Today it was announced that Kiss, Nirvana, Hall and Oates, Peter Gabriel, Linda Ronstadt and Cat Stevens will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year. What an amazing collection of artists! Finally they get some well-deserved attention.
Okay, that last sentence was meant as ironic. The acts listed above are absolutely household names. They are examples of really, really famous artists—which is actually the sole focus of the utterly pointless project that is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Really, what is the purpose of giving more recognition to some of the most celebrated acts in the history of popular music? Acts that are inducted to the Hall of Fame are generally of the type that is already accepted in old-school rock journalism as classic, important, and worth revisiting constantly. Anyone who glances occasionally at rock magazine covers is unlikely to discover more than a handful of underrated or obscure bands among the 295 Hall of Fame inductees
. The Beatles were inducted during the third, annual ceremony, which took place in 1988, among acts like The Beach Boys and Bob Dylan. Since then, every Beatle except Ringo Starr has also been inducted as a solo artist; other people who have been inducted twice include Paul Simon, Neil Young, and Michael Jackson. Eric Clapton has been inducted three times so far!
Now, in essence, there is nothing wrong with handing out lifetime achievement awards. Most industries hold ceremonies where top achievers are nominated, often based on arbitrary criteria and by monolithic committees. This is true about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What makes it unique is that rock fans actually seem to care: one needs only to look at any of the 25 new discussion threads created on Reddit
since today's announcement, or the comment sections of the New York Times Arts Beat blog
, to see the engagement among music fans. "Finally, X has been inducted," and "How the hell is Y not one of the chosen acts?" are among the top opinions expressed by those who give a fuck about the whole event.
The term rock 'n' roll as used by the Hall of Fame is never clearly defined, but given the roster of inductees, one might assume that it means popular, English-language music in general. Even bands that were widely despised or misunderstood by their contemporaries, like the Velvet Underground and the Sex Pistols, find themselves in their old age inducted into the Hall of Fame of rock. The Sex Pistols, who were inducted in 2006, politely declined the invitation to the ceremony in an open letter in which Johnny Lydon called the Hall of Fame "a piss stain."
As one thinks about the concept of a pantheon of rock, one inevitably reaches the same conclusion as Johnny Lydon: the whole thing is, in fact, a piss stain. A more sensical pursuit would be to celebrate new bands, or to dedicate a hall to obscure, but influential bands. Naturally, awards are being handed out in these categories, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can peacefully coexist alongside more thoughtful alternatives. What we as music fans can do to lessen the degeneration of our collective musical psyche, which must come as a result of taking the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seriously, is to stop paying attention to it. This is everyone's responsibility, including the artists who are approached by the foundation behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Luckily, we are seeing what can only be the beginnings of an industry-wide revolt against the idiocy of the Hall of Fame. Axl Rose declined the invitation to the 2012 ceremony, in which Guns 'n' Roses was inducted, saying that "no one is authorized nor may anyone be permitted to accept any induction for me or speak on my behalf." Last year's ceremony had its share of resistance too. Check out Alex Lifeson of Rush's dadaist acceptance speech (it begins at 04.40). His message pretty much sums up our opinion of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.