Maybe it’s a symptom of living in the era in which these artists made their mark, but the whole thing has gotten rather ho hum. Do baseball fans feel anything when a great player is recognized after a career of exploits? Maybe the five-year gap between retirement and induction is a good idea. It’s hard to appreciate the breakthrough that Metallica made 25 years ago when the band continues to churn out marginal music today.
Regardless, it’s nice to see RUN-D.M.C. get its due. This truly groundbreaking act is deserving of the award, and I can already envision some sort of unholy matchup between Metallica and the hip hop act at the induction ceremony. Can one rap to “One”?
As for he rest, I’ll admit I’m no judge of their merits. I’ve never understood Jeff Beck’s appeal, though his lack of commercial success when compared to Eric Clapton et al might be more of a badge of honor than a slight. He’s clearly talented, so bring him on. Bobby Womack? Can’t honestly say I’ve ever knowingly heard one of his songs? Little Anthony? Again, in my ignorance I can’t say they are better or worse than contemporaries, though I admire the fact that they’re going strong, with original members intact, 50 years later.
Regardless of their merit, these acts obviously seemed like a lock back in September when they were announced. I was four for five in predictions, missing only on Womack, whose spot I predicted for the long-snubbed Stooges. With Ron Asheton now gone, I assume that will be rectified next year.
Other inductees include Wanda Jackson in the Early Influence category and Bill Black, DJ Fontana and Spooner Oldham in the Sidemen category, very worthy picks all.
We’re fully in the era of huge rock bands, but because the hall is continually making up for poor past decisions, much of the slate is given over to correcting slights from the past rather than moving forward to recognize worthy acts that are freshly eligible.
To qualify for the hall, an act must have put out its first release 25 years ago. That means, gulp, 1984. Only Run-DMC and Metallica are fresh qualifiers. Everyone else has been eligible for years; some, like the Stooges, have been passed over before.
There are plenty of lists out there of eligible acts that have never been nominated, some more worthy than others (Rush? Really?). But who is really out there who was snubbed? The Smiths are eligible this year, but they’ll never make it. The Bangles? Please. Bon Jovi? Perhaps someday. Dwight Yoakam? In a perfect world. Los Lobos? Again, ideally yes, but not likely.
The problem is that people who criticize these annual nominee lists, myself included, tend to forget that it has little to do with artistic merit. Being groundbreaking and respected is a big key, and commercial success is another. Run-DMC and Metallica are easy choices because they meet both criteria. The Smiths and Los Lobos are certainly the former, but experienced too little of the latter to ever gain serious consideration. For sheer influence, bands like Minor Threat and the Replacements ought to be there, but neither was popular enough to merit more than a footnote in a punk rock exhibit in the outer reaches of the hall.
So, predictions? Metallica, Run-DMC, Jeff Beck, Little Anthony and, because they charmed the pants off the crowd at last year’s ceremony with their run through a couple of Madonna tunes, the Stooges.
Perhaps the coolest thing was seeing Mike Watt meet Madonna. Watt has a long-standing Madonna fixation, having recorded a cover of her “Burning Up” with the one-off supergroup Ciccone Youth (a group that featured Watt with Sonic Youth, its name an homage to Madonna’s surname). Then again, she didn’t do much more than shake his hand, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he single-handedly gave her indie credibility for a brief, shining moment.
The 2007 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was announced last week, and it was as disappointing as one would expect given the options. When the nominees were announced in September, I prognosticated the results.
I was three for five, correctly forecasting Madonna, the Dave Clark Five and Leonard Cohen. My misses are puzzling. How could the Beastie Boys not make it, or Afrika Bambaataa, while a second oldies act like the Ventures did? I would imagine the Beasties, to their credit, are seen as too young to make it, perhaps, but Bambaataa should have appealed to voters’ sense of inclusion and diversity. Instead, they went for the popular-in-their-time but artistically less significant Ventures, who trod similar ground — albeit in less pioneering fashion — as Duane Eddy, who is already in the hall.
That leaves John Mellencamp. He’s clearly a commercial success, and at times he was a critical success as well. American Fool, Uh-huh and Scarecrow were as good as any three albums made by a male solo artist in the early ’80s, save for his closest musical forefather, Bruce Springsteen, whose The River, Nebraska and Born in the U.S.A. are hard to top. But people aren’t inducted into the hall of fame for a handful of really good albums — at least, they shouldn’t be. They should be inducted for long, continually challenging and creative careers, or for short bursts that are simply so revolutionary that they can’t be denied. Mellencamp has enjoyed a long career, but it would be hard to argue that it has been anything more than a commercially popular artist for much of it.
As I wrote in September, it’s going to be a long, dry period until the 2020s when the first commercially successful grunge and rock acts become eligible. Maybe the hall will take that time to deal with some glaring omissions and ignore the artistically bankrupt pap that will become eligible in the interim. Yeah, right.
