And Away We Go: Thoughts on the Rock Hall Ballot

Not sure what this says about my life, but waiting for the announcement of this year’s slate of nominees for the RRHOF Class of 2017 was sort of like waiting for Christmas as a kid.  Well Santa, aka the NomCom, outdid himself this year: the list seemed to go on forever, with plenty of surprises. With nine first-timers and some hoped-for and deserving returnees, you could slice it any number of ways and come out with a great class that would make a lot of people happy.

I didn’t do too badly in my first set of predictions, although it IS a bigger list and two were no-brainers. But I think I’m the only one among the predictions I read to have picked Journey, so I’ll take it.

There are plenty of excellent act-by-act rundowns online with more to come, so these are just some musings on the overall process.

Just like Christmas back in the day, once you recover from being dazzled by so much newness, it suddenly hits you what from your wish list is missing. In this case, no Judas Priest, which is a bit surprising given that they were thought to be a pet project of Tom Morello’s, and no Warren Zevon.  It’s a reminder that this is a committee: when people grumble that it’s “politics,” that’s true, but it’s just how humans get things done. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

I’d speculated that a Priest nomination would indicate at least in part how much influence Eddie Trunk might have with the Committee and in turn how  open the committee might be to metal, and the answer to both appears to be “Not much.”  Dave Grohl ‘s apparent  influence on the nominations of Jane’s Addiction and Bad Brains is unexpected, and for now at least seems to put Trunk back where he was last year: a freshman allowed to hang with the seniors every now and then and very excited to tell you about it. Dave Grohl, man…he’s everywhere.

It also looks like having a moment in the media may help you…or not. A career retrospective release is widely credited with helping Heart secure a nomination and eventual induction a few years ago. ELO has been touring and the media buzz from that may have helped nab them this long-awaited induction. However, it can be argued that the Monkees have had an even higher profile of late with their album, tour and one last dance with Mike Nesmith, but unfortunately, it did not translate into the nomination many people felt was ripe to happen now.

It looks like the committee is genuinely striving for racial, gender, and genre diversity while satisfying populist desires and broadening the scope of the Hall, however incrementally. It’s a huge task, and they’ve done a pretty good job. The NomCom isn’t perfect, but I think they do their best in the face of institutional pressure, restrictive procedure, and a hostile public. It’s not their day job, and people forget that it’s mainly the inductees on the voting body that determine the fate of their respective darlings.

On the topic of diversity: with regards to gender inclusion, there is reason to wonder what might happen if the official voters do in fact choose an all-male slate this year. Have they been given any gentle off-the-record hints about the topic? Are the results subject to rearranging after the fact? Is the inclusion of women by any means necessary an acceptable goal, or is it tokenism? And if an all-male slate is selected and allowed to stand, will the Hall compensate by selecting females for the Early Influence and/or Ertegun awards or as presenters, which could also be construed as tokenism?

Who will get in? Besides Pearl Jam and 2Pac, I think ELO and Journey have a good shot, but wouldn’t hazard a guess right now for the fifth slot. I do think if inducted, we’ll see the long-dreamed-of reunion of the best-known Journey lineup plus Gregg Rolie in a major coup for the Hall.

I do hope that some attention will be paid to Early Influences and the Ertegun Award this year; categories that deserve as much attention as the sexy annual class.With such an embarrassment of riches on the ballot and the chance to reduce the backlog and make a lot of people happy so tantalizingly close, it’s a major disappointment that the Hall intends to again only induct five acts. A glaring reminder that for the RRHOF, honoring achievement is only Job #2.

A more secure fan vote had to happen, but, as  it was so aptly put, it’s  “one step forward, two steps back.” The Hall bypassed the in-house IT team that Museum CEO Greg Harris touted so highly a couple of months ago and outsourced the job to Votem, a company that develops mobile voting platforms for government and private elections. Clearly, the Hall wants to be seen as taking security seriously, but results are mixed.  Voting is theoretically limited to once per day per person with email or Facebook sign-in, but it took all of five minutes to figure out that you can just use multiple emails on the same device and ISP. The UI is clunky, and mobile voting frequently directs you to a white screen of death that may or may not resolve within a few minutes—not seconds, minutes—before posting a confirmation. On some desktop browsers, you have to scroll to find it.

