Five Songs to Celebrate Canada Day

This Wednesday, Canada celebrates its national holiday. In the 153 years it’s been around, the nation to the north of us has gifted some pretty incredible music to the world. Here are five songs to honor it in all its vibrant forms. Bonne fête!

A brilliant song meets a sublime voice. And it got her a co-writing credit with the Rolling Stones.

A little of Queen St. in beautiful Toronto here:

Now in his 80s and still active, Gord is a legend. This is to celebrate the 45 my mom brought home for me one day, 69 cents in the rack at Turn-Style. (Sale price was 49 cents). It was like no other song on the radio – then and now.

The first Indigenous person to receive an Academy Award, as the co-writer of this classic:

In the pocket:

“All the dreams you show up in are not your own”: The Legacy of Gil Scott-Heron

Back in the day (mid 80s), I was lucky enough to have the coolest job ever –  a record store clerk. I started at the more “alternative” Co-Op Records (the company logo featured some ambiguous flora, albums filed in crates, dim lighting, head shop by the register), but then moved to “the big time”: uptown to the Music Den at the mall. Here we had real fixtures, sold skinny ties and pins with band logos and photos by the register, and had a big light-up purple star in the front window to showcase Chicago “17” and “Brothers in Arms.” We were happening.

And it was here, in the too-bright lighting with the scent of burnt KarmelKorn wafting across the hall,  that, courtesy of my uber-cool boss, Kat, I was turned on to a new album called “The Best of Gil Scott-Heron.”

“The Eyes and Ears of the Fans”: Journalism, Joy, and the Irrepressible Jane Scott

“And that’s a marvelous feeling. . . We’re all one when it comes to rock, because we love it, and we love it together. It just hit me that time when we were singing ‘Black Water’ — people with their arms around each other, just singing together with the people onstage. That’s what rock does for you.” –Jane Scott

“Jane Scott was important. She didn’t critique music. She reported facts. And, subversively, she demystified the art.” – David Scott (Pere Ubu)

Jane in 1960, covering a younger member of Cleveland society. (Photo: Plain Dealer Historical Photograph Collection)

Eventually, she’d go to all the shows – an estimated 10,000 — by anyone and everyone, from open mic nights to Live Aid. David Bowie would personally leave a pass for her whenever he came through town. But Jane Scott missed the one that started it all by three days.

Later, she’d say it was due to greed: Alan Freed’s Moondog Coronation Ball was on a Friday, March 21, 1952. She’d waited until the following Monday to start her new position with the Cleveland Plain Dealer so that her boss could sneak an extra $5 per week onto her $45 weekly salary in his boss’s absence.  “Think of the firsthand stories I’d still be writing about that night,” she’d say years later.

Jane was born May 3, 1919 in Cleveland and grew up west of the city in Lakewood and Russell Township. After graduation in 1937 from Lakewood High School, she headed to the University of Michigan, where she was a staff member for the school paper, The Michigan Daily. She received her B.A in English, Speech and Drama in 1941, but never would use the teacher’s certificate she also earned. The following year, she went to work for the Cleveland Press as a secretary in the advertising department.

That didn’t last long: later that year she enlisted in the Navy as one of Cleveland’s first WAVEs, where she rose to the rank of lieutenant as a codebreaker, or as she termed it, “a glorified typist.” After the war, she went to business school for typing and shorthand, and in 1947 joined the staff of a startup paper called the Chagrin Valley Herald as the women’s editor. For five years she juggled that with  stringing for the Plain Dealer until that $45 (then $50 per week) job opened up.

In truth, she wouldn’t have covered the Moondog Ball anyway, although a “real” reporter likely showed up for the infamous riot. Jane’s beat was the society page. Two years later, she landed the “Senior Class” column, geared to the retirement crowd, a post she’d hold for 20 years, even after rock writing became the focus of her career. In 1958, she took on the weekly “Boy and Girl” children’s column, which eventually morphed into “Teen Time.” As her co-workers put it, she covered “pimples to pensions.”

Thousands of girls wanted to be her at this moment. (Photo: Ron Swede, from the Jane Scott collection)

It was through that teen column that she found her calling, or it found her. In September of 1964, her editor gave her an assignment that no one else wanted: covering a show at Public Auditorium by a shaggy-haired English quartet from Liverpool. The classical columnist wrote the actual review (he hated it, of course); she was there for the human interest.

