Thursday, December 13, 2018

In defence of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

It's the same thing every year. The R&RHoF announces its nominees or inductees and immediately the cries of a thousand fanboys are heard across the twitter sphere demanding the head of Jann Wenner, Barack Obama and whatever hip-hop group was awarded a trophy that year.
Chief amongst the complaints and lamentations is one that's hard to refute: the Rock Hall has no legitimacy. That is entirely correct. No one has ever claimed that Rock & Roll was a real, tangible community and as such needed representation at the United Nations. The institution is a private enterprise for and by people who love the music.

The second complaint is that: "Madonna ain't rock and roll! N.W.A. ain't rock and roll!" and again, we must agree. If we accept the term "rock and roll" in its original meaning, then it died when Elvis joined the army, or on the day Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper's plane dropped from the sky depending on who you ask. But if you take the term to mean "Popular anglo-american music from the 20th Century and onwards", then all of a sudden you can induct The Stooges, KISS, Janet Jackson, Miles Davis, Pet Shop Boys and Engelbert Humperdinck. Which is what the institution does.

The other complaint, and that one is also hard not to sympathise with, is that some great bands aren't in yet. Of course everyone agrees that Judas Priest deserves to be in there. And eventually, they will be. The selection does seem a little random: why Def Leppard and Journey when Iron Maiden, Alex Chilton, T-Rex or the New York Dolls have yet to be nominated? Well the answer is: there is no method to the madness. It doesn't mean these guys deserve it less or that the ones who got in deserve it more: it's just the names that came up. There is no number for the bands to take and wait in line. There is no line.

Here's what the Hall of Fame is good at: throwing a party where some of your favorite performers can make great speeches (Springsteen inducting Jackson Browne comes to mind) and more importantly perform. Thanks to that institution we were able to see Cream or the Band (without Levon Helm, unfortunately) reunite. Yes, it's a coterie for millionaires and we'll never get to be part of the circle jerk (speaking of which, will The Circle Jerks ever get in?) but if you like rock music I don't understand how you can hate the Hall.

A lot of bands spend a lot of energy telling us how much they don't care about it. They care so little that it's become a point of pride for them to let us know how little they care: in interviews, on stage and at the podium when they come pick up the award they don't care about.

No one should care. It's just a little award show for people who happen to enjoy pop music. And just like pop music, it's disposable. It's easy to ignore. We are all free to create our own pantheon for the artists we think deserve that recognition. In fact, I have. It's called my record collection. As for the R&RHoF, it's flawed. It's illegitimate. It overlooks major bands while recognising minore ones. Who cares? It's only the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But, I like it.

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