Also, the running vote total and standings aren’t displayed, and while it’s true that this may be designed to keep fans of less popular acts from giving up on voting, it looks too much like they’re hiding something. You couldn’t blame people for thinking the Hall might not be forthcoming, after all. The fan groups on Facebook were immediately suspicious. The interactive element is gone, and with it any excitement and sense of involvement, not to mention exposure for the sponsors dutifully listed at the bottom of the page. Future Rock Legends is right: it shouldn’t be this hard.

One person who must be disappointed is the guy in the Induct Yes Facebook group who kept a detailed spreadsheet, lovingly updated daily, showing daily and running vote totals, the net total and percentage gain and loss in standings for each act relative to the others—every stat a data wonk could desire. Nate Silver would be jealous. It really was a thing of wonder, and I checked it out every morning in fascination. What it showed most clearly is that Cheap Trick and Yes voters were the most dedicated out there, and that Yes fans voted themselves to the bone in what turned out to be a losing cause. I salute you, Spreadsheet Guy, and wish you ultimate success in your quest.

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9 thoughts on “And Away We Go: Thoughts on the Rock Hall Ballot

  1. So I’ve been following this pretty closely as well. I’ve tried to vote a couple of times but nothing ever really comes back and says, Your Vote Was Submitted. So ,maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. At the end of the day, it probably won’t matter much. But as to Yes, what exactly was the ‘losing cause’? The voting still seems to be very much open and unless I misunderstand something, they are still very much in the running. So did I misinterpret your statement or do you have some inside poop?

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  2. I was referring to Yes placing in the top five last year and not making it; didn’t mean to imply they’d never get in. Sorry, will revise. They kind of threw the baby out with the bathwater with this fan vote. If you’re voting on a desktop it dumps you at the bottom of the confirmation page and you have to scroll up to find the acknowledgement. On a phone, who knows. Makes me wonder about the elections this company supports.

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    1. Ah! I missed the last year bit. Anyhoo, I was able to vote today. And yes, it does leave you at the bottom of the page wondering. Hope they do induct Yes this time so I can get on with my life. 😀

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  3. So, we’re offered a super-sized ballot this year. Initially, I think everybody was happy with that. But, then we heard murmurings that it’ll still be a class of 5 inductees. So, to the super-sized ballot I’d ask ‘what’s the point?’ …. I’m sure there is one, but it’s escaping me. Perhaps to just give a few slots to a new & deserving artist not yet nominated? (Well, they could keep Chic off of the ballot a time or two to achieve that)

    We’ve got a pretty diverse bunch. If it is indeed 5, here are mine: Janet Jackson, Pearl Jam, Journey, Depeche Mode and I have The Cars and possibly Tupac next. I get the feeling Tupac might struggle a bit this first time out. Bad Brains would be sleeper for me, but I just don’t see it for them this time around.

    Early Influence: Sister Rosetta Tharpe (maybe?)

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    1. Excellent points: I agree that they should cycle Chic off the ballot for a year or two and let the idea refresh itself; they’re not doing them any favors the way they’re doing it. I’m hoping that the five inductee thing isn’t carved in stone, but I hoped that last year. It does seem stupid, but Charles Crossley made a point on Twitter: “Nominations are the new inductions,” which seems kind of sad, but it likely has truth to it. I originally thought Tupac was a sure thing, but we all thought Janet was last year too. I saw a piece by a Hall voter whose name escapes me at the moment that only gave him a 50-50 shot, so you may be on to something. I’m very curious as to whether this class will be subject to “creative arithmetic” as Alex Voltaire thinks it could be: while it’s a good and needed thing to diversify the Hall, the thought that it has to be engineered is distasteful. But either way, we won’t know. And thank you, yes: Sister Rosetta. No question.

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