Monday, January 25, 2016

French vanilla ice cream: the Class of 2016

The Performer inductees are announced.

The disappointed side of me feels that's the end of the good news.  It really isn't, if I'm being honest.  But I'm still disappointed.

Let's focus on the positives, because we kind of have to.  First off, Chicago continues the correlation that the winner in the fan poll will end up inducted.  And I really should be happy they're in.  They ranked first in merits on my list, and fourth in personal taste: one of only two acts to finish in the top five of both.  Deep Purple also made the cut, ending the howl about them being snubbed.  And I should be happy, as they finished second in merits, and while they were lower on tastes, they did finish in the Top 5 averages of merit and taste.  N.W.A. finally pushes through. The first rap inductee since Public Enemy.  And I should be happy because they finished third in merits, so they really are deserving.  Cheap Trick makes the cut, and they finished in the Top 5 in personal taste, so I should be happy about that.  And Steve Miller makes the cut, who just missed the Top 5 for personal taste and just made the Top 10 for merits, so a good middle of the pack candidate... nothing too sour.

But I feel like a teacher that just had a to give an A student a B- on their paper.  It's enough to keep them on the honor roll, sure, but you feel they really could have done a lot better.  For starters, the induction of Steve Miller.  The Hall has drawn a hard line in the sand that it's Steve Miller, and not the Steve Miller Band.  Well screw you, Rock Hall.  It's the Steve Miller Band, regardless of what you say.  This isn't like Patti Smith who continued a respectable pace and output after the group was disbanded.  Steve Miller had one album as a solo name, and none of the songs on it are among his highlights as a Performer.  Do it right, or don't do it at all.  The Steve Miller Band is inducted, in spirit, if not in members or name.  If Steely Dan has only two members worth inducting, then we're going to count the Steve Miller Band as inducted, even if only with one inducted member.  Seriously, all they have to do is add the word "Band" to the official program, website, and award, and I'm good with that.  Okay, maybe we just chalk this up as another egregious example of Front Man Fever.

Second, and the elephant in the room, almost no diversity.  Now, if you're into micro-dissection, you're probably saying, "What do you mean?  We've got blues-rock, jazz-rock, heavy metal that dabbled in prog, hard but fun rock, and for crying out loud, we even got rap!  Could it be any more diverse than that?!"  To which, I say, "Shut up, Gene Simmons."  The fact is, there could have been a good sampling of soul, dance music, industrial, post-punk... and instead, the classic rock playlist dominated this year.  In retrospect, it's almost a miracle that N.W.A. is the fifth inductee instead of Yes or the Cars.  Really, it's near stupefying that we need to explain to so many people, some of them actual inductees, that soul, dance, disco, fusion, industrial, etc. are all part of the rock and roll spectrum, the umbrella, the family.

This leads to the next problem unfortunately: the future of the Rock Hall.  If this is any kind of indicator, then Bill Withers was the last non-rap R&B artist inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame that we'll ever see.  In the past, members of Metallica, Rush, and KISS have been transparent about how their votes went, and it was largely for (fellow) classic rock acts.  Inductees then in turn get a vote, so of course, a band yields more new members to the voting bloc than a solo artist.  And those guitar bands with several inducted members all become voters who will most likely vote primarily, if not exclusively, for more guitar bands.

"But surely they'll run out and they'll get some more variety in the mix, right?"  First off, don't call me Shirley.  More to the point, though, the answer is no.  If you've followed the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame long enough, you'll have come across people posting their lists of snubs or acts in general that they'd like to see in.  I've seen lists go to five hundred names, with fewer than ten names that aren't guitar bands.  That well ain't ever drying.  Even if they feel they have enough classic rock, they'll move on to '80s or '90s, which is good for those who want more modern acts, and probably would bode quite well for post-punk if you're willing to wait that long, but it'd take so long to get to that point that the problem of little diversity would still remain.  And always remain.  I've already read comments from people who think Golden Earring is a major snub.  Golden Earring, folks.  There will be, if there aren't already, people who think that the family ties between Santana and one-hit wonder Malo should get Malo into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

So what do we do?  What should we expect?  Do we just accept the inevitable and sit by as the white males continue to be inducted until the Hall looks like Congress or the Academy Award voting body?  It's hard to say.  Some suggest mandating a minimum number of acts on the ballot and in each class to literally force diversity upon the voters and the Hall as a whole.  I, for one, do not support the idea of quotas.  I don't want to see a ballot that separates nominees into categories and instructions that say, "Pick 2 of the following 6", and "Pick 2 of the following 5" with "Pick 1 of the following 4" at the end.  I oppose that for the same reason I oppose the veterans' committee idea: it creates strata.  There should be only one stratum in the Performer category: Performer.  Is there a middle ground?  Probably.  The answer may lie in the mini-institution we've reviled and ridiculed in the past: the Nominating Committee.  The NomCom makes the ballot, and if they feel there's a need to add greater diversity to the Hall, they can ensure it by nominating fewer than five white, male, guitar bands.  The downside is that it's a move that comes off as playing politics rather than nominating the most truly deserving artists.  Nevertheless, shy of actually having voters being open-minded and not just voting for acts they like (and if members of inducted guitar bands are any indicator, HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!), the NomCom indeed holds the greatest potential for ensuring a proper, well-rounded perspective on the world and perhaps the very definition of rock 'n' roll music..

So this is actually a decent class, but it could have been better, and while we're still waiting to see if there will be inductees in other categories, we're not optimistic, feeling this is pretty much it for this year.  It's a pretty vanilla class.  With N.W.A., it's a little more than that... it's french vanilla.  French vanilla ice cream.  Still pretty good, and some days, it's exactly what you want, but usually, no.

So I'm gonna wrap up by posting a link to a great editorial piece that makes the case about the need to acknowledge Black women in the Rock Hall, but in some ways, some of the points made here could possibly also be said about Black men, white women, and maybe even the upper echelons of teen idols.  Read it.  Link here.