Saturday, November 11, 2017

Getting a grasp on 2018's nominees' merits.

After much deliberation, it is now time to look at our nominees and see them in terms of their merits.  We all have our favorites, but when we're truly honest, do they actually deserve enshrinement?  And how does one measure an artist's merit?  Well, by now, folks are relatively familiar with what I have called the four I's.  They stand like pillars to hold up an artist's merit.

This year, however, I'm introducing a fifth I.  It's something I've toyed with doing for awhile, but held off on.  And it's a different I word and idea.  Instead of thinking of my four I's like pillars, think of them more like fingers on the hand.  Influence is the index finger because it points the way for other acts to come.  Impact is the middle finger because it's the longest and usually the most noticeable.  And if you're a music snob, and a nominated act pretty much only has Impact in their favor, their nomination can seem obscene.  Innovation is the ring finger because while it seems weakest, for some people it's longer than the index, and it's very noticeable if it's missing.  Intangibles is the pinky because it's shortest and is on the end usually.  This fifth I is the thumb.  It's the thumb because it is opposable.  Whereas the other four I's are the pro factors for an artist, this is the con factor, why some might be opposed to their nomination and possible induction.  Because while you can hold onto something with the four fingers, having that thumb really helps you get a grip on an artist's nomination.

So this year, we have five I's: Innovation, Influence, Impact, Intangibles, and Issues.  Where and when did they break new ground, who followed in their footsteps, how big were they, what else is there that gives depth, and why might some be opposed to their nomination?  Will I regret this?  We'll see.

1. SISTER ROSETTA THARPE
Influence: Hugely influential as a guitarist and as a singer, still noteworthy today.  From blues, to rock and roll, and even modern gospel.
Innovation: Her live performances included daring licks that some consider proto-rock and roll.
Impact: A few hits on the R&B charts and supposedly a pair on what was the Pop charts at the time.  Album charts weren't a thing back then really; albums barely were.  Additionally, her version of "Silent Night" still remains one of the all-time classic recorded versions of that beloved hymn.
Intangibles: People who hadn't even heard of her five years ago are claiming her as an egregious snub.  Once they discover her, they're hooked.
Issues: Her studio recordings are very clearly gospel, and she predates the general conventions of rock and roll history by a decade or so.

2. NINA SIMONE
Influence: She commands immense respect from musicians of all styles, races, and genders, with numerous covers of her material and singers attempting to emulate her style.
Impact: A couple handfuls of hits scattered over a few decades, plus another handful of songs considered to be classics despite not charting.  Despite being steeped in jazz, which has always been an album-preferring format, only ten charted albums on the Billboard 200, only two getting into the upper half.
Innovation: Jazz is one of those styles where it's always inventive while never being anything new under the sun.  So, to measure Nina's merits here shows her contributions to be both immense and infinitesimal.  Schrodinger would love this.
Intangibles: She isn't just jazz.  She could sing blues, gospel, broadway, and a few of her songs could even be arguably considered soul.  Extremely versatile.
Issues: While flirting with soul, which is very much recognized as part of rock and roll, the vast body of her work really isn't so recognized.  While the definition of rock and roll isn't engraved in marble, various people with varying definitions widely agree that she's the nominee who is "the least rock and roll."

3. LL COOL J
Influence: Hip-hop music grew out of block parties and was largely borne of DJ culture.  LL Cool J is a seminal figure for what made it an emcee’s game.
Impact: The man’s had a steady stream of hit singles in both the R&B and pop scenes.  A respectable album chart showing, too.  Plus, with his acting career, he also has a substantial name recognition factor.  Most commercially successful R&B act on the ballot.
Innovation: His innovation and influence pretty much complement each other to the point of blurring the lines.  In addition to virtually obsolescing the DJ from rap music, he helped make it a solo braggadocio show, replacing rap outfits.  Additionally, he’s recognized for both making rap more accessible in smaller bites (shorter songs, meaning more likely radio play) and for creating the bridge of R&B stylings that we still see today in non-rap R&B music.
Intangibles: LL Cool J didn't just make it an emcee's game, his image is also what helped make rap the game for the ladies' man.
Issues: Between his acting career eating up more of his time later in his career, and the embarrassment of "Accidental Racist," which he contributed to, his most recent flavor is sour.

4. THE MOODY BLUES
Innovation: They're widely considered among the inventors of prog rock, if not the band that really invented it.
Influence: All prog rock.  Maybe not all of them took direct cues from the Moody Blues, but every prog band after them owes them a huge debt.
Impact: One of the featured characteristics of prog is difficulty finding acceptance in the mainstream world.  Not for these guys.  They are the highest ranked albums' artist on this list, and in the top five singles' acts among the nominees.
Intangibles: They are capable of great stylistic diversity, which is something not seen with every nominee or inductee that comes along.
Issues: Prog has never garnered a lot of critical respect, and while some don't care about critics, there's a reason they are able to do what they do, and their opinions have weight.

5. RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
Innovation: Since this isn't my strongest area, I'll defer to the expertise of others, but my research shows incredible combinations of elements of metal, rap, punk, and even reggae.  Apparently they're considered among the pioneers of Nu Metal, or at least brought it as close to mainstream as can be while not being called sellouts.
Influence: Because they resonated with underground circles, this is harder to measure, but there are a lot of rock bands that took their lead from them.
Impact: A few hits on the pop and rock charts, with charting albums.
Intangibles: A very politically charged outfit, they brought their message strong and hard.
Issues: It's sometimes hard to grasp their message because you can't always discern what Zach De La Rocha is saying.  Additionally, they received a blow to their ego and perhaps their credibility when former vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan called them his favorite band of all time.

