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.  


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.