And she found it. “I never before saw thousands of 14-year-old girls, all screaming and yelling…I realized this was a phenomenon…the whole world changed,” she said years later.

Her friend Anastasia Pantsios, her longtime colleague at the Plain Dealer, said of it: “She was allowed to take the rock beat because [people at the paper] thought it was trivial at the time, and a woman could have it. Most of the papers at that time would have sent a columnist, who would have made fun of it and the screaming girls.”

But Jane was mesmerized, and she knew that her readership was too. She may have been 46 but this “teen music” clicked for her like nothing else had before. She dropped the school news from her column and devoted it to the performers that kids were hearing on WIXY and WHK: As the teen writer, she could do it without objection from higher-ups at the paper. In the process, she made history: one of the few rock writers in the country, one of a tiny number of women, and the first — man or woman — to write for a major paper. When the Beatles returned to play Municipal Stadium two years later, she was the only woman at the closed interview session. Even Brian Epstein had trouble getting past security.

One of Jane’s “Teen Time” columns from the mid-60s. The “Benny” mentioned at the top of the third column? Benny Orzechowski, a fellow Westsider who grew up to be Ben Orr of the Cars. (Photo: Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Over the years that followed, Jane became a fixture at Cleveland concert venues, unmistakable with her signature blond pageboy, oversized red trifocals and her car keys, pass, and ticket pinned to her blouse. She always toted her “security kit,” an oversized bag filled with safety pins, two notebooks (one for the interview and one for notes on the crowd), and at least four pens (“because people borrow them and don’t return them”). A true concert veteran, she also carried Kleenex for the inevitable shortage of TP in the ladies’ room, ear plugs, and a peanut butter sandwich (“because peanut butter doesn’t spoil easily and sometimes you don’t have time to stand in line for food.”). Sometimes she’d bring photocopied notes on that night’s act, offering extras to her fellow journalists.

With Bowie in the 70s
And in 1991 (Photo: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

She got to be on a first-name basis with rock royalty. The stories are legendary: She went with Jimi Hendrix when he bought a blue Corvette at Blaushild Chevrolet on Chagrin Boulevard for $8000. Jim Morrison invited her to have a beer with him before their 1967 Public Auditorium show (a Christian Scientist and a professional, she assuredly turned him down). She sang “California Girls” in a hotel lobby with Brian Wilson. When Bowie saw her from the stage at a performance of “The Elephant Man,” he sent an assistant to bring her backstage for a private dinner.

The things that made her special, that made her the darling of artists and fans alike and got her into places other journalists never saw, were her boundless curiosity and open-mindedness. Even the famously cranky Lou Reed was unabashed in his affection for her, describing her as a “very smart, guileless lady who loved music and musicians and had unbiased attitudes toward the evolving culture.”

With 2020 Hall of Famer Marc Bolan in 1972

Artists appreciated her appreciation for them, addressing her as “Ma’am”; respecting her as what the Plain Dealer’s John Petkovic called “the cool aunt or mom who accepted people as they are.” It also helped that she’d often find their parent’s contact info and chat them up for a scoop on their famous offspring—they knew she had the real dirt. 

Maximum Cleveland: Michael Stanley being interviewed by Jane Scott, in a photo by Janet Macoska

She valued the personal connection, and not just as a story tactic. Remembers the Plain Dealer’s longtime rock writer John Soeder, “Jane was ego-less. She wanted to hear about you, and she treated everyone with respect. Everybody had a story that made her want to whip out her notebook.” During a 1998 joint interview, Joel dutifully answered Soeder’s questions about classical composition, but came to life when Jane leaned in and asked him about his daughter Alexa. Cleveland legend Michael Stanley said, “You always felt you were extremely important when you were talking to Jane.”

But Jane had no illusions about the real nature of these relationships and the business she was in. As she put it to writer Alana Baranick, “These people are not my friends. They’re using me for publicity, just as I am using them to get a story.”

Her ability to get backstage, onto tour buses, and wherever else she wanted to go flummoxed even industry pros. According to promoter Jules Belkin, he could never keep her away: She’d just materialize. Of course, most of the security crews knew who she was and were more starstruck over her than the artist they were paid to keep under wraps. And if charm and reputation didn’t work, she wasn’t above using her age to get to where the story was. She was once seen waving her arms wildly while trying to get past a resistant security guard. Finally, she just shoved him aside and went on past. What was he going to do, fight a defenseless old lady?