6. RADIOHEAD
Influence: Among the chief torch-bearers of the ethereal rock sound, their influence is still felt when listening to non-mainstream rock.
Innovation: While they didn't invent the ethereal rock sound, what they did with it is unique and easily identifiable to them.
Impact: About as big with the general public as a band can be without being lowest common denominator.  A respectable number of hit songs and albums.
Intangibles: With songs like "Creep," "No Surprises," "Idioteque," and "Knives Out;" Radiohead might be the second most versatile nominee on this year's ballot in terms of their musical stylings, second only to Nina Simone.
Issues: Thom Yorke's voice does not sit well with everyone; additionally, their love/hate relationship with their own fame has caused a few hiatuses that make them occasionally inconsistent.  Also, not everyone is that fond or respectful of their most recent works.

7. THE CARS
Innovation: One of the front runners of new wave music, they helped define an entire movement in the music world.
Influence: Again, one of the front runners of new wave.  They influenced a lot of the new wave and even synth-pop and synth-rock acts of the '80's. 
Impact: A very commercially successful group with a string of Top 40 hits.
Intangibles: This was a band that seemed to have something for everyone, including critics, who also had a lot of good things to say about them.
Issues: I'm drawing a blank on this one, actually.  Maybe Ric Ocasek's going solo kept them from realizing their full potential.

8. JUDAS PRIEST
Influence: Their level of influence is right up there with Motorhead (sorry, I'm not going to pull up special characters to give you the umlaut, you know where it goes), and a noticeable but not too wide distance behind Black Sabbath.
Innovation: Not the first metal act, but being from metal's first decade, they had a huge say in what metal would be and how it would be identified.
Impact: Only one hit single, but with over a dozen charted albums, they have a respectable catalog filled with songs that fans love to extol and debate over.
Intangibles: They're among the highest-touted snubs among hard rock aficionados and dilettantes, most notably Eddie Trunk.
Issues: Because they weren't as commercial as many other acts, and because they weren't Black Sabbath, Judas Priest are sometimes held in lower esteem.

9. DEPECHE MODE
Influence: As one of biggest names of that synth-driven style that could be known by any number of names, they fit in as an influence to many acts that came after in the decade or two that followed.
Impact: A noticeable string of charted hits and non-charted classics, as well as hit albums to note.  They were big in both the Album and Modern Rock Tracks charts, as well as the Dance charts.
Innovation: Not super innovative, but the fact that they were all-synthesized may speak a word or two in this category.
Intangibles: This is a group that even the most hardcore of rockists wouldn't complain too much about if they got inducted, which is not inconsequential.
Issues: While everyone may enjoy a song or two from them, their overall style is not for everyone, and may not sit well in discussion circles.

10. EURYTHMICS
Impact: A solid run of pop hits and even some dance chart hits, and a handful of charted albums that sold reasonably well.  
Influence: With Annie Lennox at the helm, Eurythmics were highly influential to female musicians to come, as well as dance music acts.
Innovation: A lot of the synth-rock acts came up together around the same time, so who pioneered what is hard to say, but Eurythmics were definitely unique in their dominant pulsations prevalent in their songs.
Intangibles: Annie Lennox is a solid figure for feminism, not just for her image, but very much in the duo's music.
Issues: Not everyone is onboard with the legitimacy of synth-pop, plus Annie Lennox's solo career may appeal to Small Hall folks who may wish to wait for Lennox to be nominated solo.

11. LINK WRAY
Influence: Pretty much the entire reason this man is on the ballot.  The importance of the power chord as heard on "Rumble" is hard to overstate.  His style of playing on that record and the subsequent ones has influenced myriads of guitarists.
Innovation: Not the premiere rock and roll guitarist, but his style did help shape the sub-genre of surf rock, which is significant.
Impact: “Rumble” is about on par with Les Paul’s “Nola” among cornerstones of guitar music.  From the charts, not much of a showing: one album and four singles.
Intangibles: In 2012, the Hall inducted six groups that they had previously only inducted the frontman.  In the event of a Link Wray induction, the Ray Men really should be included, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks it’s a major oversight either.
Issues: He's often dismissed as a one-trick pony, and even when he's not dismissed, he has trouble getting enough clamor and attention competing with others who had many more hits.

12. KATE BUSH
Innovation: Maybe my ears are off, but I swear I hear infusions of Celtic music in many of her songs.  Anyone else hear it, and is there any other major artist and/or Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame nominee that can say that they combined Celtic influences consistently in their music?  Maybe not the most famous songs, but when you listen to her albums.  Maybe it's just me.  Either way, she's incredibly unique to the point where you have to acknowledge it as innovative.
Impact: She's significantly successful in the United Kingdom, and has a noticeable amount of album' chart success in the United States, though not many hit singles.
Influence: I'm not too familiar with who all cites her as an influence, but between her solidarity as a successful songstress as well as an abstract thinker, she's had to have influenced some serious artistry.
Intangibles: She is probably the most artistic act on the ballot, and by that, I mean highbrow art.
Issues: While it's a poor excuse to exclude her, her sporadic output and promotional reticence, including a refusal to tour, does marginally inhibit her ability to reach larger audiences, combined with a style that is too highbrow for most commercial outlets, it makes her nomination unusual to say the least.

13. THE MC5
Innovation: Possibly the first to intentionally and regularly use distortion as a key component of their sound, they are also credited as one of the pioneers of punk rock.
Influence: Tremendously so, again, especially in the worlds of punk and hard rock.
Impact: One hit single, two charted albums, both of which at one point were on Rolling Stone's list of most important albums of all time.
Intangibles: They're a strong example of attitude that some say is more important than the actual music when defining "rock and roll."  On top of that, given the breadth of artists, including Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees that have come out of the Great Lake State, simply the fact that they came from Michigan, especially from Detroit, almost kind of adds an extra layer of credibility to them, much as being British in the '60s might also be considered a bonus.
Issues: Between a limited commercial run, and often incomprehensible lyrics due to the use of distortion, they might not pass a few people's bars for "Unquestionable musical excellence."

