By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
It's a little hard to get your dander up about the Rock and Roll (note: it's the formal and, as opposed to the more rockin' 'n') Hall of Fame in 2001. There was a time when this lifelong rock fan was one of the more quoted critics of the institution, but the biggest gripes with the RARHOF were remedied when they finally inducted the Velvet Underground (four years after they were first nominated, mind you) and Del Shannon (years after he'd committed suicide -- no doubt the overlooked nominee's depression was not helped by a request to deliver the induction speech for the Four Seasons).
Anyway, if you wait around long enough, all of your faves will eventually make it in. Diminishing returns are already on display: The first year (1986) saw 10 performers inducted, the second a whopping 15, but since then, it's ranged between five and this year's mostly sorry eight inductees. The class of 2001 comprises Aerosmith, Solomon Burke (cool), the Flamingos, Michael Jackson, Queen (there's a reason they were Wayne and Garth's favorite band), Steely Dan, Paul Simon and Ritchie Valens.
Writing in BAM in 1994, J. Kordosh suggested, "They should've opened the Hall, inducted Elvis Presley and the Beatles, and then closed the Hall forevermore." In light of some recent inductees (and after sneaking Dylan and perhaps Brian Wilson onto the list), it's easy to agree. Artists are eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first recordings. The official criteria remain "influence and significance of the artist's contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll," though it's still not clear who determines that influence and significance, nor why some years 15 artists have it and some years only five. But when we start getting to the LA hair-metal days or those early MTV years, the pickings are gonna be pretty fucking slim ("Uh, Mr. Ertegun, do we nominate Men Without Hats? Or would you prefer A Flock of Seagulls?"). The New York Dolls, the Stooges, MC5 and Black Sabbath will eventually have to go in, if only by default. Besides, someone who works at Cleveland's RARHOF Museum says that Lou, Mo Tucker and John Cale (all of whom declined requests to be interviewed for this piece) have been guests at the museum. If they can forgive the fact that by the time they were inducted, their bandmate Sterling Morrison had died, then who are we to cast stones?
Still, there are people out there who do care. Many newspapers always refer to an inducted artist as such whenever his or her name is mentioned, and an online search produced at least two Web sites devoted to alternative Halls of Fame (not to mention all the regional RARHOFs that have popped up from Detroit to Nebraska) and petitions for nomination, ranging from Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels (yes, definitely) to Michael Bolton (aiiiieeeee!). Another site is devoted to the artists who haven't been inducted but, in the eyes of those posting, should be. The list includes many worthy names: Alice Cooper, Rory Gallagher, Cat Stevens, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Grand Funk Railroad, the Zombies, the Monkees, Link Wray, Doug Sahm, Procol Harum, Love, the Dave Clark Five, Gram Parsons. And what about ? and the Mysterians, and the Rivieras? Granted, they only had one hit apiece (and the members of both bands could barely play their instruments), but, my God, what hits!
Actually, the Cleveland museum -- which purports to be separate from (though closely associated with) the RARHOF Foundation -- does pay tribute to "96 Tears" and some of the more "marginal" rock legends. In that regard, the museum can't be faulted, especially when it claims education as its primary goal. ("Rock education" may seem like an oxymoron in conjunction with such terms as "post-Guns N' Roses" or just "Limp Bizkit," but that's beside the point.) History, of course, belongs to the victors -- and the museum's biggest gaffe is devoting an entire wall to Rolling Stone and an opposite wall to every other publication in the history of rock. Now, Rolling Stone was a terrific music magazine in its day -- and it's certainly the world's most successful -- but there's no way that it was more important than prime CREEM or Crawdaddy (or Gloria Stavers-era 16, or Lisa Robinson-Lenny Kaye Rock Scene, for that matter). But you just know that Jann Wenner will be inducted as one of the Hall of Fame's nonperformers before Lester Bangs has a snowball's chance in hell.
The RARHOF induction ceremonies have presented numerous memorable moments over the years (although many occurred before VH-1 began broadcasting the shows): Mike Love incoherently challenging the Beatles, the Stones, Billy Joel and others to a talent duel in 1988 ... and Bob Dylan beginning his induction speech with "I'd like to thank Mike Love for not mentioning me." The year before, it was the quiet pride of the daughters of the late Muddy Waters when he was inducted. And hey, any institution that can bring more attention to artists such as James Burton and Johnnie Johnson (both "sidemen" inductees this year) can't be all bad. Yet when another memorable moment -- Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's reuniting for the first time in years to perform live -- was broadcast on VH-1 two years ago, the camera panned the audience, and the most recognizable faces in the crowd were those of label execs: Val Azolli, Edgar Bronfman Jr., Donnie Ienner, Michelle Anthony, Seymour Stein, Tommy Mottola.