Thursday, December 16, 2010

A New Class In Cleveland

Next spring will see some new faces inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, Neil Diamond, Leon Russell, Dr. John (Mac Rebbenack), and Darlene Love, record execs Jac Holzman and Art Rupe. I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of the HoF (which doesn't mean that I wouldn't spend my hard-earned money on a visit). The whole idea strikes me as, well, un-rock-and-roll. I know I'm not the first or only person to feel that way. All the same I just find the whole concept of a Hall of Fame, and all the hoopla around it, counter to the whole reason for rock. Powered by a weird social and cultural alchemy, as well as several historical contingencies converging, when the earliest rock and roll records started emerging in the mid-1950's, it was both more and less than it seemed. More because there was hope and promise in that music, a hope and promise one just could not find in the stultifying America of the Eisenhower decade. There was less there because, in the end, despite a breach in the color line that was irreparable, the music was about teenage kids wanting to dance with their girlfriend/boyfriend, maybe do it in the back of the family DeSoto, and go back and dance some more. That in and of itself was both freedom and a sign of immense wealth on the part of large numbers of young people.

The rebelliousness of rock was, it seems to me, the rebelliousness of people struggling to find their identity and voice. It was the rebelliousness of people who want to be left alone to have a little fun amidst the gloom of the suburbs and the soul-stealing consumerism of American post-war life. It wasn't so much a rejection of it - how could that be, when it was a product of it? - as it was a plea for some space and time in the midst of too much affluence and too little significance.

Fast forward to the latest batch and I have to wonder about the whole "rock" aspect. I'll grant Alice Cooper, and it has been a long time coming. Leon Russell and Dr. John, too. But, for God's sake, Neil Diamond? Seriously? He no more belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame than I do getting a National Book Award. The only thing he has in common with those so inducted is that he is involved in music, just as, like NBA winners, I write. Beyond that . . . good Lord, no.

Now, I'm a HUGE Tom Waits fan. I love him, his music, his voice. I think he is one of the most creative artists around, and his work is of consistently high quality. All the same, he isn't a rock and roller. He's a throwback. He's a crooner, really, Dean Martin needing a shave, Frank Sinatra without the overt mob connections, Tony Bennett only less suave. No disrespect intended, but he really has no place in the HoF either.

Then, of course, there are the gripers. Those folks who bitch and moan because their favorite artist wasn't inducted. Among the complaints this year, the big two, nominated this year for the first time, are The Beastie Boys and Bon Jovi, as well as Chic and Donna Summer. I would think that Chic belongs in the HoF before either Neil Diamond or Tom Waits; their slick, band-oriented take on disco was superb, and gave to bassist Nile Rodgers a whole career as a producer. Donna Summer taught a generation of young women how to fake orgasms, as well as a generation of young men how to have them, as they sat and listened to her candle-lit session on the long remix of "Love to Love You, Baby".

Having said that, I still just don't get it. I don't get excited about it too much. Whenever a new class comes along, I think of Jeff Beck's speech when The Yardbirds were inducted. He said that he wanted to be thankful, but noted that he was kicked out of the band. "Fuck them," he said and walked away from the microphone. The other members of the band laughed, but I think he was serious. It would be marvelous if as honest a statement would emerge during this year's ceremony.

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