How Indie Rock Killed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

10/29/2009 4:10 PM |


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.

19 Comment

  • You had me until you dissed LL & Donna Summer. Maybe you should not get so hung up on what the term “Rock & Roll” means– to you, not to others– and focus more on getting deserving artists in, no matter what their sub-genre is (Mats, Sonic Youth, etc- but also Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.) This is the only way to make the Hall matter in the future. And no, GBV and Pavement should not be in.

  • I meant no disrespect to either of them. They’re both great — but if we can’t agree that one of the most famous rappers of all time and someone who identifies as the Queen of Disco are not, strictly speaking, rock and roll artists, then I’m not sure what to tell you. I’m with you on Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, but to call rap and disco sub-genres of rock and roll is just inaccurate. There should definitely be a place where the Beatles and LL Cool J can co-exist, but for that place to be called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is mega lame.

    And yes, Pavement and GBV should be in, whatever it’s called.

  • Great piece. At some point we have to ask ourselves to what extent we want sales figures to continue to play a role in the Rock Hall’s criteria for worthy candidates. I for one disagree, but if we’re letting in Donna Summer, shouldn’t Poison or Bon Jovi have a shot? Aren’t Miles Davis’ jazz compositions equally far away from any narrow definition of “rock ‘n roll” to render the Hall amenable to disco and rap? Or was Miles just so rockin’ in his rejection of preconceptions of jazz that he just flat out qualifies regardless? As a 25 year old whose first CD purchase was Green Day’s “Dookie,” I think Green Day’s earned a spot for its impressive creative longevity. What about Biggie and Tupac? If LL and Run DMC are in, surely the Beastie Boys will get in asap. You mentioned Pavement and Sonic Youth…what about other fringe-cum-influential acts like Phish, The Pixies, and Uncle Tupelo? And how is Coltrane not a member?

  • here’s a thought: why not go BACK & pick up on the people that have NOT been inducted but SHOULD be. yeah, back to 50s, 60s, 70s. There are STILL people that should be in – People like Troggs & Manfred Mann for their specific song that every GRANDPARENT knows. Buzzcocks? Dolls? Mott? Kraftwerk? Hell, N.R.B. f#%king Q. SOMEONE oughta get it right, before we have to induct Backstreet Boys as a last resort.

  • All Halls of Fame are bullshit. HOF’s are merely public relations vehicles for their sponsors.

  • Sadly– Jim is actually right. Now I’m depressed, I’m pulling my application to the Jew’s Harp HOF.

  • Are the Replacements going to be inducted? Check.
    Sonic Youth? Check.
    Husker Du? Check.
    Joy Division? Check.
    The Go Betweens? Check.
    Pavement? Check.
    Guided By Voices? Check.
    If they’re not, it’s bullshit: Check.

    Except that train already left the station:

    Just a couple of bands that qualified a while ago but aren’t in now:
    X, The Cure, Velvet Underground, Stooges, Cheap Trick.

    It’s been bullshit for a long, long time and it’s not going to get better.

  • “X, The Cure, Velvet Underground, Stooges, Cheap Trick.”

    My goodness, that is sad. I forgot the Velvets weren’t in there. And I don’t know how you can go REM and U2 but not the Cure. Blah.

  • The absence of The Velvet Underground, New York’s stone-cold contrarian answer to those crazy San Franciscan hippie beatniks, is pretty alarming. I didn’t realize that either.

    How long before an Indie Rock Hall of Fame springs up in one of America’s great college towns? I for one recommend Austin, Texas.

  • The Hall is basically of “Pop Music” and will eventually base every choice on Fame and Influence, which is more logical than ‘based on certain guitar driven structures + record sales’.
    And um, Pavement: Yes!

  • Jesus!! Stop all your simpish, politically correct whining about how the R&R HOF is “run by old white guys” and how you’re so supremely “offended” by that. Get over yourself and do it quickly.

    The REAL reason the R&R HOF is bulls**t is STRICTLY because of Jann Wenner and his PC wimp buddy’s who can’t tell Rock & Roll from their collective asses. Any self-respecting music lover doesn’t give two pieces of steaming excrement for the HOF anymore when the likes of Madonna and LL Cool J (really? Does this mean that Andrew W.K. will be inducted into the BET Hall of Fame? Hell NO!!!, so stop with the uber-liberal clap trap and start inducting in actual rock & roll bands and save the “we need to induct women and minorities” BS, regardless of their crediblity as it pertains to the strict adherence to the genre of rock & roll.

    Face up to it and deal with it. From here on out, NO ONE outside of the uber-liberal PC thought police gives one damn about who gets inducted and when because it’s been proven now for the past five years that the R&R HOF is a waste of time, money and space and should be completely destroyed and left for dead until someone with some balls can rebuild it correctly and dispense with all the PC BS that has so far hamstrung modern society from dealing with everyday reality, instead using political correctness as a cop out in not having to deal with said truths and harsh realities.

    My God!! What has “White Guilt” wrought upon this country?!?

    The R&R HOF is a perfect example of the answer to that question.

  • The very idea of R&R HOF is pathetic. It represents the fact that R&R is irrelevant today as cultural force and is almost completely reliant upon nostalgia.

  • Even though I went to that great show at MSG Thurs night, I have always thought that The HOF was a joke.I have at times been a big fan of Madonna, Run DMC and Miles Davis but they do not play r n r. Call it the Modern Music Museum and then put in whatever you want.

    Are the Replacements going to be inducted? Check.
    Sonic Youth? Check.
    Husker Du? I love them but questionable.
    Joy Division? Check.
    The Go Betweens? No way!
    Pavement? You have got to be kidding!
    Guided By Voices? No way!
    The Cure? Absolutely!
    New Order? Absolutely!
    Mott The Hoople? Absolutely!
    TRex? Absolutely!
    Roxy Music? A joke they are not there!
    Nick Cave? Absolutely!
    PJ Harvey? Absolutely!
    Velvet Underground? Absolutely!
    The Blasters? Absolutely!
    X? Absolutely!
    Cheap Trick? Probably.
    The Smiths? Absolutely!
    White Stripes? Hopefully some day.
    John Mayer? I sure as hell hope not!

  • If it all means so little to y’all then why all this mad emotion splashing about?
    I dig it. There’s a lot of great artists inducted and there will be a lot more great artists
    on the roster. It’s all about time.


  • Contemporary figure Weezer?! Am I out of touch?

  • “Pavement? You’ve got to be kidding!”

    Cause they are so obvious or cause they shouldn’t be there?

    Obvious- yes.

    Also, add Neutral Milk Hotel. The Wild Yaks (trust me here– just wait). The Strokes. Ponytail. Animal Collective.

    Time will prove baby!!!!!!!!!

  • Still no rush!? The hall’s a joke.

  • the R&R HOF needs to go back and pick up who they have left out
    where is ALICE COOPER+++a legend and Iron Maiden????????
    this is rock and roll were talking about