14. RUFUS FEATURING CHAKA KHAN
Impact: In its own right Rufus struck big a few times with great and funky R&B songs like “Ain’t Nobody”, “Once You Get Started”, and of course, “Tell Me Something Good.”  
Innovation:  The sounds they made with their rhythm section were seldom, if ever, heard before, and their insistence on vocal harmonies with funk in a way that even Sly And The Family Stone didn’t do as consistently makes their sound something somewhat new and creative.
Influence:  Really helped bring funk to the disco scene, which was later carried on by the GAP Band and Chic.
Intangibles: In his Top Pop Singles books, Joel Whitburn lists Rufus under the letter K as part of Chaka Khan.  However, in his R&B singles, Disco/Dance tracks, and Hot Albums books, Whitburn lists Rufus as a separate entity from solo Chaka Khan.  That, and the fact that many of the singles from the group did in fact credit “Rufus And Chaka Khan”, inducting them under this identity actually still leaves the door open for a separate, second, and solo induction for Chaka Khan.  And that might not be a bad idea.
Issues: The sinking feeling that only either the group Rufus or solo Chaka Khan will get inducted should inspire voters to vote for this act, but often works counter, refusing to vote for either until the Rock Hall offers more clarity, perhaps by nominating both entities on the same ballot.

15. BON JOVI
Impact: They're the biggest singles' act of the entire ballot, and in the top three albums' acts.  Their song, "Livin' On A Prayer" has been called the song that most epitomized the 1980s by VH1.
Influence: Not the biggest, but as one of the most successful hair-metal acts, they were undoubtedly influential upon a lot of one- and two-hit wonder acts that tried to duplicate their success.
Innovation: Virtually nil, though some credit them for the popularization of the talk box beyond mere gimmickry.
Intangibles: Bon Jovi is one the few hair-metal acts that survived and retained some relevance after Nirvana practically destroyed the sub-genre with "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and Bon Jovi managed to do it the longest and strongest.
Issues: They are considered the schlockiest act on the ballot, being compared to Journey in terms of who's a lower common denominator.  Additionally, the aging rocker factor is hitting Bon Jovi like a ton of bricks, as they've done some decidedly country outings, including that abominable duet with Jennifer Nettles.

16. THE ZOMBIES
Impact: Despite only having seven hits on the pop charts (including the Bubbling Under), their big three are really well remembered, and so powerfully symbolic of the ‘60s that it overshadows the short-lived life of the group.  Also, with an album in Rolling Stone’s upper fifth of Top 500 albums of all-time, it’s a critical respect thing, too.
Innovation: When you first hear them, it’s almost indescribable.  It’s moody and haunting, but not really blues, or even jazz, though there may be elements of those styles in there.  But it’s unique, and infectious.
Influence: Somewhat limited, perhaps due to their short-lived run as a group, but every now and then, some hint of their style creeps up, the most well-known of which might be the Guess Who’s “Undun.”
Intangibles: Being a 60’s British Invasion group always means something, not just because of the way the British Invasion collectively shook up the musical landscape, but also because of the music itself of each outfit.  The Zombies have a high general populace approval overall.
Issues: They were very short-lived and are as much being derided as a pet pick of Little Steven as they are being hailed as a Hall-worthy act from the 60s.

17. THE METERS
Influence: They helped carry on the New Orleans sound, and bring it into the ‘70s and beyond.
Impact: A couple handfuls of hits in the singles charts, and they had a few hit albums too.
Innovation: A little bit, alongside Sly And The Family Stone and the JB’s, helping shape and update the sound of funk.
Intangibles: Two of the members of the Meters were named Neville… as in the Neville Brothers, who have also been looked at as potential candidates.  Perhaps the Hall wants this group in first, then have two more members of the Clyde McPhatter Club.
Issues: Considered by some to be too minor.  As a band that did a lot of session work, some of their songs sound like backing tracks that never had vocals added.

18. THE J. GEILS BAND
Impact: A noticeable run of both hit albums and hit singles.
Influence: Not a whole lot of citation, but their style of blues-rock likely created some ripples.
Innovation: Not much here either, though perhaps a uniqueness and diversity of sound could be argued.
Intangibles: An electrifying live act.  Considering how many acts sound great on record but are duds on tour, or those whose tours are the true and sole reason to be excited about an act, the fact that they're a band that has great stage presence and that most people like at least one studio recording by them is not something to overlook entirely. 
Issues: It's no secret they're a pet act of Jann S. Wenner, and many believe that without his seal of approval, this band wouldn't even be in the discussion.

19. DIRE STRAITS
Impact: A small but respectable string of hits and other well-remembered classics.  Their first album is pretty well lauded to boot.
Innovation: Not a lot, but it's worth noting that they're one of the few really big acts of the time that you could hear infusions of country and some folk in their guitar-rock sound.
Influence: Marginal, but Mark Knopfler himself is pretty well-respected as a musician.  I do, however, wonder if maybe they were an influence on Tom Petty's solo career.
Intangibles: Hey, did you know Mark Knopfler got a dinosaur named after him?  Apparently, the scientists who named it were listening to a lot of Dire Straits when they discovered several remains of the creatures and realized they discovered a new dinosaur.   Masiakasaurus knopfleri.  It just adds to their overall coolness factor.
Issues: Outside of their three major hits, their music is largely unknown and very different, so if you only know, "Sultans Of Swing," "Money For Nothing," and "Walk Of Life," you probably don't really know Dire Straits, and many would say there's little to their case beyond those three songs.


