expand it. They need to include a lot more people. And the most important thing is the fucking board of this organization really needs to enlarge their gene pool" [emphasis added].

contains a cogent point regarding transparency: There is none.

We glean that the nominating committee gets to advance three candidates for the ballot, one of which may make the final ballot. We may glean who is on the committee. And we know which candidates on the ballot are elected to the Hall of Fame—however, we do not know what the total votes cast were for those inductees, let alone how many votes were cast for the candidates who were not elected. Another aspect I have been unable to determine is whether a voter is limited in the number of candidates he or she can vote for. As even Jon Landau, the nominating committee chair, admitted in 2011, "We’ve done a good job of keeping the proceedings nontransparent. It all dies in the room."

Contrast this with the Baseball Hall of Fame, which releases the vote totals for all candidates on any given Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) ballot, and has not only begun to release the names of all those who voted, but will begin to release how each voter voted starting with the 2018 BBWAA ballot. While that last requirement may indicate too much transparency—witness the brief but spirited witch hunt to find the three BBWAA voters who did not vote for Ken Griffey, Jr., on the 2016 ballot, thus denying him a first-ever unanimous vote—it does help to make the Baseball Hall of Fame a more "venerable institution." (There is also a high degree of transparency in the veterans committee voting process: The voting members of any committee are disclosed, as are the number of votes each candidate received.) Furthermore, the BBWAA ballot is clearly defined: A voter can cast only one vote each for a maximum of ten candidates.

baseball hall of fame
Many of the Baseball Hall of Fame's policies and processes could--and should--be applied to address the Rock Hall's fundamental issues.

Making the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination and voting processes more transparent is a necessary step to demonstrate the integrity of the institution, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, that has appointed itself the arbiter of the legacy of music from the Rock and Soul Era. Furthermore, a simple release of the percent of votes cast for each candidate is basic protocol for any election whether for a candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame or for President of the United States—why does the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame consider this classified information? As the man once sang, "It's only rock 'n' roll, but I like it." The fundamental interest fans have in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is to see the artists they like inducted—why not show how close those artists are coming to that goal?

Yes, transparency is a good idea. So is enlarging the "gene pool" of both the nominating committee and the voting body to mitigate the biases of age, class, race, and gender. But they are still fixes to the "leg wound," to the secondary issues afflicting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and they do not fix the "abdominal wound" that are the primary issues that the Hall faces. They do not address those fundamental issues, which are that there is no standard definition of "rock and roll," there are no objective evaluation criteria that can be universally applied, and because of that, the Hall is expansive and inclusive in contrast to the Big Four sports Halls of Fame, which tend to be restrictive and exclusive; thus, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in essence a patchwork bucket that largely reflects the current Baby Boomer, white-male-dominant bias.

Can the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame repair those issues? Not with the fixes that have been proposed thus far. Again, they are all worthy proposals, and implementing them will help to ameliorate the current situation, but they cannot fix the fundamental issues.

So, can those fundamental issues be fixed?

Fixing the Fundamental Issues

Let's face it: Fixing the fundamental issues afflicting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame requires some radical solutions. Increasing transparency and widening participation to include more women, persons of color, and younger men and women bandage the leg wound but they don't address the gaping abdominal wound that will ultimately kill the Hall. We need to think big.

Voting Changes

Changes to current voting protocols would entail much more than simply disclosing vote totals, who the voters were, and even how they voted. The following two proposals address voters.

A People's Ballot. Currently, the Hall allows the public one collective vote based on online polling to determine which candidate would receive that vote, so why not allow the general public to cast individual ballots containing all the candidates? As Rob Tannenbaum, a rock journalist and voting member of the Hall, revealed, the Hall's voting body is subject to the same biases, prejudices, and limitations as everyone else, so the average fan would seem to be as qualified as any "industry professional." Additionally, direct voting could suppress the universal complaining about the Hall's choices now that fans have an influence on who gets elected—they cannot blame it on others.

Fan voting already plays a significant role in all-star game selections for the Big Four team sports. Granted, that input is for an exhibition game during a single season and not Hall of Fame enshrinement for a career's accomplishment, a critical distinction although, as we have been stressing throughout, with no standard definition and universally applicable objective evaluation criteria, your idea of "unquestionable musical excellence" is as good as anyone else's.

