Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Or Farce?

This week sees the twenty-ninth induction of artists into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with the hall paying tribute to Peter Gabriel, Hall & Oates, Kiss, Nirvana, Linda Ronstadt, Cat Stevens, and the E Street Band. The Hall of Fame itself had its first inductions in 1986 and for the most part has remained a novel enough concept in honoring musicians from the last sixty odd years since the birth of rock and roll in the 1950s. Artists become eligible for induction twenty-five years after the release of their debut album and slowly but surely each year has seen more deserving acts added to the halls impressive roster of musicians. However, it is my view that the Hall of Fame and those people behind it have turned it into a farce, and it seems to my eyes that the hall and the decision making process around inductions has become all about politics, money, and egos in the music industry and not artistry, legacy and recognising those who are truly deserving of the honour the hall professes to place on people.

This view of mine comes in light of the controversy around Kiss’s induction this year, with the lead up to the ceremony being over-shadowed by a disagreement between the hall and founding Kiss members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley over the induction process and namely the issue of who gets inducted and who doesn’t. This comes after the hall decided to only induct the four original members of Kiss and none of the other past and present members. This issue alone led to a wider internal disagreement between Simmons and Stanley and other founding members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss around who should be allowed to perform on the night, with Stanley and Simmons refusing to perform with them as they are no longer in the band even though their onstage characters are replicated by the two other current members. The end result is that Kiss will not perform and this farce within a farce which seemingly involved Kiss airing their dirty laundry in public has overshadowed the entire class of 2014, reducing the other inductees to a sideshow.

However, the issue for me is not Kiss here. You can debate the merits of whether Kiss are deserving of an induction or not, of which I would argue that they are despite many viewing them to be just a novelty act. No, this is just a sideshow for much deeper issues in the whole Rock and Roll Hall of Fame process. Overall, I find the Hall of Fame’s induction and selection process extremely odd, for starters how some bands have their entire line-ups past and present inducted while others like Kiss are not afforded that privilege. A notable example from a recent ceremony was the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2012, whose latest guitar recruit Josh Klinghoffer was inducted with the rest of the band despite having only joined the band in 2009 and played on just one album. Now yes it may be ridiculous to induct all members of a band especially if they have had constant line-up changes and have amassed over the years a membership that amounts to the size of a symphony orchestra, but the problem is the inconsistency around this when it comes to the induction process. In order to avoid future Kiss like incidents, of which I should note is not the first controversy surrounding this rock hall, the powers that be should simply decide we will either induct this particular incarnation of a group, or we will induct the entire list of members. This will clean up the issue of membership once and for all and will at least lead to some consistency in selection of which there is none at the moment.

The second issue I have with the hall’s induction process is how they select who gets to be inducted in the first place, something which is done largely behind closed doors by industry insiders. Although in recent years they have opened up a public ballot if only just to appease vocal Rush and Kiss fans who have been screaming for their acts to be inducted for years, ironically leading to those bands inductions in the process. The bias towards American acts to my mind is clear to see in this process, with around 77% of the inductees being from the US, something which you could argue has led to less deserving American acts being inducted ahead of more deserving British acts. Genre is also an interesting issue when it comes to selection, not just in regards to who gets in but also who doesn’t. How artists like Madonna and Donna Summer get into a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is confusing, to say the least, with all due respect to them, because unless I have missed something mainstream pop and disco is not rock and roll. The equivalent of their induction into this sanctity of rock would be if Queen and Run DMC were inducted into the country music hall of fame, it just would never happen. Yes, rock and roll as a music and as an idea has branched out to encompass and often influence many styles within popular music, especially when you consider its own origins in the blues. However, I do feel that with many of the acts that have been inducted that are not rock and roll like Madonna, is simply a result of the induction committee trying to be all things to all people, with many of the decisions also coming down to the simple fact of records sold rather than artistry, influence and the simple fact of whether it is rock and roll, or not. In line with this, there is the simple fact of how whole entire genres within the rock pantheon have been largely overlooked for induction including progressive rock, glam rock, folk rock, indie rock, new wave and metal, while also how many influential cult artists that weren’t necessarily successful commercial speaking but had a massive lasting influence including Nick Drake, Warren Zevon, and Harry Nilsson have been passed over for induction. With this the case, one would have to say in the words of the Sex Pistols this really is a piss stain.

I used to think the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame meant something and I still do think the idea has immense merit in honoring the greats of music who are deserving of recognition for the joy they have given us. But now I feel it has got completely out of hand and has lost its true focus and core identity as a music institution.  It seems now they just induct anyone willy-nilly each year with no rhyme or reason to their decision making, except at what appears to be a focus on name names and commercial success. How much more rock and roll can you get. Until the Hall of Fame sorts its selection process out I will not take them seriously as an institution, while each year I will continue to gasp in amazement at how this latest inductee is deemed to be rock and roll enough and deserving of induction. Not to mention how we will continue to have years like this year where the people doing the inducting can’t even please the people they are inducting. What a joke that is.

– Sam

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