So that is how this year's nominees measure up, according to my metrics.  For devotees of acts that didn't rank nearly as high as you'd like, always remember: getting nominated is a huge distinction in itself.  It's like reading a roll call of those who graduated with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher.  Even if you're at the bottom of that list, you're still considered much more accomplished than those whose names weren't read at all.  Coming soon, the ranking of nominees by personal tastes.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Musings On The 2018 Ballot

Extra, extra!  Read all about it!  The nominees for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's Class Of 2018 have been announced.  Once again we have a whopping nineteen, count 'em nineteen, nominees.  This ballot is already being praised for being strong and deep, and there certainly is some credibility to that claim.

The first thing you may have noticed is that the goal of my plea over the summer was not met.  Indeed, it was by some metrics a spectacular failure, though I do not view it that way.  While I'm a little heartbroken, I can't say I'm too surprised.  As I said before, getting Nominating Committee members to even read it was a longshot.  Overall, I don't feel too bad though.  I did what I could to persuade one facet of our society to be a more vocal proponent for the good of overall society, and as they say, virtue is its own reward.

Good thing, too, because this ballot honestly doesn't hold much personal reward for me.  As I've said on Twitter and Facebook, there aren't many nominees that I'm actually a big fan of.  A casual fan, yes, but except for one, none of these nominees are acts that I've ever bought any of their music for any reason other than Rock Hall research.  I'm not deeply chagrined, however, since most of my favorite acts have already been enshrined, many of them long ago.  The takeaway from this paragraph is don't be too upset when you see my ranking of the nominees based on my own personal tastes in music; there will be some razor-thin margins deciding between numbers three through number sixteen.  And don't even hold me to those numbers.  I haven't even begun to think about it yet.

The thoughts I am having include begrudgingly agreeing with fellow monitor DarinRG, in that an English-centric ballot is probably much needed for the Hall.  Much like the classic rock deluge of the past couple years, the "big in Britain" bloc has been bursting at the seams for some time now, too.  While I'm glad that the mother country is finally getting some more looks, it's also sad because I love soul music.  England may swing like a pendulum do, but when Small Faces are considered among the premium soul acts from your country, just don't brag about it too much, m'kay?  I chalk this up to another backlog created by the "Small Hall" mentality that dominated the institution for so many years, and still has a tight grip around the throat of rock and roll accolades.  Of course, there is probably no act on this year's ballot more British than Kate Bush, in that she's huge in England, but while not totally obscure in the States, the comparison of celebrity is not even close.

While there are, I believe, a majority of acts on this ballot coming from across the pond, that's actually not so much what I'm noticing as I am the extreme potential for ballot divisions this year.  For example, Depeche Mode and Eurythmics may just divide the ballot between each other in terms of synth-rock representation, and both could fail to get in for that.  Between the newly eligible favorites, we could see a division between Radiohead and Rage Against The Machine in that they're alternative-scene rock bands that are newly eligible this year.  While that may be where the similarities end, when you've got five or even six votes on a ballot of nineteen names, superficial similarities could be enough to found a schism upon.  Such could also be used to compare '60s acts with few hits and a seemingly short run, but long-remembered, i.e. the Zombies and the MC5, and Link Wray too, if you include the '50s.  Don't overlook having two metal bands on the ballot either: Judas Priest and Bon Jovi.  Metal fans are probably raging at the comparison between early metal and '80s hair metal, but if you remember anything about the '80s, even the faint echoes that I have, having been born during the Reagan years myself, it wasn't entirely uncommon for Bon Jovi and Judas Priest to have overlap in their fan bases.  For rural America back then, metal was metal, and you took in any and all of it with equal initial enthusiasm.

Another potential ballot division lies between Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Nina Simone, two African-American ladies that have a had a lot of the musical community clamoring for their induction while also speculating that maybe the delay of their respective recognition has been due to not knowing how to enshrine them.  Already, the watching community is suffering the early onset of rage-confusion induced aneurysms at Tharpe's nomination in the Performer category, and not announced induction as an Early Influence.  Indeed, it is a bit puzzling, as Tharpe's prime was during the '40s, before the generally-accepted genesis of rock and roll, and yet, there is merit to the argument.  As a Cracked.com article once postulated (see entry #3), she invented rock and roll.  Not Ike Turner or Jackie Brenston, not Louis Jordan, not Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bill Haley, or Elvis Presley.  Sister Rosetta Tharpe.  The link in that article is broken, so here's the video they originally linked to.

Of course, that's a live performance, and not the records, which allows the performer a little more liberty to cut loose, and it's only a select sample of her catalog, but the point is, there's an argument to be made.  As for Nina Simone, she doesn't predate rock and roll so much, but her style is more accurately described as "jazz."  While rock and roll comes from a variety of influences and embraces many different styles in a diasporic or umbrella-like manner, even rock and roll has its borders and boundaries toward what can be included in the nomenclature.  Nina Simone arguably lies primarily outside that limit.  Her case could be interesting too.  They inducted jazz legend Miles Davis as a Performer, but they also kind of sidestepped the "Early" in "Early Influence" when they inducted Wanda Jackson and Freddie King.  So, they could go either way with Nina Simone here.  Either way however, they severely damaged the legitimacy of inductions as Early Influences of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Nina Simone just by nominating them for the Performer category this time around.