Weighting the public vote can be variable if used in conjunction with the current process, or the Hall can get radical and use it to replace the current process.

A Blue-Ribbon Ballot. At the other end of the spectrum, and as suggested by Tannenbaum, voting may best be done by a body that is qualified to vote on the candidates. A blue-ribbon panel comprising industry experts decides who gets into the Hall of Fame, whether through the two-stage process currently in place, in which case the panel votes on a ballot assembled by a nominating committee, or simply by assembling that ballot itself and then either voting to elect or subset of candidates or adopting it whole. (This idea is echoed in the Eliminate Voting section below.)

Amidst the cries of elitism, note that Tannenbaum did state, writing in December 2016, "Let the 'educated, elite, and sophisticated' nominating committee make the final decisions. . . . Elites make better voting choices than the general public, as we’ve already seen this year, in a far less harmless election."

Ballot and Process Revisions

Apart from the 25-year eligibility period, and that the nominating committee selects a new slate of candidates every year, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to which candidates get on a ballot. Some artists who have been eligible for years, even decades, have yet to appear on a ballot while others appear in their first year of eligibility.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame could take a few pointers from the Baseball Hall of Fame. Some of these suggestions are inspired, wholly or in part, from that Hall.

Rolling Ballot. Deal with what is in front of you and don't re-invent the wheel every year. A rolling ballot, one on which artists remain on the ballot year after year until they are voted in, voted off, or reach a maximum time limit for consideration, can help to control the flow of candidates for consideration. This option, and all the components of this option listed below, can be reinterpreted and reconfigured, so the following is just one scenario.

Determine ballot candidates. This can be the function of the nominating committee. This can also be automated in the sense that all artists who reach the 25-year eligibility criterion are automatically put onto the ballot. (This is also referenced in the Eliminate Voting Section below.)

Given the huge number of artists technically eligible based on that criterion, a number that will only increase every year, some pre-screening is essential. The nominating committee can do this, or if the volume is simply too great, then a pre-screening committee can begin the process, which then further winnows the candidates at each level, first the nominating committee, then the voting body. Pre-screening adds another layer of bureaucracy, and of bias, but the current process, at least to the outsider, appear chaotic, arbitrary, and biased already—so what have we got to lose?

Other alternatives are possible, but the point here is to introduce a system of order based on the only quantifiable criterion the Hall has, the 25-year eligibility rule, in an attempt to establish a process that gives candidates an equitable chance for consideration.

Determine ballot criteria. As is done with the BBWAA ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame, establish the criteria for the minimum percentage of votes a candidate must receive to be inducted into the Hall and the minimum necessary to remain on a ballot, and the maximum number of years a candidate can remain on the ballot.

Keep in mind that almost any remedy is going to encounter the 200-ton elephant in the room, which is the immense logjam of candidates to be evaluated; as we have stressed all along, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is expansive and inclusive. But, again, some sense of logic and order to facilitate that evaluation is vital to giving the candidates a fair hearing.

Furthermore, it gives the voting body, whatever that might look like, a semblance of order—and of being better able to make those evaluations. As it stands now, voters get a different ballot every year, with artists appearing and re-appearing with little notice—and little time to make evaluations. A rolling ballot that at least has some candidates whom voters know will appear gives voters time to "build the case" for an artist, whether yea or nay, while at least knowing which artists have reached their 25-year eligibility and could appear on the next ballot allows for some focused preparation.

Additionally, knowing which candidates are not going to be on an upcoming ballot, whether they fell below the minimum threshold of votes or reached the maximum time allotted on the ballot, also helps to focus evaluations. Artists who do fall off the ballot do not have to lose their opportunity to enter the Hall of Fame forever. As with the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can establish a body similar to the veterans committee to re-evaluate artists once they have had their chance on the initial ballot; this is discussed below.

Determine ballot categories. Another method to divide and conquer could be to simply do that: Instead of lumping all candidates onto one ballot, that ballot can be divided into separate musical categories. The purpose here could be as simple as organizing the ballot more coherently for the voter, or as complex as mandating voting restrictions and requirements for artists who appear under a particular category.

Don't worry, the word "quota" popped into my head too, and I acknowledge that this could be a controversial approach, one that suggests preferential treatment or else presages the "Balkanization" described below. Furthermore, given how hybrid and polyglot "rock" music has become, can you assign some artists to just one category? And aren't we returning to the fundamental issue of trying to define "rock and roll"?

