Monday, October 17, 2011

Arguments made

As we mull over the list of nominees this year, we come across a variety of arguments as to why this or that artist should or should not be inducted.  And really, you find this with just about any artist.  Name whatever artist you wish, and chances are at least one of these arguments will come into play.  Chances are you’ve used most of these arguments, and depending on the artists, you’ve been on both sides before.  Each one has its merits, but also its weaknesses.  And for those that have converse arguments as a reason to support or deny another artist, a lot of the same merits and weaknesses apply.  And most of them apply to this year’s list of nominees.  Some arguments are just plain ridiculous, but the main drawback to each of these is that they generally can’t be used alone.  In order to have a convincing argument, you have to be able to use more than one.  The more, the better.  Some of the more common arguments include:

1. No X before Y
--Example from this ballot: Guns N’ Roses, the Cure
--In a nutshell: This artist shouldn’t be inducted before a similar, earlier-arriving, and possibly more deserving artist is inducted.  In this case, the argument is that Guns N’ Roses shouldn’t be inducted until a band like Bon Jovi or KISS; or the Cure shouldn’t go in before Sonic Youth or the Smiths.
--Why it resonates: When a more recent choice is nominated, it gives the impression that the other artists are being tossed aside, and they want to make sure those artists aren’t forgotten.
--Its weaknesses: It wrongfully downplays a nominee or inductee’s actual merits.  Just because you think another artist is more deserving doesn’t mean that that nominee or inductee doesn’t deserve the honors as well.  The Hall doesn’t really have a chronological pecking order for acts.

2. Too soon
--Examples from this ballot: Eric B. And Rakim, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N’ Roses
--In a nutshell: A corollary of the first argument above, really.  This says that an artist has barely been around long enough, that it hasn’t been 25 years since their magnum opus or when they hit their stride, and thus they should have to wait for other, earlier artists first.  For a band like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, it means having to wait until 25 years after “Under The Bridge”, or for Guns N’ Roses, 25 years after Appetite For Destruction came out, or for Eric B. And Rakim, until 25 years after Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em.
--Why it resonates: Again, those who say this want to make sure we aren’t leaving other important acts behind for the sake of getting this year’s newly eligible big name.
--Its weaknesses: “Magnum opus” and “hitting their stride” can be pretty subjective.  And this is pretty much why the 25-year rule is in place to begin with.  And again, it attempts to downplay that artist’s merits so as to build up another, which never works.

3. One trick pony
--Example from this ballot: Joan Jett And The Blackhearts
--In a nutshell: Said artist only gave us one song or album that was worth anything and is the only reason they’re getting acknowledged.  Take that away, and we wouldn’t know or care who they are/were.  For Joan Jett And The Blackhearts, “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” is the one trick from them, take that away, and you’ve got no case for them.
--Why it resonates: We want to make sure an artist is truly worthy, and worth should be more than one song or album.  Otherwise, we could just induct the song or album and call it good.
--Its weaknesses: It’s partially why we have the 25-year rule—to make sure the whole body of work is considered.  Aside from that though, know who else could be considered a “one trick pony”?  Inductees like Bill Haley, Bo Diddley, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers, and even (and perhaps especially) the Sex Pistols.

4. Bad later work
--Example from this ballot: Heart
--In a nutshell: Said artist didn’t maintain a level of excellence throughout their entire career, and thus aren’t deserving.  Most commonly happens when an artist’s later work starts appealing more to the Adult Contemporary audience, which is usually considered a bad thing.  In the case of Heart, songs like “What About Love” and “Never” suggest they went soft and lost what it means to be “rock.”
--Why it resonates: The world of rock and roll prefers a burnout to a fade away.  A bitter breakup or premature death is always preferred to growing old.  How did the Who put it?  “Hope I die before I get old.”
--Its weaknesses: An artist’s consignment to one radio format or another doesn’t have as much to do with the quality of their work as it does to with the radio industry or even the promotions department of a record label.  Contemporary Hits Radio is always about what’s new, and is quick to drop an artist that’s been around for more than five years.  AC radio always appreciates name recognition.  This argument also ignores the simple fact that people age and things change.  Also, remember, “If Looks Could Kill” came from the same album that gave us “These Dreams.”  And you know whom else this argument could apply to?  Eric Clapton, the Eagles, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Aerosmith, etc.  Lastly, merit for the HoF isn’t necessarily an “average” of the quality of every single song.

