The news yesterday that Bon Jovi is among the nominees for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year struck me as an outrage . . . at first.
Jon Bon Jovi is as close to a complete hack as has ever been brought up for the honor. For the first 20 years of his career, his band’s music sounded like the product of a focus group designed to sell records to fifteen-year-olds. His recent reinvention as a hot country artist, which began when he collaborated with Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland on “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” in 2006 and culminated with the release of an album on Mercury Nashville a year later, came conveniently at the moment he realized he couldn’t get airplay on rock radio anymore. A Hall of Fame induction would validate his brand of skillful careerism, and his ability to move product.
Not that it hasn’t happened before—and not that it isn’t what the Hall primarily exists to celebrate. The proviso that an artist is ineligible for induction until 25 years have passed since their first recordings ostensibly exists to allow a little historical distance, to place an artist’s work in the proper perspective. But when nearly everybody with a string of hit records gets nominated after 25 years, and eventually inducted, even if they did nothing innovative or influential—I have pounded lumps into ZZ Top and John Mellencamp for years on this score—the 25-year benchmark eventually becomes the only one that matters.
Which makes the Hall’s most conspicuous omissions especially maddening: the Doobie Brothers, Chicago, the Moody Blues, Heart, Electric Light Orchestra, Yes, Rush, Todd Rundgren, Ted Nugent, KISS, Hall and Oates, and my two personal hobby-horses, Three Dog Night and Tommy James. So it can’t be skillful careerism and the ability to move product that makes a Hall-of-Famer, either. What the hell is it, then? If the argument justifying certain omissions is that the Hall can’t honor everybody, the Hall ought to be able to explain why those who get in get in, and why those who don’t, don’t.
Defenders of the Baseball Hall of Fame, when pressed to explain why so-and-so is excluded, often say it’s not The Hall of Very Good. Except that frequently it is. (The likely first-ballot induction of Curt Schilling in 2013 will clinch this argument for all time.) The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can continue to insist that its honorees represent the most significant artists in the music’s history, but it’s not especially rigorous about making sure that’s true. And as long as the 25-year benchmark is the main hurdle an artist has to clear, it’s actually going to be the Hall of Sold a Lot of Records.
Now Buy This: A totally ridiculous reissue of David Bowie’s 1976 album Station to Station is out, featuring the original analog master of the album, two discs covering the oft-bootlegged March 1976 Nassau Coliseum show, a disc featuring the 1985 CD master (which supposedly sounds better than subsequent CD issues), a disc containing the single edits of tracks on the album, and a DVD-audio disc containing the original album, a 5.1 surround mix, and an entirely new stereo mix. So that’s six audio discs (with five different versions of the album)—plus three vinyl discs featuring the original album and the Nassau Coliseum show, and a whole bunch of memorabilia. (What, no 8-track?) List price: $165.98, on sale at Amazon for $132.95, it’s nature’s way of telling you that you’re a bit too obsessed with David Bowie.
Recommended Reading: Despite being snubbed by the Hall, the Doobie Brothers are back with their first new album in a decade, and against all odds, it’s apparently pretty good. Jeff Giles reviews it here. Jeff also scored the Quote of the Day yesterday on his Twitter feed, posting a link to the Bon Jovi/Hall of Fame story with the words, “Rock & Roll Hall of Fame revealed to be elaborate prank.”