Rock Hall loses its roots

Rock Hall loses its roots

December 13th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

What do Rush, Public Enemy, Heart, Randy Newman, Donna Summer and Albert King have in common? Absolutely nothing.

That didn't stop voters from electing them to the 2013 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In order to be inducted into the Hall of Fame an artist must meet two requirements: First, at least 25 years must have passed since the release of the artist's debut album or single. Second, "the influence and significance of the artist's contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll" must be of the highest order.

It's hard to say what exactly Public Enemy, the politically charged Long Island-based rap group, did to "develop and perpetuate" rock and roll.

The group is certainly one of the most important acts in rap history and would make a fine addition to a rap or R&B hall of fame, if such a thing existed. Public Enemy's contribution to rock and roll, however, is negligible at best.

Every year since 1997, in a pathetic attempt to at relevancy, Hall of Fame voters have shoehorned a rapper or rap group that has little, if anything, to do with rock music into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

This year's attempt to appeal to a wider audience means that Flavor Flav, Public Enemy's wall-clock wearing hype man, who is better known for dating actress Brigitte Nielsen and a series of other trollops and strumpets on various VH1 reality shows, will soon join the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Carl Perkins and Smokey Robinson as a Hall of Fame inductee.

The bastardization of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame doesn't end with the inclusion of rap artists.

Kiss's Gene Simmons called the Hall of Fame "a joke" for inducting pop and dance artists, such as Abba and Blondie, while ignoring rock music. "They're legitimate dance, disco artists, [but] they don't belong in rock and roll," Simmons told Billboard.

The joke apparently didn't end this year, as the late disco queen Donna Summer is part of the class being inducted into the Hall of Fame next April in Los Angeles.

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Thanks to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's secretive and often-criticized nominating process, there is no clear indication of what makes an artist deserving of entry into the club. The nominating committee winnows down a massive list of artists into a collection of 15 or so. From that ballot, any artists receiving the support of more than half of the 500-plus Hall of Fame voters is then inducted the following year.

There are no real rules, guidelines, expectations or explanations. Everything is relative and subjective. And that's the problem with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

At best, it's a bunch of old white guys getting together to arbitrarily assess and put a value on art, then compare the worth and importance of one artist to another -- a practice that is offensive, cynical and, ultimately, impossible.

At worst, the process is an ostentatious money grab by the many music industry executives sitting on the nominating committee who realize that electing an artist into the Hall of Fame creates a bump in interest in the artist. That translates into money for record labels, publishing companies and, for artists still touring, tour managers, venues and promoters.

Financial considerations do not end with the nominating committee trying to steer money towards themselves and their friends. The Hall of Fame also has to generate enough cash to keep the doors open and the lights on -- not that they have done it on their own. Since day one, the Hall of Fame has relied heavily on taxpayer-funded handouts to subsidize its operation.

The building that houses the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a monstrous edifice on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland, cost taxpayers $65 million. According to IRS documents, in recent years, the Hall of Fame has snatched up as much as $2.8 million annually in public funds.

That need to keep cash rolling in is much of the reason the Hall of Fame has turned its efforts from highlighting and honoring the history of rock and roll to featuring a mishmash of whatever popular music will cause people to visit and pay attention to the Hall of Fame. The decision by the Hall of Fame to turn its back on its mission of educating "visitors, fans and scholars from around the world about the history and continuing significance of rock and roll music" has cost the organization both credibility and money.

When it was originally built, the Hall of Fame's directors promised a million people through the door each year. In reality, the facility struggles to get 400,000 visitors annually.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex in New York City met an even worse fate, lasting only a year before being shuttered in 2010 due to low visitorship. The Annex's poor numbers at the turnstile, like the Hall of Fame's Cleveland location, were likely due to a combination of the tourist trap's pricey admission fee and a backlash of music fans against the Hall of Fame for putting commerce and kitsch before art.

By attempting to become everything to everyone, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has become nothing at all. What began as a grand effort to celebrate one of history's most important cultural movements, is now a bland, passionless, disheartening money grab. In other words, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has become the antithesis of rock and roll.