Friday, October 05, 2007

What’s Rock Got To Do With It?

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced the nominees for this year’s slate of inductees. Madonna, among others, is on the list. I suspect she’ll earn entry into this increasingly crowded club, but does she deserve the honor?

I say no.

The Hall of Fame was founded, in part, “to recognize the contributions of those who have had a significant impact on the evolution, development and perpetuation of rock and roll.” This is how artists like Aretha Franklin and Miles Davis—folks I wouldn’t typically associate with an amplifier or cow bell—made the cut.

I appreciate that rock and roll owes a heavy debt to R&B for its early invention. But once you open the door to pioneering singers and musicians who helped pave the way for R ‘n’ R, as opposed to actually playing R ‘n’ R, it’s hard to slam that door shut on other, more recent artists, whose style of music bears little resemblance to the genre at hand.

I’m talking about Bobby Darin, Frankie Lymon, Gladys Knight, the Jackson 5. All certainly deserve a place of honor in the popular music pantheon, but last I checked, it wasn’t the Pop Music Hall of Fame (don’t get me started about what to do with rap artists). True, Madonna pushes envelopes and pisses off parents, a founding precept of rock and roll. But last I checked, no one would mistake Madge, better known for her stage performances, marketing savvy and adopted African child, for a bona fide rocker chick. I don’t care if she has learned to play a chord on the guitar.

In deciding who to nominate and induct into the Hall, I would let the Grammys be my guide. Has an artist been nominated in or would their work be considered for any of the rock categories—regular, heavy, or alternative? If not, then sorry. I don’t care how many records someone has sold or how much they’ve influenced other artists. Madonna has spawned an entire generation of highly skilled lip synchers. We’re supposed to reward her for that?

The true sham will be if the Material Girl finds herself enshrined in Cleveland while John Mellencamp is left waiting, again, for “next year.” The dude has a song titled “R.O.C.K. in the USA” for god’s sake. (If Bob Seger, the Bruce Springsteen of Detroit, is in the Hall, logic dictates that Mellencamp, the Bruce Springsteen of the Midwest, deserves a slot as well.)

The R ‘n’ R Hall of Fame dug itself into a hole by heavily emphasizing the “evolution” and “development” aspects of its mission in the early going. Now its definition of who belongs has become so broad and so open to interpretation as to have been rendered meaningless. The point of rock is that it isn’t pop, it isn’t R&B, it isn’t jazz. It is uniquely and distinctly itself, which is why we create categories in the first place—to distinguish one thing from another.

I know rock and roll when I hear it. Does the Hall?


Post a Comment

<< Home