Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Anything worth doing is worth doing ri--oh, nevermind


After a hectic holiday season, I now finally have time to sit down and post more fully my thoughts on our Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Class Of 2015.  I fleshed out a few comments on the Future Rock Legends site, and I will be quoting my entries there.  Also, while I’m not prone to ranting, it is accurate to say that this is one dissatisfied customer.

First, the Performer inductees.  Let’s face it, everyone knew and predicted Green Day to make it.  Hardly the most deserving, but hardly the least either.  So, we can just shrug our shoulders and say, “No surprises there.”  Pretty much the same deal with Lou Reed, whose death cemented his spot in the Hall for the second time.  Things are bit happier with Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble both in the fact that Stevie’s FINALLY getting his just due, and that they are indeed including his band with him.  I’m thrilled about this one.  This band has been the biggest omission from the Hall, in my opinion, ever since they became eligible.  Bill Withers is a name that kind of sneaked up on me.  When his name was first bandied about, I was rather surprised.  I don’t dislike his music, but I’m not a huge fan either.  That’s still my feeling on his music.  However, ever since his name first appeared on the nominees list, there was a murmuring within that he would make the cut.  So I predicted him, as well.  Four for six on my predictions.  Originally, I was planning on predicting Joan Jett And The Blackhearts due to Jett’s appearance in last year’s ceremonies, but thought Sting would be much more likely.  She and her band are pretty low in my opinion (and several others’ as well) as far as deserving the honors, but I love “School Days”, “You Drive Me Wild”, “Fake Friends”, “Androgynous”, and of course, “I Love Rock N’ Roll” and “I Hate Myself For Loving You”.  But I have to point out, how deserving is someone if they do a cover of “Love Is All Around”?  And just to clarify, I don’t mean the proto-monster ballad from the Troggs, I mean the theme song from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  That’s right.  Well, Joan, you’re going to make it after all… into the Hall.  Congratulations.  Lastly, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, a band we knew was going to keep being nominated until they made it, had Jann S. Wenner’s support, but no one thought was anywhere near the most deserving, and few listed them among their favorites.  Well, there’s often one of those.  Not always, but often enough to the point where it’s fruitless to be sour about it.

But it’s not the Performers that made everyone sit up and take notice.  It was the other two inductees in this year’s class.  The less discussed of the two is the selection of The “5” Royales as Early Influence inductees.  Fellow Monitor Tom Lane posted his enthusiasm and willingly accepts this inductee.  But I must resoundingly disagree.  For reasons I hope to get into in another entry, I’m going to call this one a bad call.

But the bulk of the ire centers on the induction of Ringo Starr in the “Award For Musical Excellence” category.  The question everyone is asking, but for different reasons, is “Why?”  For some, it’s “Why even bother?”, for others, it’s “Why in this category and not nominated as a Performer down the road?”  This is the camp I fall squarely in.  I still feel very strongly that Ringo Starr is (note the present tense) worthy of induction as a Performer.  Another commenter on the FRL site, fellow Monitor Dezmond, essentially said that if Ringo were never in the Beatles, no one would be clamoring for his induction.  It’s an interesting hypothetical to postulate; however, it’s still one that I must disagree with.  Partially because I also still support the induction for artists like Gary U.S. Bonds, Freddy Cannon, Bobby Rydell, Tommy James And The Shondells, and the Turtles, to name a few.  But also because Ringo’s music just makes the grade.  At this point, I’d like to copy and paste two posts of mine from FRL that further expound my feelings about Ringo’s music.

“I do think Ringo deserves solo induction as a Performer. His 70's output were some of the most joyful, ebullient, rocking, rollicking, fun, and human records from that entire decade. Did it always push the envelope? No, but sometimes I think that doing so is overrated. He is just plain good rock'n'roll, and that should be honored for what it is. And with Joan Jett getting in this year, the ‘fun but safe’ slot would have been wide open for him. But hey, congrats on him being the first person inducted in two different categories. Maybe this will lead to a solo Carole King induction now.”