Eliminate Voting

One radical solution is to eliminate voting altogether: When an artist reaches the end of the 25-year waiting period, that artist is automatically inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Wait a minute. Just how quickly will the Hall grow so large as to be meaningless?

That's my point: The Hall of Fame as it stands now may be a fool's errand, and those who try to make a case for why an artist should or should not be in the Hall are fools—myself very much included. Let's repeat the mantra: No standard definition, no universally applicable objective evaluation criteria, and a constantly-evolving music means an ever-more expansive and inclusive Hall.

So why not just automatically induct an artist after 25-years? That will shut up all those tiresome complaints about how the Hall of Fame sucks because Artist A, the one I hate, is in the Hall but Artist B, the one I love, is not. Just wait—Artist B will get in.

Oh, but we must have some standards, shouldn't we? After all, countless artists managed to release at least one recording, no matter how obscure—am I saying that simply doing that makes them a Hall of Fame-caliber artist?

Well, perhaps not, but my seeming facetiousness again underscores how difficult it is to determine that threshold of legacy for the teeming multitudes of artists who do not land at either end of the long spectrum between a certain yes and a certain no. It is tough to argue that the Who doesn't belong in the Hall or that Keith Moon, solely on the basis of his solo output, does. But what about Pete Townshend as a solo artist? Or even Roger Daltrey?

So, in all seriousness, pre-screening is still essential to narrow the field, not just for the sake of manageability but to establish some standard that reflects "unquestionable musical excellence." And whether that pre-screening yields a ballot based on an elite or popular consensus, let that be the incoming class for that particular year. Don't bother voting on that ballot—that's like trying to select the raindrops you want to dodge during a deluge. Instead of a handful of artists, it will yield an armload, which may more accurately reflect the reality of "rock and roll," to which we turn now.

Break Up the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

No, I don't mean eliminating the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—although that is one method to remedy all the fundamental issues permanently. But given how the music evolves and grows ever-more expansive, the Hall must acknowledge that its forms and genres have developed lives of their own, lives that have outgrown the initial conception of both the music initially termed "rock and roll" and the Hall of Fame created to preserve that legacy; they have become too large to be contained under its original umbrella.

This option suggests "Balkanization," or the fragmenting of an entity into its components that may no longer have any relation to each other. The term derives from the many states and regions in the Balkan Peninsula of Europe that have at various times have been banded together or broken apart, often with great resentment and hostility—the most recent example being the tragic break-up of Yugoslavia following the demise of the Cold War, which resulted in intense hatred, bitter fighting, and war crimes that culminated with genocide.

Rock and roll hasn't reached that point yet—although the vehemence with which some insist that hip-hop has nothing to do with rock and roll, and thus has no place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, may suggest otherwise. However, that does indicate how broad the music has become, and how our biases, prejudices, and limitations can hamper our understanding of the music's expansiveness.

What I'm suggesting is not the divisiveness of Balkanization but rather the expansiveness and inclusiveness of the Smithsonian Institution, which comprises 19 separate museums and galleries, and which in turn reflect the many facets of American history and culture. No one museum can possibly hope to accomplish that—it takes a series of them, from the National Air and Space Museum to the National Museum of Natural History to the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, to do that justice.

Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution's many museums and galleries offer a
solution to the Rock Hall's ever-growing expansiveness.

Similarly, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can have its component Halls of Fame, not just based on forms and genres—the Heavy Metal Hall of Fame, the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame, the Electronica Hall of Fame, and so on—but it may be time to begin breaking up the Rock and Soul Era by periods. Rock and roll has existed under that name for six decades now, and the evolution of the music has been staggering. Recall how we cited Bill Haley and His Comets, the Sex Pistols, and N.W.A. above—can they really be grouped under an umbrella term of "rock and roll" that is truly meaningful other than to demonstrate how much the initial conception has evolved? The music has a history that deserves to be celebrated, but to grasp it and make its evolution understandable requires some historical divisions—not to separate them but to give them their proper emphasis.

All the component Halls can undertake similar voting processes that the original Hall used. Again, the purpose is to give them their proper emphasis while not forgetting that they have all occurred under the overarching, continually-expanding term of rock and roll.

