“I Died in Cleveland?,”* or, Thoughts On the Induction Ceremony, Class of 2018

-* Watchers of “The Good Place” will recognize the reference – without giving too much away for the uninitiated, the series thus far has taken place in the afterlife of its main characters; this past season it was revealed that one of those characters met his/her earthly demise during an RRHOF induction ceremony. (Extra points to the show for knowing the 25-year rule). If you’re not watching “The Good Place,” you should be. (Ahem, Alex Voltaire). You can’t just jump in, so definitely – find a way to get to the beginning and get started already. 

Anyway, back to the subject at hand: this year’s Rock Week Inductions, complete with the middle-aged fangirling you won’t get anywhere else. These are just impressions; for commentary see Future Rock Legends or   Northumbrian Countdown. Spoiler alert for those waiting for May 5 and HBO.

This year gave me a new perspective on things, as I was privileged to actually attend Rock Week for the first time ever and watch the simulcast of the ceremony at the museum (thank you, Donna). After contributing to the Hall’s $199 million-plus economic boost to the Cleveland economy over Thursday and Friday (highly recommend the Porco Lounge and Tiki Room), RRHOF festivities got underway with a top-secret summit of Hall watchers at an undisclosed location, at which a perfect agenda for the Hall was mapped out during an intense brainstorming session. Beer may or may not have been involved.

Saturday was all Hall, all day. It’d been 18 years since I’d been to the Museum, so it was intriguing to see all the new developments. The “Power of Rock” film lived up to its advance billing, and I second the advice we got to see it first thing. A lot of effort has clearly gone into the  overall presentation, and a lot more of the collection has been brought into play (with crowds, it took us two hours to get through the floor alone) although my partner was disappointed at the relative lack of items from previous inductees. The display that really resonated with me was Jimi Hendrix’ sketches and paintings, done when he was a tween and teen. The brand-new inductee section and signature plaque area is light years away from the tiny, dark and silent sanctum I remember from before, tucked away and forgotten at the top of the pyramid.

Two things happened at the Museum that impressed me in particular. The first was something I’d actually told everyone the night before would flip me out were it to happen: I met Greg Harris. I probably shouldn’t have bothered him, but before I thought about it I’d called out, “Mr. Harris” and he graciously stopped and chatted about the day for a moment without a hint of being impatient or rushed.

The second is that early in the day, on the first floor, I saw a green dress worn by Yvonne Staples, who’d just passed away two days prior. By the time I got up to the third floor, that dress had been moved to the memorial section and installed in the glass case up front alongside the display for Tom Petty, with an updated description screen. That they took the time to do this on such a hectic day is something, and I imagine that under normal circumstances it would have been done sooner. We went to a listening session in the Foster Theater just after that with John Goehrke, the Hall’s director of visitor engagement and education, and he confirmed that they’d been playing her music in the building the day before as is standard upon the passing of an inductee.

That listening session was fun not only because it was nice to plop down and listen to “Heartbeat City” on a killer sound system, but also because it was a chance to talk with a staff member and really see how much pride and enthusiasm the staff has for the museum and its mission. Every interaction we had with a staff member, from ticket takers to the CEO, was positive. (A huge thank you for letting us back into the building and out of the cold earlier than scheduled). And you know these people don’t necessarily agree with what the Foundation does, but they’re the ones who hear about those decisions every single day. It’s not something most visitors pay attention to, but I think it would be a good step with additional cachet for sponsors and donors for the museum to  follow the CMHOF’s example and get  American Alliance of Museums accreditation.

The fan vote section of the exhibit was getting plenty of use, and has been noted, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Stevie Nicks were at the front of the pack. (I opted for Link Wray, but right up until I voted I was thinking of going with Todd Rundgren, Big Mama Thornton, The Tragically Hip or even Ted McCarty just to make people look twice). It’ll be interesting to see how the ballot looks in October in relation to this, in particular if Judas Priest is shelved in favor of either Leppard or Maiden–and also how fans respond either way.