And…

“Ringo Starr's solo career is still very much worthy. I stand by everything I said about his music in my previous post. In fact, the only detriment to the argument is that more artists haven't followed his lead. His solo music is generally the kind of joyful and life-affirming that the music world is dying of thirst for, amidst a salt-water ocean of lyrics of angst and abstract, and angry distortion pedals and intentional cacophony. We get that fresh water in small doses of fun like "Party Hard," "Girlfriend," and even the lesser "This Afternoon."

Ringo's music is real to me. More real than Green Day, supposedly the voice of my generation. The medicinal effect of music as expressed through ‘Oh My My’ and ‘A Dose Of Rock And Roll’, the yearning for a stranger in ‘Devil Woman’, the fatigue expressed in ‘You And Me’, the empathy regarding bad days in ‘Hopeless,’ the eagerness for Christmas day in ‘Come On Christmas,’ etc. In fact, one of the greatest quotes about the futility of regret, imo, comes from the Ringo Starr song, ‘Weight Of The World’: It all comes down to who you crucify/You either kiss the future or the past goodbye. It's a kind of realism that is excellent because it is common love and common sense and reaches everyone.

Ringo's music as a solo artist is very deserving.”

Regarding the last sentence of the previous full paragraph, I would also remind the reader of what I said in my merits’ rankings of the nominees, in favor of Bill Withers under Intangibles:

“Idealists will describe rock and roll music as a musical genre that at its finest, breaks down borders, shatters barriers, bridges the widest chasms, and unifies people on a fundamental level that is indisputably and universally human.  If ‘Lean On Me’ doesn’t fit the bill here, what song does?  In this regard, ‘Lean On Me’ belongs in the same discussion as ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ and ‘All You Need Is Love.’  More than any nominee on this ballot, Bill Withers reached this ideal with at least one of his songs.”

While no single song by Ringo Starr as a soloist attained this goal quite the way “Lean On Me” does, this is the very essence of what Ringo Starr’s solo music is about: singing about the places where we’ve all been.  The late Dick Clark listed this as one of the things that made Ray Charles such a genius.  It’s part of why we venerate Smokey Robinson as a songwriter, and it’s why Ringo’s music is unquestionably excellent.  And quite honestly, we could use a few more artists whose credentials are simply that, fuck the holy twins of innovation of influence.

But hey, the category is called “Award For Musical Excellence”, right?  Shouldn’t I be jubilant about it then?  And the answer is still no.  It’s still no because we still haven’t gotten any real good explanation about this category.  There are still those who imagine this category as a simple renaming of the Sideman category, much as the Non-Performer category was re-dubbed the “Ahmet  Ertegun Award”.  Well, Ringo did do some session work in the ‘70s, mainly for his friends, but honestly, a sideman?  No.  Just no.  Besides which, what about the three engineers from 2012, or the E Street Band who weren’t studio musicians for hire, but a coherent unit that worked and traveled together with Bruce Springsteen?  It’s a haze that is very uncomfortable on its own, but with Ringo Starr this year, it’s even more so. 

How about a renaming of “Lifetime Achievement”?  Okay…but again, really?  “Lifetime Achievement” inductees, pre-2004 at least, were used to mark a higher esteem for those inductees than would normally befit an inductee for that category, which in this case was entirely Non-Performers.  Does the E Street Band deserve higher esteem than the Boss?  And as much as I love Ringo’s work as a soloist, he isn’t as deserving as Lennon, McCartney, or Harrison as soloists, or the Beatles as a whole, though still more deserving than maybe a third of the names we had on this year’s ballot.  So that answer doesn’t satisfy either.

The galling alternative conclusion is that the “Award For Musical Excellence” category is (becoming) the “Because we fucking say so, that’s why, dammit!” category.  And if that’s the case, then why have categories, or even a ballot at all?  It is also not a good answer, but it’s much more probable than the other two.  And in hindsight, it may even appear that Sting was the guinea pig this year.  If they couldn’t get Sting in this year as a Performer, then the outcome wouldn’t have been good for Ringo Starr either.