While personally conservative, she almost never judged, only recorded. She was unfazed by things like a haze of pot smoke or Rod Stewart’s publicist’s girlfriend cavorting topless in the background during an interview.

But there were a few exceptions. Unimpressed by the Beastie Boys’ liberal dropping of the F-bomb, she dismissed them in print as “crude and lewd without a redeeming social value in sight.” When Elvis Costello was rude to her, she simply devoted more column inches to his opening act, Eddie Money.

Jane was sometimes dismissed by rock cognoscenti (who no doubt came on the scene well after she did) as a glorified fan who “never met an artist she didn’t like.” But she would’ve been the first one to assert that she wasn’t a critic; she was a reporter. She saw it as her job to bring be “the eyes and ears of the fans,” who hadn’t the means to see all the concerts, let alone meet their heroes. She sought out the faces in the crowd and included their thoughts in her column. “If you want to write for yourself, go write a diary,” she said. “There’s something interesting at every concert, even if it’s not my style.”

Her style was, like her, wide-ranging and unpretentious. She was hip enough to appreciate Frank Zappa and Pere Ubu, as well as the Doobies’ “Black Water.” She even liked progressive…mostly. She liked Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale,” but once described being backstage at an ELP show and falling asleep for eight minutes during an “interminable” song, only to wake up and find them still playing it. She loved all the Beatles, and to the question “Which one to take home?” her puckish answer was “John. I told you he was the mature one.” She’d no doubt approve of the Rock Hall’s inclusive definition of the genre: “It’s the excitement of rock ‘n’ roll that keeps me going…(the) unexpectedness and the swift changes. You go from pop to hip-hop. And it all melds into rock somehow.”

She had a reporter’s instincts and an ear for trends. She wasn’t an essayist on the level of a Robert Christgau or Ellen Willis; her famous opening interview gambits were “What high school did you go to?” and “What’s your favorite color?” But she had a flair for description and detail, shown in her famous 1975 piece on an up-and-coming artist from New Jersey, two months before he appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek in the same week:

“He looked like a cross between a dock hand and a pirate. He stood on the darkened Allen Theater stage last night in a black greaser jacket, blue jeans, a gray wool cap pulled over an eye and a gold earring in his left ear. Only a pianist played as he began singing about slums and switchblades in his ‘Incident on 57th St.’ His name is Bruce Springsteen. He will be the next superstar.”

Covering a rainy show in 1967. (Photo: James A. Hatch, Cleveland Plain Dealer)

As with many glamourous jobs, Jane’s meant a lot of hard work behind the scenes. She was often in the office at 3 a.m. to file her story after a show. For years, she spent every Saturday downtown at the WEWS TV-5 studios for the taping of Cleveland’s seminal pop performance show “Upbeat,” where she got one last interview with Otis Redding the day before his death. Michael Heaton, for 30 years the Plain Dealer’s “Minister of Culture,” said of her: “Jane gets the joke about herself. The standard take…is that nobody’s home. But forget the kooky image and all that “world’s oldest teenager” bullshit. She’s sharp as a tack and the hardest-working reporter I’ve ever met. The woman will not be denied.”

Over the years, she’d become a local celebrity; artists looked for her when they came to town. When they talked to other journalists, they’d ask about her. She often found herself the one mobbed by fans when she showed up at the clubs and arenas. She graced the covers of local publications including Cleveland magazine. But it never went to her head.

But after a time, all this wasn’t enough for the Plain Dealer. In 1987, after 35 years, they told her they were looking for new rock writers and that maybe she “could cover gardening.” Stung, she said she could see their point of view but wrote them a letter to make a case for her ability to “help out.” Her co-workers rallied to her defense, with 126 of them signing a petition to keep her. The story made the front page of the Wall Street Journal, and then broke in People magazine and on MTV, Entertainment Tonight, and Art Linkletter. The shaming worked. Jane stayed.

