Rock fans get no satisfaction
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.