5. Cronyism/pandering
--Examples from this ballot: Joan Jett And The Blackhearts, the Small Faces/Faces, Guns N’ Roses, the Red Hot Chili Peppers
--In a nutshell: Their nomination is because they’re either friends with someone among the powers-that-be, a return favor, it’s pandering to the stars with some hope of a reward, or just plain sucking up in general.  Joan Jett’s tribute performance to the Dave Clark Five in 2008 supposedly put her in good graces, as did Flea’s induction speech for Metallica the following year.  Also, there’re accusations that Guns N’ Roses’ nomination is an attempt to get Axl and Slash together again.  And of course, the more we see Rod Stewart, the more we love him, so let’s put the Small Faces/Faces in there as well.
--Why it resonates: When a procedure is enigmatic and snubs crowd pleasers, nothing reassures you that they are criminally snubbed more than a cry of compromised integrity.  You may even question the timing of some nominations and find it very telling, very telling inDEED!
--Its weaknesses: The artists are usually still pretty worthy of induction even if they didn’t have friends in high places.  As far as admirers, well, isn’t that kind of what this is about to a degree?  Besides, outside of raw scientific observation (and even that can be called into question), there is nothing that is one hundred percent free from bias. 

6. Who?
--Examples from this ballot: Freddie King, Laura Nyro, Eric B. And Rakim, Rufus with Chaka Khan
--In a nutshell: The nominee has next to no name recognition, large-scale-wise.  Unless you’re a student of hip-hop, you may not be too familiar with Eric B. And Rakim, and while most have heard of Chaka Khan, they may not remember that she was in a group called Rufus.
--Why it resonates: When you call something a Hall Of Fame, you expect there be inductees who are, or at least were, famous.
--Its weaknesses: The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame seems to be about mixing those who are household names with those who made excellent music but have never gotten their due in the past, and thus are correcting an injustice.  It’s (according to them) more about musical excellence than sales.  Plus, it also depends to a slight degree of the arguer’s musical tastes whether or not they’ve heard of someone. 
--Also applies to: They had lots of sales/hits (a supporting argument).

7. They didn’t write/produce/play instruments on (enough of) their records
--Examples from this ballot: the Spinners, Donna Summer
--In a nutshell: The nominee was just the vocal delivery for the majority of their records, and not being involved enough, aren’t the true “artists” on the records, or they just weren’t/aren’t talented enough to merit induction.
--Why it resonates: ever since the Beatles, the all-inclusive musician has been the ideal on the pedestal.
--Its weaknesses:  If any good has come from American Idol, it’s the lesson that singing truly is a musical talent and those who are good singers but don’t play guitar/drums/bass/keyboards have just as much right to be called musicians as those who do, or those who play but don’t sing.  A song with lyrics needs a voice to convey the message, and those who do it well are just as much artists as the ones who wrote the words.  Also, those we call “all-inclusive” are usually more “jacks-of-all-trades”, which includes “masters-of-none.”  There are plenty singer/songwriters who are either really good at one and not that good at the other, or are mediocre at both.  Those who are blessed with one gift may not have another, and can work symbiotically with those who find their situations are reversed.  We shouldn’t punish those who were truly excellent just because it was only in one aspect.  Give them their due in the category they deserve it.

8. Not enough influence or innovation
--Examples from this ballot: Donovan, Guns N’ Roses, Heart, Joan Jett And The Blackhearts, Laura Nyro, Rufus with Chaka Khan, the Spinners, War
--In a nutshell: The nominee didn’t change the music world enough by either doing something no one else had done before, or spawning legions of followers.
--Why it resonates: We want to know why we’re honoring an artist, and sometimes we’re not content with “making memorable music”, particularly if we don’t like that artist all that much.  Plus, they are presumably more objective measuring sticks for artists’ merits.
--Its weaknesses: Influence and innovation are simply not the primary criteria.  It’s “unquestionable musical excellence,” and while influence and innovation can help define that concept, sometimes music can be unquestionably excellent even if it isn’t innovative and doesn’t have imitators.  And even if “unquestionable musical excellence” is a pretty subjective tern, it has been a decent guideline so far in terms of how it’s worked out.  Also, there are kinds of influence, and even innovation, that each of us feel aren’t worthy of recognition at all.

9. Too good for the Hall Of Fame
--Examples from this ballot: the Beastie Boys, the Cure, War
--In a nutshell: The Hall of Fame is already a travesty and could never properly honor, and would in fact dishonor those acts by enshrining them, that they are above the Hall Of Fame.  (For the record, the examples listed are those I’ve seen it actually said about them, not my personal opinion).
--Why it resonates: The fandom can run so strong that if they’re not already in, it couldn’t possibly be a problem with the artist, so therefore, it’s the Hall Of Fame that is a disgrace.  It can be applied to any artist you’re passionate about.
--Its weaknesses: Induction into the Hall Of Fame is still widely considered a great honor by those that it matters to most, the artists.  Even those who have stated apathy about it or have said, “Don’t bother!” would still be honored to be inducted.  Case in point: Ozzy Osbourne when Black Sabbath finally got in.
--Also applies to: They don’t even want to be in all that much (another anti argument).