She kept at it for 15 more years, sometimes going to two or three shows a week for her new “Backstage Pass” column. She’d said that “retirement” was a word she didn’t understand, but in 2002, just shy of 50 years with the paper and her 83rd birthday, she decided it was time. She settled into a quiet but still social life at the Ennis Court assisted living facility in Lakewood. When school choirs would come to sing for the residents, she’d interview them, and if given a notebook, take notes.

Of course, she didn’t stop going to shows. And of course, everyone remembered her, including the Boss, who welcomed her backstage for a private chat before a show in 2005. In one post-retirement photo she’s right up next to the stage with her walker, beaming joyfully at an equally delighted Joan Jett. She’d been wrong: they were her friends.

Jane Scott died on July 4, 2011 at age 92 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Her public memorial was held at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, and she was buried, surprisingly, at Washtenong Cemetery in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She’s survived by a nephew, two nieces, and several grandnieces and nephews. Never married, Jane did say that she’d had a fiancé “but lost him to the war.” When asked which one, she replied “Civil.”

Michael Stanley meets Jane again. (Photo: Janet Macoska)

Her extended family was on hand the following year when a life-sized sculpture of her was unveiled at the Museum. Appropriately, it depicts her sitting with pen poised over notebook, ankles demurely crossed, wearing her trademark red glasses and with a big smile. Originally at home in the lower lobby under the CBGB’s awning, it’s since been moved to the Hall’s Library and Archives. Fitting, perhaps, but now it’s only visible to those who likely already know about her, when everyone should see it and learn her story. It’s not like there’s a shortage of space. The Hall did mark the centennial of her birth with a reception and panel discussion featuring a few of her friends, colleagues, and writers whom she inspired.

That same year, the Archives acquired Jane’s personal papers and memorabilia. Among the rarities is her notebook from her first Beatles interview, signed by  John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and a handwritten set list for a 1999 Springsteen show. Together, the 70 boxes of rock and roll treasure make up one of the five largest collections in the Archives’ holdings. Everything bears tangible witness to a career that as noted writer Holly Gleason put it, “…captured the essence of rock coming of age, growing into maturity and finding its way into the 21st century.”

Music, and the music business, have changed almost beyond comprehension in the almost 10 years since Jane left us. But if she were here, she’d be along for the ride, notebook in hand and ready to experience it all. She deserves a permanent place among the artists and music she loved and and shared with her readers for half a century. The next time the ceremony is in Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame needs to induct and pay tribute to Jane Scott. It’s time.

Doubling Down: Thoughts on the Rock Hall Class of 2020

Wednesday morning, three months to the day after announcing the ballot, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame revealed the inductees for its class of 2020: Depeche Mode, the Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, Notorious B.I.G., and T. Rex.

It’s been an odd year, with a ballot that somehow was so much less than the some of its parts. So it wasn’t to be expected that the class could improve on that. And it didn’t.

But it did pack a few, if not surprises, interesting points. First up, of course, the fan vote. We saw the omission of not just the Dave Matthews Band, who’ve now secured a place in rock history as the first winner to be shut out, but ALL BUT ONE of the top five. The top two didn’t make it. Take that, fans.

I was actually willing to double down on my prediction that DMB’s victory would get them over. A big part of that was forgetting what I learned from the Who Cares About the Rock Hall podcast about Depeche Mode’s ability to sell tickets.

Lord knows I’m not a fan of the swing to populism, but I’d accepted that induction for all the previous winners was the Hall’s way to dodge charges of elitism. Places 2-5 didn’t matter, but the winner was the token. It got bands in like Journey and Kiss who’d never gotten critical love. It was a bit of a deal with the devil, but when fans and performers alike complained that the public had no say, the Hall could point to that without ever stating outright that it was policy. Just ambiguous enough, and not dependent on votes. People kept saying DMB didn’t have the votes and I wondered why they thought that mattered. The Hall probably has more fiats than a Milanese car dealership.

The Hall wants eyeballs on its site to keep Klipsch happy, a sense of drama for the media outlets to pick up on (good or bad, doesn’t matter) and fan involvement, likely in that order, and it was a neat way to accomplish it all.

Even if the Hall doesn’t care much for good will, I didn’t think it would stomp all over what it got from the vote, what with turnstiles to keep turning at the Museum. Nope, they stomped. Stomped it real good. Clearly they’re doubling down on their core principle: they have the game ball, so we’ll all fall in line. All the DMB fans who are confused and angry now will be back next time. We’ll all forgive and forget, because we all want to root for something, to see our heroes honored and bask in the reflected glory. Don’t forget, three of the fan vote’s top seven made it.

