What’s in a Name, Part 2

“Artists—a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians—become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.”  –rockhall.com

Now for the just slightly less difficult second part of the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”  You’d think “fame” would be pretty straightforward, but hey, this is the RRHOF.

Obviously, most people consider “Halls of Fame” to be shrines of the, well, famous.  Reasonable enough. But if you read the mission statements of just about any of them, they almost invariably mention preservation of history and tradition and the recognition of achievement within that tradition (the Country Music HOF, interestingly, only mentions preservation of history).

Heaven knows the relatively objective sports halls aren’t immune to controversy and feature their own roster of bizarre snubs, but they at least start with measurable data—fans and sportswriters can look at a player’s record and get some feel for the likelihood of a nomination.  This dovetails neatly with the common concept of fame: players with 1951 RBIs, 12K rushing yards or 300 goals is generally going to be well known, most likely popular, and their induction makes fans and associated museums happy.  It’s harder for a subjective HOF, and harder yet if there’s a museum to consider. Triple points if there’s an HBO special of the induction ceremony.

Fans cheerlead for their favorites—it’s in the job description. For most, the criteria for greatness is sales, chart positions, and as a bonus, length of career.   A smaller subset sees the bigger picture, their favorites’ place in it and are able to appreciate performers whose work they may not care for. (For the record, I only partly put myself in that category.  I’m moderately good with fairly mainstream 70s/80s material and that’s about it).

This will sound elitist, but I don’t think ANY HOF should be fan-driven. They shouldn’t exist to rubber stamp popular opinion, and in the case of music HOFs, simply validate the criteria mentioned above. These things do have a place in the discussion (and the bios and induction speeches), but by those measures alone, Barry Manilow and the Little River Band would have been in long ago. (No offense to either).

If a HOF is fulfilling its mission, there will be times that a successful act doesn’t meet the standards. There will be also be instances in which it considers performer(s) of merit who lack commercial success or whose heyday is far enough removed that they’re less familiar. If it’s doing its job, it actually confers a measure of fame by enshrining them.  It’s a delicate balance between the mission and commercial considerations. Fans want to see star memorabilia, and if they don’t think they’ll be seeing it, gate receipts suffer.

The RRHOF does have a fan vote, although it’s actually more of a marketing tool designed to generate click-throughs and provide eyeballs for Klipsch, and last year it made the news for the wrong reasons when it was hijacked in SPECTACULAR fashion by some unknown entity with clearly rockist leanings (why Cheap Trick wasn’t a beneficiary as opposed to Yes or even the Cars I couldn’t figure, but that’s another topic). The system  is nearly identical to those used for the Heisman and NASCAR HOF with the entire fan vote weighted as one ballot, so it hasn’t satisfied the belief of many fans that they deserve more say.

It would be nice to be able to get potentially valuable fan input, because it’s out there. Other HOFs involve fans to some degree: Major League Baseball has a fan vote to nominate broadcasters for the Ford C. Frick Award, and the Pro Football HOF invites fan nominations in addition to voting, although the system is convoluted and doubtlessly requires funds and manpower beyond the scope of the RRHOF. It’s hard to imagine a workable scenario, and the Hall has controversy aplenty—and some dramatic fumbles (pun intended) already.  Maybe that’s why the Country Music HOF, a much more transparent organization in a highly fan-friendly genre, doesn’t involve fans at all. And there’s always the self-selection factor—the most valuable voices may have decided it’s not worth caring about.

Is it elitist and un-rock and roll to put the judgment of “unquestionable musical excellence” in the hands of critics and industry insiders? Well, yes. There’s no doubt that they and the official voters have their blind spots: The, ahem, disapproval of some NomCom members for certain acts has been a hilariously badly kept secret for years.  But as a cultural force, rock entered the realm of the intellectual long ago. How committee members are selected (and dismissed) is a separate issue that needs serious scrutiny, but the premise is valid that those who’ve made a living in the business, especially those who act as its historians, are in the best position to lead the discussion.

 

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4 thoughts on “What’s in a Name, Part 2

  1. What’s interesting to me about the idea having a stat driven Rock Hall is how subjective even that is. Where is that line drawn? As an example I’ll use Television, Can and Bauhaus, three historically important acts who, in my opinion, thoroughly meet the Rock Hall’s previously stated, though vague, criteria of influence, innovation and perpetuation. I don’t think anybody would dispute that those three bands are miles away from the Beatles, Stones or Zeppelin in terms of mainstream name recognition, but if you look at the staggering number of artists who have released material between 1954 and whatever the Rock Hall eligibility date is at a particular moment, who are all technically eligible for consideration, I’d be willing to bet that if someone did the math we’d probably find that Television, Can and Bauhaus who are frequently ghettoized with words like “underground” are still in the all time top 2-3% in terms of commercial success.

