Rock fans get no satisfaction

David Hinckley
New York Daily News (MCT)

Among the hundreds of letters and E-mails I've received over the years about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, not one ever said, "The Hall got it right!"

Occasionally, one will say, "About time!" But mostly, correspondents throw up their hands over why Miles Davis is in ("He has what to do with rock `n' roll?") or why Chicago, Neil Diamond, the Moody Blues, Genesis, Connie Francis or the Paul Butterfield Band is not.

Since its inception in 1986, the Rock Hall has become an unexpectedly odd duck. It honors music that hundreds of millions of people love. The physical Hall in Cleveland is tended seriously and well. Yet in contrast to, say, the baseball Hall of Fame, the Rock Hall seems to annoy as many people as it enchants.

One reason, I suspect, is that this Hall has often seemed more directed toward the industry than the masses. Its first induction dinners were not televised so music people could just hang out and relax.

That first year, all the inductees - Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, the giants - strolled into a room off the Waldorf main ballroom and took seats. There'd be a cluster of notebooks around Fats Domino, another around the Everly Brothers. This informality mirrored the whole night, and at the end, everyone piled on stage to play everyone else's tunes.

Ragged but right. This Monday, for the 22nd induction dinner, VH1 Classic and AOL carried the whole thing live. The night looks evermore like a TV awards show, complete with backstage goodie bags, and the media have been relocated to another floor. Reporters asking for programs were politely told there weren't enough to go around, so they should "share."

That's unimportant, except that when attendance in Cleveland has fallen from 873,000 the first year to about 400,000 now, you'd think there might be more of an effort to help the media that still provide its primary promotion.

It's not that the Hall doesn't want a higher profile. It's signed promotional deals with AOL and Miller Genuine Draft, and clearly plans a growing TV presence.

At the same time, it's also holding to its vision of who belongs. A `70s fan who travels to Cleveland will find the Clash and the Sex Pistols, but not Chicago or Linda Ronstadt. That reflects an artistic vision. It also dents the potential fan base.

All halls of fame feed on argument. Somehow arguments over the Rock Hall often seem to take on an annoyed tone.

But do this: Watch the two-hour recap of this year's ceremony Saturday night at 9 EDT on VH1. Watch Keith Richards explain that to really appreciate the Ronettes, you had to see what they did to a crowd in 1964. Listen to Patti Smith's blistering "Gimme Shelter." Hear Mele Mel explain why hip hop belongs in a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

As if by magic, you remember why you liked rock `n' roll in the first place - and when an institution likes it as much as you do, you know that can't be bad.





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.