The ceremony itself has already been dissected here and there, so just some random thoughts:

  • I actually enjoyed the comments by the Bon Jovi band members. I found myself wondering if the “opening” slot was the Hall’s response to Jon’s attitude, which is well played if true, but who can say if it is. The majority of the simulcast crowd  seemed to be there for the Moody Blues, who deserved the headliner spot. I didn’t think the sound mix was very good for either Bon Jovi or the Moodies, with muddy vocals, and without attempting to throw shade here, I heard someone ask if Bon Jovi was lip-synching. Not sure why this would be, because the mix was better for everything in the middle, although the audio/video sync was slightly off from where we were sitting outside the Connor Theater.
  • I can only imagine how thrilled Sister Rosetta would have been by Brittany Howard and Felicia Collins’ performances – Howard especially didn’t so much pay tribute to Tharpe as channel her.
  • Mary J. Blige did a superlative job inducting Nina Simone, and it’s too bad she had  to do the dirty work of finally cutting Sam Waymon off. Allotting him three minutes was stingy, but if he’d ended with, “If you want to be a queen you are a queen… If you want to be like my sister and you have a dream, don’t let anything stop you from your quest,” what power it would have had. Andra Day was simply transcendent, and Lauryn Hill excellent, although to be honest the segment was starting to feel long at this point.
  • What else can be said about the Dire Straits debacle? Until it unfolded, I wouldn’t have believed the Hall could be this tone deaf…not like this. Kudos to Illsley, Clark and Fletcher.
  • Benjamin Orr’s memorial service was held at the museum in the Foster Theater, and I’m glad this is now the postscript on the story. Brandon Flowers’ speech was perfect, and the band was surprisingly and charmingly nervous except for Greg Hawkes, who advocated for some still excluded: Todd Rundgren, Flo and Eddie, Kraftwerk and Devo. The band got the crowd up and dancing–including the Bongiovi kids–and although I’d have liked a small nonverbal nod to  Orr besides the recognition in the speeches, as the Moodies did for Ray Thomas, it was a satisfying end, if it’s to be the end. And yeah, when it was over, I had a moment.
  • I didn’t know what to make of the new induction plan for singles, and frankly still don’t. Future Rock Legends has done an excellent job summing it up, and I’m nervous for what it portends for Link Wray in particular, although Steve Van Zandt hasn’t personally given up on him.
  • The Moody Blues were gracious and charming and although the vocal mix again could’ve been better, they showed everyone how a headlining act gets it done. We thought “I’m Just A Singer…” (or “Good Times Roll”) would’ve made a great jam tune, but what can you do. Happy for all the fans.

When I wrote a letter advocating for the Cars to the Foundation almost four years ago, I never thought I’d actually witness the final result. It was a thrill and a lifetime memory, and while there’s plenty of entertainment still to be had in Hall watching, it’s never going to be quite like this again. And I’m a shameless booster for Cleveland–even as a native Midwesterner, I think the city has some of the world’s nicest people. It’s been a pleasure every time I’ve visited. Although one thing crossed my mind while we waited in line that never occurred to me before: who decided this should happen here and New York in April?

While we were all celebrating geezer rock in a glass pyramid, it came out that veterans Dave Marsh and Craig Werner are off the NomCom and Amanda Petrusich is on. And in other news, Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize for “Damn.”

And where do we go from here?

 

Advertisements

Past Glory: Ted McCarty and Gibson’s Golden Age

In February, it was reported that Gibson Brands, parent company of the iconic guitar maker, is facing bankruptcy despite an estimated $1 billion in yearly revenues, with $375 million in senior secured notes maturing and $145 million in loans due by this July. CFO Bill Lawrence has left the company, which has also abandoned the Nashville warehouse it’s held for the past 30 years.

The news didn’t surprise me, I don’t play, but I’ve done some research on the topic of basses and guitars. Spending time on player chat boards and blogs gave me some insight into the industry, and it’s clear that Gibson’s morale and perception by its audience have been in the proverbial crapper for some time. But reading up on the history of Gibson’s fabled lineup gave me immense interest in and respect for the man who presided over the company’s “golden age,” when it gave the world the Les Paul, the Flying V, the Firebird, the Explorer and more: Ted McCarty. The news of Gibson’s current misfortune seems a good time to look back at the man—also a non-player–who made the company and in the process made history.

 

Continue reading “Past Glory: Ted McCarty and Gibson’s Golden Age”

The RRHOF Class of 2018, Part 2: Turnstiles and Target Demos

“Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Pumps Brakes on Progressiveness,” was the headline from Billboard.com. “A Dad Rock Spectacle for the Ages,” is how Cleveland.com put it. Both, of course, were referring to the Hall’s Class of 2018 (The Moody Blues, Dire Straits, The Cars, Bon Jovi, Nina Simone and Early Influence inductee Sister Rosetta Tharpe).

There’s been a lot of criticism of the Hall’s “Boomer bias” of the past couple of years, and it’s absolutely not without justification. To fulfill its mission, the Hall needs to broaden its range, and there’s evidence that it’s taking steps to force the older-white-male-dominated voting committee out of its comfort zone and at least catch up a little bit to the more progressive NomCom, including recruiting members as young as their 20s. And even if it adds to the overall complexity, it may very well take some procedural changes as well, something like the change suggested (by a Millennial) here.