So now the cat’s out of the proverbial bag. The winning act has racked up 1 million votes for nothing, and it’ll be fascinating to see what the vote totals look like next time around…if indeed there’s a fan vote as we know it.

In the biggest instance of doubling down, the ballot had all of three women, one of whom is deceased. This in spite of being taken to task in the media for the second straight season and called out from the stage earlier this year by their own inductee. I wish I could say it was a surprise. And of those three, only one makes it, and she can’t vote. You think back to 2018 and you just have to shake your head. Pat Benatar, who came in second place in the fan vote, led it for the first two weeks, and was thought to be a lock by most Hall watchers, didn’t make the cut. A huge and unpleasant surprise.

But is it really? There was noticeable apathy – and in some cases antipathy- to Benatar from the voters that Joe and Kristin spoke to on “Who Cares..,”, including Amy Linden and Edna Gunderson. I never saw ecstatic endorsements in the media leading up to the announcement, either. Whether we think it’s accurate or not (I don’t), maybe Steve Erlewine summed up how she’s perceived in the industry: “A workaday rocker who had a good moment.” Now, the Doobie Brothers, hey, they’re innovators who moved the needle on rock and pop as we know it today.

The Hall is trying to tell us that having three women — the same number as last year — is some kind of breakthrough. It wants us to believe that the process is based solely on merit, and the fact that women make up only 7.7% of the inductee rolls is an accurate representation of the quality of their contributions to modern popular music. Breathtaking.

This ish isn’t going to stop. It’s not going to because as things currently stand, there’s no incentive for it to. There’s no penalty, no consequence for it, and that’s what a meaningful change is going to take. Right now there’s nothing to impact the bottom line and grab the old boys by the…attention span.

The Hall knows this. Again, game ball. It calls the shots, and it knows we, the general public, have no real power. There isn’t a sponsor structure that we can lean on. We aren’t a cohesive unit who’ll get on board with any sort of boycott of either the ceremony or the museum. Steve Miller said something about it in 2016 but by that point he’d cemented his “crazy grandpa” status and helped make his own induction a sideshow. Other nominees (or potential ones) haven’t made it a talking point, including Benatar and Khan that I’m aware of.

Inductees can’t be expected to boycott their big night, but could they make a statement? Could a campaign convince them to? Not likely. Would it have any effect if artists refused to make appearances at the museum? To not do book signings, jam in The Garage or take the tours and do the grip-and-grins that the Hall loves to post on social media? Would an “open letter to the Board” statement from living inductees have an effect? Not much. What about the bands that play the Plaza for the summer concert series? Even if it meant anything, is it fair to ask them to forego a check and the exposure? No.

A neat and easy way for the Hall to make even symbolic amends would be to use its power to award one of its discretionary awards — the Ahmet Ertegun Award for Musical Excellence or the Early Influence or Musical Excellence categories to a deserving woman or women. Like the Performer Category, there’s no shortage. Instead, it doubles down and presents two old white men from its own board of directors (Jon Landau and Irving Azoff, manager of the aforementioned Doobie Brothers) with the Ertegun award. Again, just breathtaking.

Maybe this is the old boys’ last hurrah before the new guy comes in and makes them be all like, inclusive and stuff, but how many changes can we realistically expect, and how long will they take? And even though he’s a guy, how much pushback will he get?

(And off topic, but did y’all notice in the statement the Grammys made about the outster of CEO Deborah Dugan that she’d been put on leave because “a formal allegation of misconduct [was made against her] by a senior female [staff] member?” (Italics mine). Nope, we’re not saying anything because we’re dudes; see, we found a woman to do it. The Academy says she’s a bully; she says she found corporate misconduct. But wonder of wonders, she has gotten advertiser support).

And as predicted by just about everybody, the hard rock/heavy metal acts canceled each other out and come up empty again. It’s hard to disagree with Eric and Mary of the Hall Watchers podcast that this was on purpose. The Hall views the nomination as the award. Next year belongs to the Foos, and the Hall could very well go with Iron Maiden if they opt to try this again, so unfortunately Judas Priest may be on the shelf for a while. A crime, as are the omissions, again, of Kraftwerk and in my eyes, Todd Rundgren.