The representation of rock-era R&B is paltry this year, possibly to prevent ballot division.  Rufus featuring Chaka Khan return, showing a devotion to Chaka by the Hall.  All I can say is I hope she is eventually inducted twice, once for the group and once as a soloist.  Also returning are the Meters who keep popping up, but seem to struggle with support, at least in the fan vote.  Like Rufus, they are funky, but they aren't really associated with the disco scene as Rufus was.  Rap is represented as well, with LL Cool J returning to the ballot.  Monitor DarinRG commented on FRL about the Hall trying to clear the way by giving LL Cool J little to no direct competition.  This may be true, but LL Cool J has failed when he's been the only rap act on the ballot before too.  In my humble opinion, when it comes to R&B, the only way to "clear the way" for acts like LL Cool J is to inundate the ballot with R&B so that it's mathematically impossible to NOT have R&B inducted, and make sure that the pet act, LL Cool J in this case, is the strongest name.  But I could be wrong.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame ballot these days if the chance for classic rock to dominate wasn't possible.  Bon Jovi and Judas Priest have already been mentioned, and both get airplay on classic rock radio stations, but they're not the only examples.  Two more are making a repeat appearance after last year's ballot.  Both the Cars and the J. Geils Band are back.  With the death of Jerome Geils this year, they prove to be the death fairy pick and that could propel them into the Hall this time around.  The Cars are back, trying to not be the next Black Sabbath or Stooges.  Dire Straits is an act that not many saw coming, but is pretty widely accepted as a good call.  Other than our newly eligibles and the two women who could arguably be inducted as Early Influences, Dire Straits is the only act on this year's ballot that has never been nominated or even been on the Previously Considered list before.  Could be an act to keep our eyes on.  Of course, probably the biggest news is that the Moody Blues have finally been nominated, though sadly, Denny Laine is going to be shafted again.  With no induction of Wings, and not on the list of members included in this nomination, poor Denny Laine will again be on the outside looking in.  The Moody Blues are among the longest-grieved snubs by the Rock And Roll community, with many naming them as the most pressing omission.  Now, it's already been stated that predicting the fan ballot will be difficult, but when you look at the number one finisher in the fan vote, the history reads as follows: Rush, KISS, Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble, Chicago, and Journey.  Classic rock acts that have been long outcried as egregious snubs.  Bon Jovi and Dire Straits haven't had near the outcry for them.  So it's really between Judas Priest and the Moody Blues, in my opinion.  Metal is something of an untested variable for the fan ballot, but all the same, the overwhelming support of the Moody Blues tells me this is the act that will finish on top in the fan vote, possibly by a wide margin.

So there are the preliminary thoughts on this ballot.  Soon to come, a ranking by merits, by preference, and by odds of induction.  Hopefully in that order.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Ballot 2018, the lack of predictions.

In an attempt to keep this short as possible, at this time, I am announcing that I will not be posting a prediction for the ballot for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's Class of 2018.

This is based on my previous post, "An Open Letter To The Nominating Committee;" however, I feel I should point out that my decision to not post a prediction is in no way related to the amount and vehemence of dissent that the post received.  No, my decision was reached well before I posted the blog, before I pounded out a single word, while I was still putting my thoughts together.  I realized that I would not be able, in good conscience, to post a ballot prediction.

I could not bring myself to post a prediction that reflected my desire detailed in that entry.  As a member of the Future Rock Legends community, I perennially see members post actual ballot predictions that myopically believe the Nominating Committee's thinking will fall (almost) completely in line with their own, that the Committee's priorities and desires are identical to theirs.  I can bring myself to neither indulge my ego nor annoy my readers and the Rock Hall hobbyist community as a whole by actually postulating an official prediction that assumes the Nominating Committee agrees with me.

But I cannot post what might be deemed a "more realistic" ballot prediction either, replete with a few of the ubiquitous names among other predictions.  To do so would be to recant my position, feign insincerity, or preemptively concede defeat, and I cannot do any of those at this time.  I still strongly believe in the goal and mission my request is rooted in, especially in light of the events in Charlottesville, and the president's response afterwards.  Indeed, the events since posting my previous entry have only served to reinforce those convictions.  And in truth, I don't feel a ballot that honors my request is too unrealistic either.  Honestly, I believe the most tenuous part of all this is getting enough Nominating Committee members to even read my open letter to them.  Indeed, I tweeted directly to as many as I could find on Twitter to get them to read it, but whether or not they did, I may never know.  But if they did, I don't think it's completely beyond the realm of possibility that enough of them might at least strongly consider my plea.  So I cannot post a prediction that abandons the goal of my previous entry either, not even a "compromise" ballot that is mostly minorities, but with one or two White male acts, or one that is half and half (which is about what most ballots look like anyway these days).  You either believe in it, or you don't.

A third option is to post one of each.  Two predictions lists.  But I don't like hedging my bets like that.  Heck, I don't even like naming "backup predictions," based on the fluctuating number of nominees over the years.  And I don't like it when certain members of the FRL community post multiple ballot prediction lists every year either.  I certainly won't do that.

The last option is a protest ballot prediction.  For those who wonder what that is, visit here.  It is something that Charles Crossley, Jr. likes to do.  For me, it would mean my posting a ballot prediction in line with my demands, and strongly stating once again the necessity of my beliefs being shared by the powers-that-be at the Rock Hall, despite it being "unlikely."  Actually, that description rather does a disservice to how Charles Crossley, Jr. does it.  He does it so beautifully, that quite frankly, I feel that imitation would be insult instead of flattery.  So I refuse to do that to him.

So, for this year, I am going to sit out on predicting the ballot.  Once the nominees are announced, I will return to reflect on the choices, evaluate the nominees based on merits and personal taste, and to actually predict who the inductees will be.  At that time, we will know whether my endeavors yielded any fruit, and I can pick up from there.

But for right now, I abstain.  It's a corner I knew I'd be painting myself into before I cracked the lid off the first can.  I did it anyway, and I have no regrets.

I thank you all for your understanding of my decision.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

An open letter to the Nominating Committee

Dear members of the Nominating Committee of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Foundation and Museum,

Hi there.  You probably don't know who I am and don't care.  That's fair.  I'm merely a hobbyist of your work, formerly employed in commercial radio and not quite in touch with the world of current music anymore.  So, I'm not really anyone you should know.  If you know me from anywhere, it's from this blog or my comments on the Future Rock Legends site, assuming you pay any attention to that site either.  And if you do know who I am, you probably don't like a thing I have to say.  Slightly hurtful, but I understand.  As is often the case, people don't say much when things are running smoothly and agreeably, so blogs like this are to often express disdain about one thing or another.  In fact, in the "About Us" section on the Future Rock Legends site, this blog is listed as "Rock Hall criticism."  Admittedly, I was kind of upset about that; I always figured my blog as "Rock Hall commentary," not "criticism."  But looking over my entries, I guess that's a fair evaluation.  In fact, I might even be the one you can thank for the portmanteau "NomComm."  It might seem a little glib, but it's merely an abbreviation that's catchy to say and handy for us hobbyists.