But just to play devil’s advocate, the Hall may not actually be rushing to bring this about, at least on a scale that will satisfy everyone tired of classic rock’s dominance, and here’s why: The fact is, Boomers and early Gen X’ers aren’t dead. Yet.  While the oldest ones are out of that coveted 25-54 demographic, they have disposable income and are deeply invested in their music and the experience built around it.  Seven of the top 20 tours worldwide in 2017 according to Pollstar were classic rock acts – McCartney, the Stones, GnR, Roger Waters, Billy Joel, U2, and Tom Petty (nine if you count Depeche Mode and Metallica; Springsteen’s Broadway shows weren’t even counted). Yes, the ticket prices are higher, but again, old folks are shelling out. They pony up in droves for events like 80s in the Sand, and cruise ships full of inebriated Boomers are criss-crossing the world’s oceans as you read this, reliving the glory days on the Kiss cruise, the 80s cruise, the Moody Blues cruise, et al, et al.

Now, here I get into conjecture territory: without wanting to draw broad stereotypes, clearly, Millennials experience their music differently from previous generations; they tend to value ownership of music (and most things) far less and experience live music in a festival setting as opposed to single headliners far more. Big conjecture on my part, but I’m not sure that fandom of any particular artist or band plays the same role in self-definition that it did for their parents. Please note-this is a value-neutral statement. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; in a lot of respects it may be a healthier thing. Culture is more participatory for much of this generation than it was for us, and they don’t engage in the hero worship that we did, for lack of a better term.

And while a lot was made about Radiohead’s exclusion, the band doesn’t care, and I’m not sure how much their fan base does. I’ve said it before, but I was taken aback by their poor showing in the fan vote, dragging along in 11th place even before the announcement that they’d be in another hemisphere during the induction ceremony, finally finishing in 12th.

All this is relevant because the RRHOF has so strongly linked its nomination/induction process to cranking the turnstiles at its museum, possibly more than any other such institution, along with the HBO telecast of the induction, which has of course been cited as the primary source of corruption in the process. (While ESPN telecasts the MLB HOF ceremony, MLB is clearly in the driver’s seat). Whether or not it’s pernicious, once that’s the premise, it’s just business: which group would you cater to, as the Foundation, the Museum, HBO or an advertiser? And once you’ve made that decision, you’re hanging a building-sized banner off the side of a downtown Cleveland building emblazoned with an image of a (young) Jon Bon Jovi, right after he’s pulled off a massive end run (aka dick move) around you  by announcing his personal choice of inductor.

It’s been voiced that people should be patient with the Hall trying to balance all these demands, and I’ve thought that myself. But didn’t it wedge itself firmly between the (proverbial) rock and the hard place? I definitely wouldn’t want to go the three-name-only-per-class route, but the Country Music Hall of Fame has scrupulously kept its induction process separate from its Museum management for 54 years now, and while the actual HOF element has its inevitable detractors, it’s managed to maintain its cachet while going under the radar and coexist with a  successful Museum that’s actually one of the relatively few such institutions accredited within the industry. It can be done.

The CMHOF also maintains a pretty high degree of transparency about their rules and processes. The RRHOF has apparently stated that transparency is a goal, but I don’t think we’re going to see this for a while. Right now, the voting committee is driven by its biases. If the voters choose an all-white, all-male slate and the Hall needs to massage that for better optics, they’ve still got the wiggle room and the ends justify the unseen means. Of course, if a band like Radiohead gets snubbed as punishment for a lack of enthusiasm, or because the Hall wants time to try to sweet-talk them into playing along, or just snubbed period, that doesn’t have to be seen either. Right now, the NomCom by acting according to its mission is doing the work of progressiveness, while the powers that be are catering to the bulk of their official voters even as they quietly work to dilute their influence to achieve a greater goal. Until that’s worked out, “selection by one’s peers” is a good thing to promote and takes the heat off the problem.

(An aside: another thing that undermines the Hall’s credibility maybe as much as bias and lack of transparency is a lack of simple professionalism. When you have to add names to a band’s inducted personnel due to “inadvertent error” after the fact and don’t bother to contact those members yourself so they find out from their wives, and when you can’t contact the acts that aren’t inducted that year, but send them a form letter, it’s pretty cringeworthy. (Note to the NomCom: this book is excellent and has handy charts so you can see who was in a band at any point in time).