    I’m unapologetically a “big hall” person. If they only acknowledge the super elite album and merchandise sellers and cater to the least knowledgeable, but most vocal group of fans it ceases to be a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and becomes a Music Marketing Hall of Fame. I’d prefer to take an un-cynical view of the Rock Hall and be able to eventually see it as a valid historical document that chronicles and acknowledges the pivotal and backbone artists of the entire RnR family tree. Ideally I think we should be seeing classes each year that are a blend of big mainstream names, and lesser known, but historically important innovators and subgenre backbones. Popular music is realistically both a crass product and a noble artform and for the Rock Hall to have validity it has to be able to acknowledge both aspects and honor the artists who fueled both (and I say that with the realization that they aren’t always mutually exclusive). And that leads us to the numerous flaws and shortcomings of the current voting committee…

    Another well done piece. I’m enjoying your thoughts on the matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! You’re right; there’s no way to be completely objective, even with the “stats” halls–the numbers exist, but so many ways to look at them, like the “win” stat for pitchers. Your second paragraph is spot on–I love “Music Marketing Hall of Fame.” I may use that if I get into the argument again with someone. I keep saying I won’t, but I know it will happen.

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  2. I frequently see comparisons between the Rock Hall and sports halls of fame. To me, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Nah, even apples and oranges are both fruits. It’s more like comparing apples and … automobiles?

    One is a sport. Stats are key. Competition is key. It’s easy to crunch numbers and say: This person is a no-brainer for induction. And the public is good at that, because numbers are easily accessible, and we all have calculators.

    For the other, it’s easy to just point at sales numbers – but that ignores the fundamentals of what the music is: art. Art is subjective. Art requires a deeper analysis and evaluation of its history, influence, and aesthetics. The general public isn’t necessarily well-versed in such things, which is why they’re all-too-frequently pointing to stadium sell-outs or number of platinum albums and all that. Other artists, however, understand the basis and the foundations of what they do. Historians and other music professionals also have a much more firm grasp on what’s going on than Joe Rockist complaining that Band X should be in due to selling out stadiums on the regular.

    The big issue, in my opinion, is the monetary ties to Rolling Stone Magazine, Jann Wenner, and record executives who find their way into the nominating committee. I personally think the NomCom should have no more than one individual from any organization represented, and record executives should not be present at all. It needs more historians, musicians, and other professionals from across the spectrum to provide an educated analysis of who is deserving. Someone with a billion dollars lying around needs to wrestle it away from its masters and set it loose on its own.

    Another point I’d like to make is the fact that they’ve reduced the inductee class to a mere five members. When the Hall of Fame is operating on a broad definition of Rock & Roll, and Rock & Roll continues to expand not just stylistically but geographically, that number should be increasing and not decreasing. I would like to see a five inductee MINIMUM, and then induct all additional acts landing on 50% or more of the ballots.

    Lastly, the induction ceremony and the performances need to be separated. Have the ceremony for the artists and the concert for the fans. Film them both and combine them for HBO, VH1, or whoever has the contract to air the program at the time. The ceremony should not have a time limit. Put it in a smaller place that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and let the artists hang out with each other, give their speeches, and just let loose. Then have the concert at a different location and different time, with the artists and their managers in control. They know what their fans want more than the Hall, so they should be able to set up their performances how they please. Adjust the venue type based on the inductees to control costs. Did they induct a bunch of singer-songwriter types? Make the venue up close and personal. Were stadium sellout artists inducted? Go for the big locales.

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  3. The stats are the basis for things in the sports halls, but it’s more than just crunching the numbers: it’s assigning values to the numbers like I mentioned to Darin in the comment above about the value of the win stat for pitchers. How that’s done and who does it results in some of the same arguments we see.

    You’ve touched on a bunch of things that are all worth posts on their own that I definitely plan to talk about. I’ve often wondered if someone with a billion dollars could be found that would help with a reboot. Woz? Mark Cuban?

    You’ve raised some good points about the makeup of the NomCom; thank you. I’m going to come back to them whenever I write a post on that. Not sure about all of the artists on the voting block though: they appreciate the effort and the foundations, but at least some of them have the same blinkers as the fans from what I’ve seen. Gene Simmons is the most visible example, but I’ve seen comments from some about “artists that aren’t rock and roll” and revealing their ballots (why is that allowed?) to show they’ve voted completely within their own niche (looking at you, Geddy Lee).

    The class size issue is frustrating, especially in these years when there’s a “no-brainer” and you know everyone else is competing for just four slots–this year it may be three if the 2pac scenario turns out as some think it will. You may have seen it, but Philip at Rock Hall Monitors wrote an excellent post on the topic of class size back in April; it’s definitely worth a read: http://rockhallmonitors.blogspot.com/2016/04/the-simple-maybe-too-simple-and-obvious.html

    And the class size ties in with that dinner-Dave Marsh was right; that tail is wagging the whole damn dog.

    Liked by 1 person

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