Back in 2011, when the Small Faces/Faces joint nomination got everyone tittering, I emailed one of the NomCom members for some explanation as to why they were nominated jointly and not separately.  This member replied saying two things about it.  The second thing said was this: “I always think of the Faces as two bands with a continuous history somehow--that is, I always think of the Faces as Mac, Ronnie, and Kenney working with...whomever they work with.”  A reply, no doubt to send into a tizzy those who feel Steve Marriott was the end-all be-all of British music.  But even more telling was what this member said first about it: “What do you figure the odds are that, having chosen one group or the other, we would succeed in getting both in within the lifetime of the currently living band members. I know my estimation of that likelihood.”  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take my honors while living over posthumously any day, but when I read that then, I wanted to immediately reply, “Let me ask you in return, which is important: inducting them while they are still alive, or inducting them correctly?”  Keep in mind, that at that time, I still believed that the joint nomination was justifiable.  (To some degree, I still do, but not the way the Hall went about doing it and justifying it.)  Clearly, the NomCom knew which they felt was more important, and still seems to believe, apparently. 

And unfortunately, this is the angle people by and large will take anyway.  In his Twitter feed, Ringo Starr himself has said nothing negative about his being inducted in this manner, only that he’s grateful it happened.  The kin of the members the “5” Royales don’t care that the Foundation is playing fast and loose with historical benchmarks and definitions.  They’re just glad their loved ones’ legacies are honored in some capacity.  Ringo and the loved ones of the "5" Royales are happy, so in the eyes of all the higher-ups at the Foundation, people like me who are not directly affected by this but are still upset are in the same league as comic book devotees who throw a tantrum over having a black Nick Fury in Marvel’s The Avengers, minus the accusations of racism.

To which, I say, “Up yours.”  In the various jobs I’ve had over the years, I’ve repeatedly encountered corporate buzz talk designed to motivate workers to follow procedures to the letter, no matter how ridiculous.  Among those, one currently stands out as a sentiment I wish to impress upon the people at the Foundation—if you don’t have time to do it right, when will you find time to do it over/again?  The seeming string of inconsistencies may be partly due to the change in memberships in power positions, but the duty to be consistent is mandatory, no matter the entity.  Change can, will, and should happen, but core concepts should remain immutable. 

In my opinion, this class has eight outstanding Performer inductees, and no inductees in any other category (side note: shame on you for passing on Bob Crewe again).  But that’s not gonna change anything.  All I can say is, if getting them in while alive if possible is of that paramount importance, why are the classes so small?  This is the first year in a long time that we actually have fewer past nominees still not inducted—but ONLY because they chose to call the “5” Royales “Early Influences”.  Otherwise, we’d still have the same number, and most years, that list keeps growing, but not as rapidly as the list of worthy candidates that haven’t even been nominated.  I’m not a politician, and we’re not talking about education here.  Bigger class sizes are a good thing; they will go a long way in solving these problems.  Don’t worry about the television special when you’re in that room setting confines.  You can cross that bridge when you get to it.  For now, just focus on doing it right.  This is not doing it right. 

3 comments:

  1. This is a good article that asks some important questions. I believe Carole King should be inducted (again) either as a performer or "Award For Musical Excellence.” She was the first performer to receive the RIAA Diamond Award for Tapestry. I also believe if Ringo Starr was to be inducted, it should be for a performer. He didn't invent anything new for the drum/drummer, did he?

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    1. Ringo Starr did popularize matched grip in drumming, which is massive influence.

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  2. Until they decide to create a "veterans committee" type of thing to work on getting in more of the 50s and early 60s foundational acts, the early influence category seems like the best route to fill those holes. We have already seen that the voting population seems increasingly disinterested in honoring those performers.

    I would also caution against your beating the drum for "consistency" - with the number of people who are critical about the many snubs by the Hall, consistency means continuing to simply ignore the criticism rather than trying to make the Hall a bit more populist. You can't make reforms and improvements *and* keep consistency with a flawed past.

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