Nevertheless, I'm taking the opportunity to use this blog to actually reach out to you.  True, I hope my regular readers and other enthusiasts will also read this, but I actually do want to turn my attention to specifically address you members of the Nominating Committee.  I apologize in advance for how long this will be.  Those who know me know brevity is not my forte.  That said, you are the gatekeepers for induction into the Hall.  Yearly, you convene to let a certain number of acts into the outer court with your list of nominations for the voters to whittle down and decide the inductees.  Tangentially, I also want to thank you for the fan vote on the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's website in recent years and hope you will continue it.  (See?  Not everything is criticism!)  It is now July, and in a couple months, you will once again come to order to draft another ballot of nominees for the following year's induction ceremonies.  Most of you probably already have your two or three acts that you wish to bring up for discussion; however, before you officially congregate to assemble that list, I'd like to take a moment and make a suggestion, because this may not prove to be just another ballot.

See, a year ago, Barack Obama was president, and we were in the middle of an election season that had seemed to have an obvious conclusion.  By this point, both major parties were down to their final candidates, each having secured their requisite number of delegates.  One was a candidate that had been a darling of her party ever since her husband relinquished the Oval Office and was being touted with a narrative that bordered on "heir apparent" to the White House.  The other was a pariah within his own party, ran a campaign with a ground game that can be glowingly described as "slovenly," and whom many people were uncertain even wanted the job as much as he just wanted the attention that came with running for office.  And then it happened.  The pariah won.

But you know all that.  And as an organization, you are comprised of people who mostly revile our current president, if for no other reason than the fact that he's Republican.  Yeah, you've got that reputation.  In fact, that reputation is precisely why many speculate it took so long for you to ever nominate Alice Cooper for induction, and still haven't nominated people like Ted Nugent, whereas more politically liberal acts are more easily welcomed.  I'd say there's enough evidence to plausibly deny that claim, but the point is, as people, most of you are fundamentally opposed to the current administration.  And that's not even considering the campaign that he ran.  He ran a campaign of pure hatred and bigotry for anyone who wasn't like him or his base.  His was a message of loving only those who love and look like you, and hating others.  And while speculation into the election hypothesized that the weakness of the loser's campaign in key states may have done it, it now seems that it genuinely is more about the embracing of that hatred.  The biggest factor that motivated people to vote for him was in fact "racial anxiety," or more plainly, dislike of specific minorities.  I had two friends tell me of their excitement that the election of our president signaled the death of political correctness, calling it oppressive mind control.  Many people who enthusiastically voted for him genuinely believe that his election meant they no longer had to act like civilized people and were free to use epithets at will again, though that's not how they'd phrase it.

And now he's in office.  With power.  Trying to redefine our nation to fit his warped, narrow, and hateful narrative.  Already there are agencies that have spoken out against him, some within the federal government itself.  The press is doing its best to maintain its freedom.  Just ask Jann S. Wenner or Matt Taibbi.  But it isn't just the press.  From the statements at press conferences, to the executive orders, the current administration is trying to rewrite history and the future in a tone that spells bad news for minorities of any kind.

Again, you know all that, and you're probably asking, "What's this got to do with the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?"  As a highly public and somewhat controversial organization, I believe it to be within your power to make the kinds of statements that stand in the way of this agenda.  Roughly sixty years ago, the America that Donald Trump idealizes said, "Rock and roll isn't worth acknowledging or celebrating because it's Black music."  The America that he is now trying to promote is one that tries to tell you, "Black music is not worth acknowledging or celebrating because it's not rock and roll." Because the message and goal of Donald Trump's administration seek to have cultural echoes and ripples, you very much do have a dog in this fight.  And so, it is with that thought which I make the following, unorthodox suggestion to you, the Nominating Committee.

As long as Donald Trump is president and his agenda is on the offense, do not nominate any White males for the Performer category for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

It'd be nice if that were extended to the other categories, but they won't as celebrated, as the Performer category is the main draw, so they won't be as noteworthy, and thus not as necessary to include in this proposed moratorium.

As I stated a moment ago, the administration's agenda will have cultural repercussions if successful.  For you, that means finding yourself becoming an institution that only inducts guitar bands into the Hall Of Fame, guitar bands that are predominantly comprised of White males.  In fact, this is a battle that you are already fighting.  Ever since the inception of the Hall, the struggle to define "Rock And Roll" as more than just guitar band music has been present.  And in the past decade or so, that struggle has become even tougher.  Part of it, I do lay at your feet: for starters, your logo and museum are designed to resemble an ascending vista up the neck of a guitar.  Additionally, in the past, by keeping classes absurdly small and openly using your personal biases against progressive rock, arena rock, and heavy metal, you've created a backlog of guitar bands, many of whom are at least somewhat worthy, and now the outcry is deafening and the barricade is crumbling.  So much so, that the past two ceremonies have been primarily a celebration of the "classic rock" radio format.  And now, any form of R&B that isn't rap has an extremely hard time getting into the Hall, and even rap has to fight against the tide of classic rock acts that the general public want to see enshrined.  Personally, I believe that if bigger classes had been utilized and personal biases set aside throughout the 1990's and early 2000's, there would today be a much more open embracing of the diaspora that is rock and roll music, without the perceived need to take sides and thus draw battle lines on what defines rock and roll.