10. Not artistic enough
--Examples from this ballot: Heart, Joan Jett And The Blackhearts, the Spinners, War
--In a nutshell: Their music is too appealing to the unwashed masses and not enough highbrow appeal.  If soccer moms listen to it, we don’t wanna honor it.
--Why it resonates: Music is called an art form, so those enshrined should be making higher art than those we keep out.
--Its weaknesses: Rock and roll is not exactly regarded as the artsiest musical format.  In fact, for a long time, it was considered just the opposite; it was held in lower regard than country music.  Plus what is art and what isn’t can be very subjective, and what one person doesn’t get out of a particular work, another may embrace.  Also, those who use this argument basically define art as “anything that isn’t ‘family friendly’, or that which pisses off White, conservative, Christians,” which is really an absurd metric to use.
--Also applies: Very artistic (supporting argument)

11. They suck!/rule!
--Examples from this ballot: take your pick, maybe Small Faces/Faces (hahahaha!, inside joke)
--In a nutshell: An artist’s music is beneath contempt/above reproach.
--Why it resonates: It’s a jingoistic slogan, which allows us to support an artist without having to think too critically about their lack/abundance of merit.
--Its weaknesses: It’s a jingoistic slogan that prevents us from thinking too critically about an artist’s lack/abundance of merit.  And it’s a subjective statement that at best can only result in a stalemate of opinion, without advancing the discussion further.  Even Madonna fans were surprised that there were people who don’t love and blindly follow Madge, let alone just how staunchly they hated her music.

12. The Hall Of Fame’s a joke until they’re inducted
--Examples from this ballot: the Cure, Heart, Donna Summer
--In a nutshell: The artist is so worthy that the fact that they weren’t first ballot clinchers ruins the credibility of the establishment.
--Why it resonates: It allows us to reassign blame while maintaining the unimpeachable excellence of a particular artist.  Plus, anti-establishmentarian thought demands that it’s the institution’s fault.
--Its weaknesses: They’ve inducted Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, U2, etc.  The Hall Of Fame’s credibility is pretty much intact at this point.

13. Super influential
--Examples from this ballot: the Cure, the Beastie Boys
--In a nutshell: Their influence is too big to ignore.
--Why it resonates: Again, influencing future artists is something that generally gets an artist inducted.
--Its weaknesses: The main reason this argument gets its own listing instead of just noted as the reverse of Number 8 is because sometimes when this argument is used, it is used to refer to the myriad of very minor, never-breaking-through artists that followed in an artist’s wake.  As more and more of the independent label and underground scene icons get recognized, the fact that they inspired many more indie label/underground artists is supposed to signify that they were therefore a success in this regard.  The main problem is that even if they were indie/underground, they still got famous and major name recognition.  Another example is, even though they never had a hit single, people had heard of the Velvet Underground.  Most such heroes at least had either some critical acclaim or at least some level of chart success.  When they acknowledge these kind of artists for their influence, it’s because they were not only quasi-big names themselves, but so were a lot of the artists that claimed them as influences as well.  When the Hall recognizes influence, they acknowledge the earthquake that had aftershocks, not the rattling of a small town caused by a nearby train that caused some dishes to break.

14. They’re not rock
--Examples from this ballot: the Beastie Boys, Eric B. And Rakim, Freddie King, Laura Nyro, Rufus with Chaka Khan, the Spinners, Donna Summer
--In a nutshell: Their music doesn’t qualify as “rock and roll” and therefore they shouldn’t be in.
--Why it resonates: By “rock”, they usually mean “RAWK!”  The connotation of what is “rock” music has changed to mean harder, often guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll.  Even Gene Simmons said something to the effect of rock ‘n’ roll being hard guitar music.  It also is an attempt to remind of us of artists that are played on “classic rock” radio stations that haven’t been recognized.  Add to that, the Mainstream and Album rock charts reflect this cultural shift, and what is rock and what isn’t appears cut and dry.
--Its weaknesses:  It blatantly ignores the history of rock ‘n’ roll, of its roots in R&B, folk, gospel, country, jazz, and even some of the standard pop artists of the pre-rock era.   Early rock ‘n’ roll was largely steeped in R&B, and even most of the heroes of British Invasion came to America playing covers of R&B songs.  Plus, rock has evolved so much over the years in different forms, that there simply can’t be any definition that is both accurate AND concise. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article. It does a nice job of being fair and balanced in the presentation of the arguments for and against induction for the nominees. I posted a link on my music Facebook page: