Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Delayed reactions. The Class Of 2020

I'd held off on commenting about the Class Of 2020 for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for some time because, well, everyone else was saying what I was thinking.  It didn't really seem necessary.  Nevertheless, as a blogger of this hobby, it's expected that I say a few words about this class, what's missing, etc.

So first off, I did terrible in my predictions.  Everyone said this was a tough ballot to predict from, but I don't think anyone did worse than me.  I do take a little consolation in the fact that my 7 and 8 seeds, two acts that were tough calls to eliminate, got in.  I nearly got four.  I don't feel bad about missing on Depeche Mode.  If Kraftwerk can't get in, why should I believe Depeche Mode would?  Okay, they had more hits in America, that's why.  And Nine Inch Nails... I mean, there wasn't going to be more than one "rock" band from the '90's, and the Dave Matthews Band were leading the fan poll.  Ah well, the world is still turning, and these are all deserving Performers being inducted.  All the same, I think this was my worst year of predicting, ever.

I'm actually thrilled that Whitney's getting in.  It continues the trend of first place finishers in my personal taste list getting in.  You have to go back to 2014 and the Spinners for the last time an act that topped my personal preferences list but didn't get in.  And she finished second in merits, so it's pretty awesome overall.  T. Rex making it isn't a bad thing either.  They're a little saccharine for me to binge-listen to all that often, but they're fun, a good choice when you need a little cheering up.  More importantly, it's important to induct more acts that were massively popular on a more global perspective, even if not in America.    Biggie and the Doobies?  Called them.  Yay, I got two.

The fact I only got two though also shows some big changes.  As has been noted, this was the first year in quite a long time that rock and roll, vis-a-vis the Hall's inductions, is not being primarily defined as guitar music.  We still have that perspective with T. Rex and the Doobie Brothers as inductees, but the rest?  Hip-hop, industrial, pop/soul, and synth dance music.  It's truly something to behold.  Is this something that's going to continue?  A lot of that will depend on who the Nominating Committee puts on the ballot of course.  For now, though, it's a phenomenon to take notice of.

However, perhaps one of the reasons that this class shaped up the way it did is divisions in the ballot.  Did Motorhead, Judas Priest, and Thin Lizzy divide the ballot against each other?  How did Soundgarden and the MC5 factor in?  Did Kraftwerk get drowned out by Depeche Mode alone, or was it a one-two combo with Nine Inch Nails?  Whitney Houston was clearly strong enough to stop Rufus with Chaka Khan.  Is Trent Reznor enough of a production wizard to have detracted votes away from Todd Rundgren?

Of course, the biggest question seems to be, how the hell did Pat Benatar miss?  Collectively, the hobbyist community figured her as big a shoo-in as the Doobie Brothers, maybe even bigger.  Her missing out is as perplexing as Todd Rundgren's last year, Radiohead's the year before, as well as other inexplicable anomalies like Queen and AC/DC missing out their first times on the ballot.  I really hope she's back next year.  It's impossible to tell at this point, but it'll be great if she is.

Which brings us to the case of the Dave Matthews Band.  For the record, I never had an issue with their nomination.  Back in 2006, shortly before I made my observations on the 2007 ballot on a robotic combat forum, I started a thread about upcoming acts that the Hall was going to have to deal with at some point, and the Dave Matthews Band were on that list, for exactly the reasons I said, elevating the live tour back to an artform, while still being immensely popular.  I never had a problem with the band's nomination.  It was the arrogance of the fan base on Twitter that was irritating, treating their loyalty and online presence as a clinching factor, especially after they pushed the band over one million votes in the fan poll, demanding that they be glorified for their efforts as well as the Dave Matthews Band themselves.  That was annoying, but as annoyed as I was with the fans, it did not bring me any joy when the Dave Matthews Band did not get named as an inductee for 2020.  In the days before the announcement, I was coming up with some jokes to post on Twitter about DMB not getting the nod, should they miss out.  They weren't meant to be hurtful, just some good-natured ribbing meant in the style and manner of the Comedy Central Roasts.  However, when I saw the dismay and outrage of the fans on Twitter following the disappointing announcements, I just didn't have the heart to make those jokes.  I knew they wouldn't be taken in the manner I would have intended them.  Best to just let them have their outrage, lick their wounds, and let them be upset for a time.

Well, Dave Matthews Band fans, welcome to the world of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  One of the long-time criticisms of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is that it's a private boys' club.  They don't have a whole lot of concern over what the general public cares about or thinks is important.  And it isn't just demonstrated with the Dave Matthews Band, though this is the first time that the first-place finisher in the fan vote has not ended up inducted as part of that class.  Only one of the five acts on the official fan ballot ended up getting inducted.  In all fairness, the Hall always made it clear that the fan poll would constitute one and only one official ballot (until the latest comments saying the fan vote counts as two), that the millions of fan votes on the fan ballot were only as meaningful as the combined votes from the surviving Ronettes.  It's one of the few times the Hall has ever been transparent.  There's a high amount of disconnect from the general public with this class, after a string of years that showed relative synchronization of thoughts, but it's just a further reminder that it's still their house, and they'll do as they please.  They never actually promised anything but as HallWatchers said on Twitter: "Whether we agree if the band belongs is besides the point. If they're going to lather people up about the kiosk/fan vote, only to yank their chains about bands they love and mean something to them, it's going to cause confusion and anger no matter how you slice it."  And later, HallWatchers also said, "And the thing is, I don't hate it as an idea. Have them in the museum as a fun, interactive thing to do. But when you start promoting it every time someone complains about a band not getting in, you're implying that kiosk is a solution to their complaint."  So maybe the Hall implied things they didn't mean to.  Those of us who follow the Hall knew this wasn't going to be meaningful, but the average person doesn't know that.  So yeah, it's disenchanting for them.  Still, I think their anger will be transient enough because in a year's time they'll no longer remember or care, unless DMB gets nominated again next year.  And even then, the anger will be subside if they make it next time.  I don't think the anger will last.  Will there be any further fallout?  It's hard to say; the Hall has so much shadiness surrounding them, you can pretty much take your pick on what will be remembered as their most grievous offense, and it won't be any one thing, but everything, and yet still the one thing.  Does that make sense?  I don't know, but it makes sense in my head.

But speaking of shady things surrounding the Hall, let's also get into the Ahmet Ertegun Award recipients for Non-Performers.  This year, we're honoring Irving Azoff and Jon Landau, two men with very high positions in the Foundation itself.  Landau chairs the Nominating Committee, while Azoff is on the board for the entire Foundation.  Once you know that, it already makes their inductions feel icky and self-congratulatory.  It gets worse when you recall that the last Non-Performer inductee was Bert Berns, in 2016, which happened right about the time that Little Steven was producing a play about Bert Berns.  The whole thing is too openly cronyistic to even be called "shady" anymore; it's right out there in broad daylight.

The cronyism of it all just derails the whole conversation to the point where we don't even ask "Do they deserve it?"  And I have to profess, it's not the best the Hall could've done.  I'm not opposed to inducting managers outright, mind you.  But this category is supposed to honor those who in their own non-performing ways helped perpetuate and evolve rock and roll music.  The Hall has only inducted two other managers: Andrew Loog Oldham and Brian Epstein, both in 2014.  These are two managers that played a very hands-on role in grooming their landmark acts, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.  Epstein managed the Beatles and made them clean up their act, meaning their stage antics and their look.  He groomed them into a band that was palatable enough to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, and in a sense, made Beatlemania happen.  Oldham intentionally marketed the Rolling Stones as a rougher band, an alternative to the Beatles.  He helped solidify their "bad boy" image, which in turn helped their stylistic direction.  Compare those two men to Azoff and Landau.  Azoff's most famous acts are Eagles and Steely Dan.  Now, Azoff's empire has gone on to manage and represent a multitude of acts, many big ones, such as Fleetwood Mac, the Doobie Brothers, Bon Jovi, just to name a few.  But did his management really do anything to shape or form the sound of any one particular artist?  I suppose it's a situation where you have to acknowledge that art never truly happens in a vacuum and that the music business is still a business.  Perhaps by handling all the tedious legalese and fine print, Irving Azoff frees up artists to be more creative without the stress of red tape weighing heavily on them, but it's really more of an indirect contribution to the creative process.  He doesn't so much inspire artists as he does clear obstacles that would stifle inspiration and creativity.  Should that be enough?  Well, with enough major artists under his wing and a large enough empire, maybe the testimony is deafeningly whispered and hiding in plain sight.

With Jon Landau, though, I'm having a harder time.  Irving Azoff has at least the quantity of artists whose careers he's bolstered, some quite significantly.  Landau really only has one: Bruce Springsteen.  If you're going to be Hall-worthy for managing one artist, that artist had better be in the rafters of the absolute top tier.  I'm talking Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and maybe a handful of others.  I love Bruce Springsteen's music, but if we're being honest, he isn't on the same plateau as those names in terms of importance to the story and history of rock and roll music.  He falls just a wee bit shy of that mark.  And even if Springsteen is that important, Landau didn't shape, mold, and groom the man we now know as "the Boss" the way that Epstein did the Beatles or Oldham, the Stones.  Even with Azoff, a management empire that big, the probabilities support the likelihood that there are at least a couple artists that Azoff personally had a hand in shaping their image, and thereby their musical direction.  With Landau, though, he's the diver who found a great pearl and gave up everything he had to have that pearl.  He claimed he saw the future of music, and it was named Bruce Springsteen.  Bruce pretty much already had his style and image in place by the time Landau came on board.  And yes, Landau produced several albums by the Boss and his band, but again, unless that artist is on the same level as Chuck Berry, you need more than one artist on your resume.  Yes, he produced an MC5 album, but the MC5 are having serious trouble getting their own due recognition.  He's also done some stuff for Shania Twain, but the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame currently has a tepid relationship with the world of country music.  Relatively modern mainstream country, the kind of country my friends refer to as "Nashville pop," is not esteemed by this institution we all find so riveting.  But wait, wasn't he also a critic at Rolling Stone?  Yes, but here's the thing: I don't think music critics should be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, not when it's their primary or sole contribution to the industry.  Paul Ackerman is an exception, because he broke ground by breaking through the pretentious and possibly racist blithe dismissal of an entirely new style of music.  But those journalists are few and far between.  Music critics in general, don't add much to the perpetuation and evolution of rock and roll, and if they do, it's in an opposition kind of way--that is, if a particular critic hates it, you know that you'll love it.  In the long run, music critics have been wrong so many times so often about musical works that history has smiled favorably upon (or raved about works that have been all but forgotten), they make weather forecasters feel like veteran bookies in Las Vegas.  I may be in the minority here, but I have yet to be convinced that music critics are worthy of the Ahmet Ertegun Award for their work as critics.  So, any and all merits that bolster the argument for Jon Landau as an inductee hinge entirely on his work with Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band, and I don't think it's enough.  That's just me personally, and it won't change a thing.  Landau will be inducted, and he will get a Song Of Proof to represent him in The Great Playlist.  However, there are far too many candidates who are much worthier of enshrinement in this category, so many that there is no excuse for pulling these kinds of shenanigans.

So, that's the wrap-up on my long overdue thoughts about this class.  Late to the party, probably too late to even get a party favor or even half a glass of punch, but my thoughts nevertheless.  Still not ready to start thinking about 2021, though, at least not seriously.  Like everyone else, I'm looking forward to what this ceremony will be like when it's live on HBO, and I'll be sure to weigh in on that too, hopefully not as late though.

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