But then again, that just might be wishful thinking on my part.  I once worked for a man who believed that even the Beatles weren't rock and roll, that you should only enshrine hard rock and heavy metal.  Basically, if it doesn't use a distortion pedal, it's not rock, according to him.  That's the kind of willful, bald-faced, pigheaded ignorance your organization needs to make a statement against.  And of course, the history of the music industry, along with the history of humanity itself, has been more than favorable to the White male.  Thanks primarily to acts like the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, guitar bands have seemingly become the default association when "rock and roll" is mentioned.  And of course, that kind of music was promulgated primarily by White males.  It's a neat little happenstance that is dressed up to appear coincidental, but we know is not.  And as the preservers of the history of rock and roll, especially in the (gas)light of this current administration's aims, we need you to do your part to stand against it, to state that you will not be a part of it, and to prove it.

About now, you're thinking, "Don't we do that already?  What about Zach De La Rocha's speech for Patti Smith?  Or from this past year, didn't Joan Baez and Eddie Vedder make those kinds of statements?  Wasn't it enough that we made a statement by closing this year's induction ceremony with 'Rocking In The Free World'?"  And my answer to that is no.  It's not enough.  First of all, given that Neil Young was supposed to induct Pearl Jam but got sick and couldn't do it, the performance of his song as the final jam comes off as little more than a musical get-well card for Neil.  More importantly though, despite the message in the lyrics critical of past Republican administrations, the fact is that "Rocking In The Free World," and Neil Young's catalog at large, fit very neatly into the narrow definition of rock and roll that the bigots and the ignoramuses wish to perpetuate.  So, despite the lyrics, using that song to send a message only gives them what they want and accomplishes nothing.  Remember when Ronald Reagan used "Born In The U.S.A." as his campaign anthem without irony, or when Paul Ryan named Rage Against The Machine as one of his all-time favorite bands?   Similar thing here; the cognitive dissonance is completely awash in the strummed chords and searing solos.  Even the fact that ol' Neil is Canadian means nothing, unless you're also Canadian. No, you're not doing enough at present.

Who inducts whom or says what at the ceremonies doesn't amount to a whole lot, not just because the festivities are on a premium channel, but because whoever says or does what holds only a select fascination.  Once the inductees are announced, the following ceremony is irrelevant to many. Virtually nobody marks the time between the announcement and the actual induction.  Once they're announced, they're inducted, in the minds of most.  So in order to make a statement, the important matter is who gets inducted. As a cultural institution, one that though purporting to speak for a worldwide phenomenon is largely American, you have both the need and the power to stand up against the current regime, and make a statement that will be heard.

The good news to this is that there are enough deserving candidates who are not White men, nor are comprised of any.  You don't have to sacrifice the core concept of unquestionable musical excellence, nor ignore principles of innovation or influence.  There will be no asterisk next to the classes or the inductees  if you do this.  There are plenty of worthy candidates to keep this up even if the unthinkable happens and it ends up being a two-term administration. You can go back to the '50s and nominate the benchmark R&B groups, such as the Clovers.  You can nominate Chubby Checker and finally bury that hatchet.  You can get serious about 70's soul.  You can recognize the disco queens who may only be remembered for one hit by White audiences, but have legacies on the R&B and dance music charts.  You can induct the divas of the '80s, and the upcoming ones who will eligible before the next election.  You can fully uncork the rap bottle and maybe even induct TWO rap artists in a single year.  You can get to the queens of '60s rock and pop, like Lesley Gore and Connie Francis.   You can nominate Pat Benatar, though I'd hope you'd get a little further outside the box (or is it Trunk?) than that.  You can go back to the early years of the Hall and bring back nominees you've lost hope for, like Ben E. King, Mary Wells, Johnny Ace, and Esther Phillips.  You can strike hot again for the Spinners, Joe Tex, Chuck Willis, the Marvelettes, and the Dominos.  You can even do the right thing and give Nile Rodgers his second induction by continuing to nominate Chic.  Heck, I think the first inductee next year should be Living Colour, with the opening number for the ceremony being "Open Letter (To A Landlord)."  Point being, that well will not run dry, I promise you.

This however does not come without cost.  The past two cycles were hailed as finally opening the doors to those hugely popular acts that you'd snubbed for a long time, like Chicago, Deep Purple, Yes, and Electric Light Orchestra.  Making this statement means closing that door again for a time.  And not just against the classic rock titans that people are clamoring for, like the Moody Blues and Judas Priest, but it will also sadly mean further ignoring 80's non-mainstream acts, the post-punk and underground artists like the Smiths, Sonic Youth, Dead Kennedys, Pixies, etc.  It means not acknowledging synth-driven (as opposed to guitar) acts like Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode.  It would even probably mean an embargo against interracial and co-ed acts ranging from the Del-Vikings to the future-eligible No Doubt.  That's not even mentioning having to ignore gay artists who happen to be White men, or have gay White men among their members.  Their roles and contributions to our society should not be forgotten either, but unless you're one hundred percent certain that the distinction will be drawn and the message will be understood in the minds of your voters and the voting public, then sadly, it should not be attempted.

Even harder to swallow is that it could potentially spell trouble for the museum in Cleveland.  It's been rumored that certain past and present members among your ranks are especially pushing the commercial classic rock acts primarily to burgeon the budget for the museum by attracting more visitors.  It's certainly understandable; however, I believe that being willing to bite the bullet on this front may even send a stronger message than you realize.  This is because whatever else our president may be, whatever else he may say, whomever he inspires with his rhetoric of bigotry... that which defines him most is his love of money and how money masters him.  To accept the risk of fewer visitors and thus less money taken in when making a socially important statement like this might just send the loudest message when juxtaposed against a man who, if he drank from a false grail a la Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, would, rather than a swastika pin, leave behind a money clip.

