How Indie Rock Killed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

10/29/2009 4:10 PM |

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There’s a great piece in the L.A. Times today, on the occasion of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary shows taking place tonight and tomorrow at Madison Square Garden, featuring headlining sets by Simon & Garfunkel, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Metallica. Writer Geoff Boucher wonders what comes next for the Hall, now that rock and roll has taken a back (way back) seat to pop music and hip-hop as dominant cultural forces. Not surprisingly, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame co-founder and publisher of Rolling Stone Jann Wenner thinks everything’s gonna be totally fine.

He looks at contemporary figures such as Jack White, John Mayer and Weezer as key names that might make the cut in the future. Asked if they can compare to past inductees such as Jimi Hendrix, Clapton, the Clash and Prince, Wenner declined to play that cross-generational game.

“Look, there was a very special moment in the 1950s with Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. It just all happened at once. It was incredible. Then in the 1960s, the Beatles and the Stones, emerging from England at the same time as America’s greatest writer of any kind, Bob Dylan . . . are those moments going to happen again? Those are hard to predict, but a generation later came U2 and Bruce Springsteen. They do keep coming.”

They don’t, though, do they? Not at the same level, anyway.

We’ve all known the day would come when things would get dicey for the Hall, and it’s finally here. Right around the mid-80s, or 25 years ago, or the exact amount of time that needs to have passed since a band’s debut in order for them to be eligible for induction, when hair-metal came along and ruined everything, it simply became cooler for rock bands to exist below the radar of the mainstream. With the exceptions of a period of a few years in the early 90s, with Pearl Jam and Nirvana, and then again a decade later with the White Stripes and Radiohead, all the best rock bands have been, for lack of a better term, indie rock bands.

Are the Replacements going to be inducted? Sonic Youth? Husker Du? Joy Division? The Go Betweens? Pavement? Guided By Voices? If they’re not, it’s bullshit: for people who actually still really, truly care about rock and roll, these are the bands that have carried on in the tradition the Hall of Fame has always held dear. But if they are inducted, the Hall of Fame will surely lose the massive cultural appeal it so obviously strives for, considering barely any of those bands have sold as many copies of all their records put together as most current inductees have of even their least successful record.

One solution is to continue doing what they’ve been doing, which is to sneakily distort the definition of rock and roll. Madonna, Run DMC and even Miles Davis have been inducted in recent years, and next year’s list of nominees includes another rapper, LL Cool J, along with ABBA and Donna Summer, both of whom are easily identified as disco artists. Disco, if you’ll remember, was considered the mortal enemy of rock and roll upon its inception.

In a way, it would be arrogant of the Hall not to induct those artist, but in another way, it’s even more arrogant if they do. That Wenner and company feel its within their rights to cross genre lines and claim whatever they want as part of rock and roll, especially when the genres they’re from which they’re cherry picking came to exist in order to give people some options outside the very white, very male, very dominating world of rock and roll, is presumptuous and offensive. I suppose I’d be getting nervous too, though, if John Mayer was my last great hope.