So now we await the announcement of who the presenters and tribute performers will be. And beyond that, the direction the Hall takes as the new era begins. The Hall promises changes to this year’s ceremony, and those may give us some clues to its priorities going forward. One thing’s for sure: Change is needed on a massive scale; the system is beyond broken. John Sykes has a big job ahead.

RRHOF Predictions 2020…Yay

Actual Rock Hall ballot response

Happy New Year, one and all! I was all ready to open with “So it’s been busy lately” and then saw that it’s been nearly three months since my last post. Meanwhile, people have been posting all kinds of insightful Rock Hall commentary, and Eric and Mary at the Hall Watchers podcast have posted brilliant episodes even as they travel to Europe and get ready to move. So yeah…I’m lame.

But since the fan vote is almost sort of about to start getting ready to think about winding down after what, six months now? it’s time to go on record with my predictions for the class of 2020.

It’s been noted how this year’s ballot was met with more or less a collective yawn despite containing some worthy names, and it doesn’t look like excitement has grown since then. However the class shakes out, what’ll be really interesting what the Hall throws out there to create a buzz-worthy induction ceremony.

It looks like this year is a placeholder before the Hall takes its first tentative steps into the Sykes era. In that vein, I’m not predicting any big surprises. Here goes:

  1. Pat Benatar: She’s deserved it for a long time, and it looks like the stars have aligned to make this her year. For the Hall, she represents a way to add a woman to the ranks, appeal to Boomers/Gen Xers and women and maintain a little rock cred at all the same time. It took a long time for her camp to acknowledge the nomination, so I’m not positive her attendance is a given, but she’ll probably be there, which is something this show is desperately going to need.
  2. The Doobie Brothers: Again, big appeal for the Boomer crowd and they tick the “rock” box for adventure-phobic voting committee members. And as noted, they’ve got Irving Azoff going to bat for them and they’re gearing up for a 50th-anniversary tour. As Future Rock Legends said, it’s hard not to feel a little cynicism about the neatness of all this as a marketing opportunity — for the band and the Hall both — but they do still sound good together and they’ll be fun at the ceremony. (If they played “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me)” I’d be chuffed, but it’s not likely).
  3. Dave Matthews Band: Listening to the “Who Cares About the Rock Hall” podcast actually made me a little more open to their induction, but Joe Kwaczala is right: this isn’t the time. By most people’s standards, but this is the Rock Hall. There’s conjecture that this is the year that the Fan Vote winner doesn’t go all the way, but I don’t see it happening. The Hall blithely ignores specific criticism, but they’re highly sensitive to factors that affect the bottom line. They won’t completely alienate such a big fan base, backward-ball-cap-wearing frat boys or not. (Like obnoxious fan bases have ever stopped them). They ignored the input from the kiosks this year, so the grab for ratings will be slightly less blatant, but this band made a significant charge to claim the top spot by a huge margin. There’s a noticeable percentage of deceased artists on the ballot and it’s likely more than one will be inducted. The powers that be might have privately thought that inducting Journey was “brutal” but they’ve kept going down the populist road, following them up with Bon Jovi and Def Leppard. The Hall’s more openly impressed with sales numbers now, and this is where it looks like they’re headed. I wouldn’t mind being wrong, but I think the ants will march on in.
  4. Notorious B.I.G.: It’s been a couple of years since a hip-hop act went in, and he’ll succeed where LL Cool J hasn’t yet been able to.
  5. Whitney Houston: Given a different ballot, she may not be a sure thing. But she’s undeniably an icon. Clive Davis is no doubt in her corner and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him do the honors for her on the big night.

Besides these Performer inductees, I’m going to take Perelsman up on his hint and say that they’ll redefine “Early Influence” on the fly and put Kraftwerk in under that banner. Is this the right way to do it? It’s the Hall, remember?

It’s less likely, but again because of the number of departed potential inductees, we just may get a Musical Excellence pick in Todd Rundgren. He’s signaled that he won’t bother to show, and that could help him here. Hopefully his fan base woiuld rally to convince him otherwise, but his 10th place showing in the fan poll points to them adopting his curmudgeonly attitude.