On the Rolling Stone Music Now podcast covering the class, Brian Hiatt and Andy Greene acknowledged that “there’s an image problem with (the RRHOF and) young people” and then asked hypothetically, “Does everything always have to be about young people?”

At least for right now, maybe not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iconic Rock Talk Show Moment: The Happy Fits

So last week on my segment for the Earth Station One podcast, I introduced what I hope will be a regular feature tipping listeners to music I’ve discovered- new, old, whatever. So I helpfully put the first one out there and tell everyone to check it out, and over the weekend it dawns on me: I HAVE A BLOG where I can post this information. It’s named after the segment. People can go there and read about it because IT’S A BLOG. Sheesh…yeah, I’m bright. I could blame the fact that I’ve been immersed in some intense content creation for the past couple of weeks, but whatever.

Anyway…

My first tip is The Happy Fits, formed in 2016 in Pottstown, NJ, by two college freshmen: Ross Monteith (a former national fencing champion) on guitar and “orchestra nerd” Calvin Langman on cello. They got together in April of that year and by the end of August had written and recorded a four-song EP called “Awfully Apeelin'” (with cover art showing a cartoon banana) that they released on Spotify. Two days after that release, Arizona music writer Tyler Miranda came across it by accident and tipped off a friend at Spotify, who featured the track “While You Fade Away” on the channel’s “Fresh Finds” playlist. In 24 hours, their stream count jumped from 1,000 to 39,000 and now they find themselves as a trio, having added pro gamer Luke Davis on drums in early 2017, playing live sets at places like the Paste Magazine studios, where I found them through Paste’s Twitter feed.

The Happy Fits are hard to categorize; probably the best description comes from Mitch Mosk at Atwood Magazine, who calls it “an infectious mix of catchy melodies, clever lyrics and just the right balance of gritty indie and light alternative rock.” They refer to it as “alternative infused with funky wunky jumbo time,” and more simply as “jiggy music” and gives their major influences as the Killers, the Strokes and the Alabama Shakes. Their Bandcamp bio also references the Lumineers, and at times there’s a hint of world music. Whatever–it’s just fun and insanely catchy, with the interplay of guitar with a surprisingly ballsy low end from the cello, with these simply beautiful and pure vocals on top.

Give them a listen – just be aware that you’ll have “Dirty Imbecile” in your head all day.

The RRHOF Class of 2018, Part 1: Random Thoughts

And there you have it: The RRHOF Class of 2018 has been announced. (Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues, Nina Simone and Sister Rosetta Tharpe as an Early Influence, for the record).

I’m still digesting all the takes on the class that have come out since last Wednesday and definitely want to look at them soon, but first, just some random/fandom thoughts:

Hell yeah, the Cars are in. Now that the moment’s here I can’t even describe how it feels, but I guess it’s like something clicking into place at last. Thrilled that David Robinson is up for getting his drums out of storage and that they’re going to play. Alex Voltaire at The Northumbrian Countdown had some excellent thoughts about potential inductors for the entire ballot, and while Weezer is definitely a possibility, Billy Corgan seems to be the frontrunner. The band did not replace Benjamin Orr on their 2011 Move Like This tour and is highly unlikely to do so here, but the mere idea of Corgan taking Orr’s vocal parts for the performance…oh hella no. Gwen Stefani’s been mentioned but she seems an odd match, which is why it will probably happen, but I’d be cool with seeing Jarvis Cocker of
Pulp, Julian Casablancas and/or Albert Hammond of the Strokes, Brandon Flowers of the Killers or, as unlikely as it is, Black Francis of the Pixies–all artists who’ve acknowledged a debt. I do know it won’t be Car Seat Headrest.

I’m just unabashedly thrilled about Sister Rosetta’s induction, even if the method to the Hall’s madness in the process is hard to fathom. Maybe her inclusion on the performer really was a way to get people to learn about her, and there actually are people out there who did: One of the coolest things I saw during the fan vote was a comment on the Hall’s Facebook page that read “I know nothing about Sister Rosetta, but this is how I learn.” Such a wonderful contrast to the willful ignorance surrounding it. But again, the Hall has managed to make the honor look for all the world like an end run it pulls out when an artist can’t get in on votes.

I haven’t seen a response from Nina Simone’s daughter Lisa Simone Kelly, but it’s fun to imagine Nina’s no doubt pithy reaction to her own inclusion.

I’m looking forward to seeing who does the induction and acceptance honors for both of these ladies. The suggestion by Shrek on the FRL page that Rhiannon Giddens pay tribute to Nina was inspired, and it’s worth noting that Giddens has also recorded an incandescent version of Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head,” a song she’s also performed live many times. The thought of one of the most revelatory artists of our time paying tribute to either of these revelatory women and reaching a new audience in the process is just electrifying.