Hardest of all, I suppose, is to ask you to put some of those other acts that you already want to nominate on the back burner.  But it ultimately doesn't matter if you're inducted when you're first eligible, or if it's years down the line.  Enshrinement is an honor whenever it comes, even posthumously.  So for now, put those acts on the back burner.  Radiohead can wait.  Tom Morello, I know you're a member, and your band's music is about fighting this kind of evil power, but if the cognitive dissonance is lost on the likes of Paul Ryan, then it's lost on the rest of that ilk. This is the machine you've raged against for twenty-five years, and the best way to do it now is to elevate others.  Rage Against The Machine can wait.  Dave Grohl, you're on the fast track for a second induction, and it can't happen this year anyway, but until the power shifts, Foo Fighters can wait.  It would be a wonderful way to pay homage to the late Chris Cornell, but Soundgarden can wait.  The Cars can wait, the Moody Blues can wait, Foreigner can wait, Procol Harum can wait, and the Smiths can wait.  Even acts that I want dearly to see enshrined, like Jan And Dean, Tommy James And The Shondells, Huey Lewis And The News, and "Weird Al" Yankovic... they can all wait.  Now is the time to focus strictly on women and racial minorities.

And should you be willing to test this, I would hope you'd go the whole distance on this.  The temptation will be to nominate one, two, or a few guitar-driven acts comprised mostly or entirely of White males.  But if you've seen Jeff Ament's shirt, a shirt that had less than five Black artists on it, and only a few women, you know that at present, your voting body, particularly of inductees, is overwhelmingly White males who were influenced by White males, and when asked about who they think should be inducted, the first five names will be White male acts.  Throwing a bone to them will only ensure that the bone is the first one inducted, and will run away with the fan ballot at that.  And if you try five such names, figuring they surely can't all be the top five, you'll be proven dead wrong.  A complete embargo is necessary to make the statement that needs to be made.  Besides, deep down, you know you want to see how the fan ballot plays out when they have no classic rock darling to enthusiastically latch onto.

Giving preference to one social distinction over others is the basic, perhaps oversimplified, definition of prejudice.  But no one is asking you to permanently ignore the contributions of Caucasian males as Performers.  You're being asked to stand up for those who aren't Caucasian males until such time as those who are trying to whitewash our history, present, culture, achievements, failures, attributes, faults, and worst of all, our future; no long hold the power that they currently possess.  Our world will never be perfect, and bigotry will always exist.  But that doesn't mean we must or even should give credence or leeway to those who would willingly express the most and strongest prejudices in the harshest ways possible, merely because they currently hold the highest positions of power.  We will not stoop to violence, the way the gunman did at the baseball practice recently, but we gotta fight the power, as Public Enemy so famously stated.  We're a nation of millions, so let's hold back our Subredditer-In-Chief, even if only in our own little corner.

What I ask is difficult, but not impossible, and though I'm but a face in a crowd that you may not even wish to deign to look at, I petition you anyway.  I hope you will give my suggestion serious consideration.

You are a highly publicized institution.  You have a considerable amount of power and influence; speak for those who do not.  Do not nominate any White males for the Performer category for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  


Sincerely,

A heterosexual, Caucasian, cisgender, Protestant, blond-haired, blue-eyed, able-bodied, American male from a bucolic, middle-class background, who has a college degree, no criminal record, and has never even experimented with any illegal drugs.   You can call me the Poster Child for Privilege, or PCP for short.

P.S.  The irony of calling me "PCP" when I've just said I've never done any illegal drugs isn't lost on me either.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Ceremony 2017. Quick thoughts.

So now that the edited version of the 2017 induction ceremony has aired on HBO, I just thought I'd give a few brief thoughts on it.  Nothing too big, in fact, I doubt I'll proofread it too much.  So, apologies for the bad grammar that happens in every post I write before I proofread it (and sometimes afterwards!), but here's my take.

On the Future Rock Legends site, one member commented that it was ridiculous how easy it was to predict the induction class from the ballot of nominees, as most who made serious predictions got at least four out of six correct.  Well, not only were the inductees easy to predict, but so was the program order.  Pretty much everyone who wasn't blinded by their own fandom for an inductee knew that Pearl Jam would be the final inductee of the night, that the classic rock artists would be spaced out, and that the tribute to Chuck Berry was either gonna kick things off, or be the all-star jam.  Most predicted Joan Baez would be the second one inducted.  And so on.  There wasn't anything wrong with the order of the inductions, just that it was highly predictable.

It's really hard to say which presenter gave the best speech.  It's kind of ironic that the presenter's speech that focused most on the music was the speech for the one inductee who wasn't in the Performer category.  The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is supposedly about honoring the music, and Pharrell Williams gave the most solid speech about the music produced and assisted by Nile Rodgers.  Alex and Geddy weren't too far behind, talking about how they learned their craft by learning Yes songs.  Jackson Browne definitely talked about the music of Joan Baez, but his presentation was a bit on the dry side.  Dhani Harrison's impassioned speech was more about the music than not, but it was also about the personal connection between the Harrisons and Jeff Lynne.  Pat Monahan definitely talked about the music of Journey, but it was more about his personal love of the music, than about the significance of their music in a larger perspective.  Despite being the most deserving inductees, the speeches for 2Pac and Pearl Jam by Snoop Dogg and David Letterman respectively dealt the least about the quality and importance of the actual music.  To that extent, they were a little disappointing; nonetheless, they were entertaining speeches.

Of all the inductees' speeches, Joan Baez gave the most entertaining one, followed by Rick Wakeman of Yes.  In terms of being cutting and pertinent, Eddie Vedder probably takes that one.

Performances... aw heck, I enjoyed them all.  Even Yes, whom I don't particularly care for.

Marvelous tributes.

Overall, a decent induction ceremony.  Not too special, but it's nice once in awhile to have a ceremony that is *relatively* free of controversy.  And unlike some of my fellow Rock Hall hobbyists, I really am giving no thought or concern to next year yet.  And least not in the way you'd think...