Eddie Trunk loved the ballot as predicted, but also as predicted, the hard rock acts will likely cancel each other out. If Judas Priest showed so badly just a couple of years ago, why would this try be different?

It’s not ideal, but we’re never going to get ideal. This year, we’re treading water — the real drama starts this summer.

The Mostly New, Hard Rocking, Not at All Gratuitous 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ballot

The long-awaited day has arrived: The 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot is upon us. And well…it’s not like socks for Christmas, but it ain’t the official Red Ryder carbine action air rifle either.

It does have a good mix of old (previously nommed Todd Rundgren, Rufus w/Chaka Khan, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, MC5, NIN, and Judas Priest) and new names (Whitney Houston, Pat Benatar, Dave Matthews Band, Doobie Brothers, Notorious B.I.G.). There’s something for almost everyone, and some longtime snubs are represented at long last (Soundgarden, Motorhead, Thin Lizzy, T. Rex). But that crackle in the air doesn’t seem to be there — I just don’t get the feeling that anyone’s truly jazzed about it when all is said and done.

A few random thoughts:

  • The kiosks didn’t come into play – thank Heaven.
  • It’s less Brit-centric than the past couple of years, with a total of five UK acts.
  • There’s a definite hard rock slant at work. (Won’t stop the rawkist complaining). I know Motorhead, by their own definition, isn’t metal, but I was taken aback to see them on the same ballot as Priest. I was a little surprised to see Priest, to be honest — but damn happy about it.
  • The 70s aren’t dead, but we’re down to one 60s flagbearer in MC5. It’s looking even more dire for acts like Link Wray, Dick Dale, the Shangri-La’s and a host of others.
  • Paul Shaffer’s attempt to get Willie Nelson on the ballot didn’t come to pass this time, and you have to wonder when country will show up again.
  • One interesting thing as I scroll through the tweets I missed earlier today: as noted in Stereogum via FRL, “We’re looking at a Hall of Fame induction class that could potentially honor almost exclusively dead artists and bands with dead frontmen: Notorious B.I.G., Soundgarden, Whitney Houston, T. Rex, Thin Lizzy, Motörhead. ” Now that puts the lie into a truism among Hall watchers: that not being on the mortal coil can be a boon for your career, but a real crimp in your Hall chances. Now, all these acts won’t get in this year, but…hmmm.
  • No singer-songwriter rep this year.
  • The Google voting interface is pathetic. No results in real time? The cynic in me is on alert. Remember the Journey incident?

And one other small thing…

Can you guess what it is?

Wait for it….


Now, I didn’t expect a real uptick for them this year; the Hall’s got a track record of ignoring popular criticism, which I imagine they think makes them look steady and unshaken by trends, but it really reflects a truly remarkable pigheadedness. Unless the protest affects the bottom line, or the makeup of the committee and voting body change, they’re not going to deign to answer. It’s that “might is right; we’ve got the football” mentality. Will the John Sykes era bring change? If so, when? Those answers will be a while in coming.

But a total of three female acts (one in conjunction with a male band) is appalling. We had five in 2018. It’s the same as last year but is a smaller percentage. And what do we get instead? The Dave Matthews Band? Go read the bio – even the Hall can’t come with anything compelling about them. Who pushed this through? Non-scientific poll: Everyone I’ve talked to has said “Why?” “WTF?” or “Eww” when I read their name. But glad to know we’re not being gratuitous or anything.

Allegedly there are discussions about inducting older performers on a separate night (as my cubicle mate said, “the senior PGA tour”). Also hearing that Kraftwerk could get in as an “early influence.” Honestly, it just makes me tired. They didn’t think the system through when they started, they’ve effed things up and now have a massive backlog, with no system for fixing it. This isn’t thinking outside the box, it’s just spit and duct tape.

An artist-by-artist rundown doesn’t seem necessary; almost everyone on the ballot has bona fides and is someone I’d either love or would appreciate to see in. At this moment, I think Notorious B.I.G. (everyone’s bingo “free space” this year), Pat Benatar (stridency notwithstanding), the Doobies, T. Rex and Todd are the frontrunners, but Soundgarden could slide in there too. I hate this “either/or” mentality with women nominees, but I think Whitney’s presence on the ballot could make Chaka a bridesmaid yet again.

So what do you think? Is the Wenner era ending with a bang or a whimper?