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I’m not a Moody Blues fan, but things are still in a bit of a rosy glow and some of it’s rubbing off: Justin Hayward has one of the finest voices in the business, and there’s no doubt they’ll be able to power the Cleveland Public Hall that night on the sheer rapture inside when these guys take the stage.

And then there’s Bon Jovi, the least artistically deserving, with the biggest persecution complex and the smallest sense of humility. No doubt both Jon Bon Jovi and the fans view this as an epic victory over a hostile establishment straight out of one of the band’s songs, but the truth is that they’re in there to make use of their biggest talent: making money. If one child gets to take part in the Rockin’ the Schools program as a result of the ticket sales that result from this, it’s worth it. But to think of all the worthy acts still not in, and the graciousness of some on this year’s ballot–Eurythmics, Judas Priest, the Zombies and Link Wray come to mind…it grates.

I have to mention that Donnie Dunham has made a valid point on Twitter that 80s hair metal, if you can call Bon Jovi metal, is a part of rock history and should be represented in the narrative, and I’ve long agreed with Alex Voltaire’s zeitgeist principle (should that be capitalized?), so I’ll grant that and say “artistically deserving.” I always felt Kiss should be inducted on that principle–you can’t really talk about the 70s without them–but Kiss also actually inspired artists that became important later, if indirectly. Artists from Dave Grohl to Garth Brooks have said that seeing Kiss as young children told them that “Hey, you can grow up and be in a band,” even if their actual musical cues came from elsewhere. Have never heard anyone say that about Jon and Co. And that’s way more pixels than I wanted to spend on this.

The fact remains that a lot of brilliance was on that ballot and destined to not get in, and that’s where the meat is when it comes to analysis. Of course the most glaring case is Radiohead; you could write multiple posts about that one alone. FRL was actually  correct twice by initially saying that they wouldn’t be inducted in absentia, and then later reversing that prediction, saying that the optics would be terrible for the Hall if that came to pass. Whether the omission is due to simple lack of voter support, a desire to try to bring them around, or a fit of Wennerian pique is as yet unknown, but the answer is the key to much about the Hall’s philosophy and future.

At any rate, it’s still a bummer that metal is almost entirely absent from the rolls, as are some genuinely progressive artists like Kate Bush. And unless he’s named as the recipient of the Musical Excellence award this year, Link Wray is still not given his due. (something I’m not even sure the Wray family wants). I don’t think that will be forever by any means, but it remains a bigger snub than virtually any other you’d care to name.

Another bummer is confirmation that the Hall is set on a class size of five, despite the recent value-sized ballots and the backlog. It could be worse: The Country Hall mandates three, and like heaven, it’s easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than into the NFL HOF.

What do I think will happen? I’m likely done with the full-on predictions game, but the trend to populist acts is pretty clear, and if we’re going to work through my personal Top Three That Shouldn’t Be In list, next would be Def Leppard. (Like Bon Jovi, I think they’re fun but ultimately inconsequential, and also like Bon Jovi, I saw them live and thought it was terrible). Also, next year may see Paul Rodgers in the guise of Free or Bad Company and it just seems like it’s the time for Warren Zevon. I’ve seen Todd Rundgren’s name mentioned, and he was at the Hall chatting up Greg Harris earlier this year, but I’m not sure if he and Zevon would be on the same ballot. Judas Priest made a splash, so the NomCom could try again there, and I’ve been saying Big Star for a couple of years now. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Janet and Eurythmics again as well.

But a lot is happening in the meantime. I hope everyone finds something to enjoy–I know I will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While We Stand in the Hallway and Wait – Thoughts on the 2018 RRHOF Fan Vote

And here we are: 61 days of voting are in the books, and now it’s all we can do–stand in the hallway and wait for the RRHOF Class of 2018 to be announced.

As noted in my last post, voting was fun this year (Thanks again to the Hall and Votem for the much improved interface and for instituting a midnight reset to replace the pain-in-the-posterior 24-hour rule).

While we’re all standing here, here’s something to ponder. Every Hall of Fame does things that are inexplicable and maddening. Let’s not start on the Songwriting Hall. But here’s something: The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga, NY (Thoroughbred racing’s temple), does not induct race announcers. No Chick “He’s moving like a tremendous machine!” Anderson or Tom Durkin. Go figure.

Continue reading “While We Stand in the Hallway and Wait – Thoughts on the 2018 RRHOF Fan Vote”