"Rock and Roll, Parts 1 and 2"

On the other hand, Balkanization may be just what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame needs. By that I mean acknowledging that the music has evolved to the point that the earliest rock and soul seems nearly unrecognizable to contemporary ears. The Hall is currently dealing with now-eligible artists whose careers began in the 1990s, during a time that many critics and observers are now considering to be "post-rock," a time when the original perceptions of rock and roll (or rock and soul) lost their relevance because the music has evolved so completely from its initial conception.

In other words, it is time to break from the distant past and start anew for the future.

So, for all the Baby Boomers whom Tannenbaum calls "older than the Atlantic Ocean," they can have their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the one that corresponds to Time-Life infomercials on late-night cable and reunion shows by artists from decades past organized by your local PBS station when it needs to raise money. And then Gen Xers and Millennials, who Jillian Mapes noted now "have to care" because Nirvana was inducted into the Hall, can have their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in which "Buddy Holly" is just a song of winking nostalgia by Weezer, who had better be elected when they become eligible in 2019—unless another of those damned Boomer dinosaurs such as Styx or Kansas gets in first.

"Veterans Committee(s)"

Addressing the questions of history and legacy, and borrowing yet again from the Baseball Hall of Fame, a "veterans committee" can be established to re-evaluate artists, particularly ones whose 25-year eligibility threshold has long since been crossed, who have either struck out on previous ballots or have yet to appear on a ballot.

This gives artists a second chance, while we note that a "veterans committee" option would be best suited to the rolling-ballot option described above, in which candidates enter and exit an initial ballot in some kind of sequential or chronological order, thus justifying this "second look" once they've had that initial chance on the rolling ballot.

As with the Baseball Hall, a Rock Hall "veterans committee" would best compose a small group of experts, which simply means anyone with the knowledge and perspective suited to the task of considered evaluation. How do you define that? You tell me—the current Hall cannot even comprehensively define "unquestionable musical excellence."

"Under New Management"

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation is a private enterprise, a self-appointed arbiter of the legacy of the Rock and Soul Era, and perception of its control under Jann Wenner and those who, past and present, have served in his Rolling Stone empire has reached the levels of conspiracy theorizing associated with the Trilateral Commission, the Illuminati, MJ-12, the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta, the Elders of Zion, and just about any nefarious plot advanced by the likes of Alex Jones.

In fact, there is some truth to that, as there is in the allegation that the annual vote is really just a pretense to the actual induction ceremony, at which attendees pay a handsome price to eat rubber chicken as they watch the inductees perform. Moreover, there is little argument, even from Hall voters themselves (e.g., Rob Tannenbaum), that the tastes and influences—read: biases, prejudices, and limitations—of Foundation keystones such as former director Suzan Evans, nominating committee chair Jon Landau, and rock critic Dave Marsh have shaped what has become a canon. And as Courtney E. Smith has noted, "defining the canon is genuinely important. We already look back on past inductees as the most important people in the history of music, from Madonna to James Brown to Bob Dylan."

It may very well be time to put the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame under new management, to remove the Boomer bias shaped by Rolling Stone. But will it be a case of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss"?

And could that sea change address the fundamental issues of no standard definition of rock and roll, no objective evaluation criteria that can be universally applied, and, because of the very evolutionary nature of the music, a candidate pool that grows ever-more expansive and inclusive?

Closing Note

Most if not all of these fundamental fixes would entail significant expenditures of time, money, and effort to implement. There are no Band-Aid fixes except to try to improve the existing process, which is fundamentally flawed and will not be repaired no matter how many Band-Aids you put on the wound—this is after all the "leg wound," which might eventually kill the Hall, and not the abdominal wound, which will surely kill the Hall sooner rather than later.

Perhaps "kill" is too strong a word, implying that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame might simply cease to exist. It is likely that the Hall will continue to function, and continue to elect performers annually, for some time to come.

But it is equally likely that it will do so with greater irrelevance to industry insiders, including the very performers it inducts (viz. Steve Miller and Kiss's Gene Simmons), music professionals, and, most importantly, music fans, who will continue to bitch about whom the Hall does or does not elect, slagging the institution as an insider fix, a sham, labeling it a "Hall of Shame," a "Hall of Lame," as they continue to see [fill in the blank with your favorite artist not yet inducted] "snubbed," a word that shoots from the tongue with a sneer worthy of Johnny Rotten.

Last modified on Friday, 14 July 2017 13:32

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