The Beastie Boys and Madonna are shoo-ins; Cohen is a critical darling that will likely join them. Afrika Bambaataa will receive the token hip-hop spot (see Grandmaster Flash, the Sugar Hill Gang et al) and the Dave Clark Five will get in through the geezer back door. Yikes, is this what we’re in for as we move into the eligibility window for ’80s acts? It’s going to be a long few years until Kurt Cobain’s ascendancy).
As usual, the hall could have had an outstanding slate of nominees, but left many worthy acts off the list. Metallica and Sonic Youth both were eligible, and each was considerably more influential than Mellencamp. The Cure also would have been a nice surprise on the list, while the Stooges, passed over for induction several years in a row, should have been given another shot.
Notice anything about who made it and who didn’t? It’s all about risk. Those who made it took few (save for perhaps the Beastie Boys, who left hitmaking behind for art), and those who didn’t built their career on it. These days, the Rock Hall is beginning to resemble a warehouse for Grammy winners, and that’s a shame. If you want to enshrine top sellers, so be it, but don’t pretend that you’re championing visionaries and influences at the same time.
But I digress. I hung in late because I wanted to see R.E.M. Though it was a bit anticlimatic, and seeing the visibily older, wider members of R.E.M. (the lithe Michael Stipe notwithstanding) on the same stage recently vacated by the visibly older, wider members of the Ronettes, the Furious Five, Van Hagar and the Patti Smith Group (the lithe Patti Smith notwithstanding) made me feel old. Yes, R.E.M. is still a going concern making occasionally vital music, unlike most hall inductees, but they’re still old guys toward the tail end of their career performing mostly for those eager to steep in nostalgia. It was the induction of the Police a few years back that really touched off this feeling, but R.E.M. sealed it last night.
Still, it was a celebratory night. It was great to see Patti Smith emerge from behind the lectern, shedding the awkwardness of her acceptance speech to slink over to the stage and, within seconds, absolutely command the entire room. A bit strange to hear a woman in her 60s refer to her mother as “Mommy,” but her story about her mother enjoying vacuuming while listening to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger” was priceless. It was nice to see hip hop get even a small percentage of its due in the person of Grandmaster Flash, and I’ll guarantee that there will be at least one hip hop inductee per year for the foreseeable future as a result (a lock for 2008: Run DMC). Van Halen was, well, strange. Michael Anthony looked like a stage crew guy who somehow made a wrong turn backstage and wound up in front of a microphone.
–Velvet Revolver has been asked twice to induct someone? What could possibly be the reason for that? And what the hell was the second song they performed last night?
–While in another room killing time until R.E.M. began, I looked over at my TV, caught sight of a head of messy blonde locks on screen, and came back in because I was sure it was Mike Mills. It was Sammy Hagar.
–Speaking of Hagar, has anyone looked more out of place than he did on stage with everyone else when they sang the show-closing “People Got the Power”? And could Patti Smith have looked more uncomfortable than when Hagar threw his arm around her as if they were singing “Finish What You Started” at Cabo Wabo?
Then there was R.E.M. It was a nice touch to start with a rocker like “Begin the Begin,” letting Bill Berry — who seems to spend more time behind the drums than the wheel of a tractor these days — use his whole kit to show off the fact that his chops remain intact. From there they played “Gardening at Night,” dedicated to Stipe’s pop, and closed with “Man in the Moon” with inductor Eddie Vedder chiming in on vocals. It was the briefest part of Vedder’s evening, coming on the heels of a long, rambling, at times actually touching induction speech. Perhaps because he took so long, or simply because they’ve learned to let Michael Stipe and Mills do the talking, Peter Buck and Berry said nothing in accepting their HOF statues.
All in all it was an interesting night, one that will be ably capsulized for broadcast Saturday on VH1. In the meantime, you can read a lot about R.E.M.’s history and impact on Athens, Ga., in this great package from the band’s hometown paper. In addition, watch for a new digital single from the band, including Berry, a cover of John Lennon’s “#9 Dream” for a benefit disc to raise money for relief in Darfur.
The artists will be inducted during the March 12 ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. That should be an interesting event, particularly when it comes to the performance part. Yet another chance for Bill Berry to perform with his old band, and it’s safe to bet they’ll play with Patti Smith, too. One wild guess: Michael Stipe will induct Smith.
Also on the ballot are Van Halen, the Stooges, the Dave Clark Five, Chic, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Joe Tex and the Ronettes. Hard to pick, though I’d guess Grandmaster Flash, the Ronettes and the Stooges will join R.E.M. and Smith in this year’s class.
The selections will be announced in January and the ceremony will be held March 12 in New York.