Glittering Prizes and Endless Compromises

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.”

16 responses

  1. I surrendered all interest in the RRHoF admissions game years ago. It might be a cliché at this point, but it’s purely a suits’ affair. Mind you, if ever I find myself with the admission coin to spare, I’ll visit their big ol’ building, but I’ll make it a point to ask every staffer I encounter where the Todd Rundgren exhibit is hiding. (Bonus Bon Jovi beef: they didn’t even write their best single (“She Don’t Know Me”).

    Funny you should quip about an 8-track in that Bowie doorstop edition: my first copy of Station to Station was just that, a Canadian import rescued from a Walgreens bin for .99 in the fall of ’83 (not long after the cassette laid the format to waste). Referencing your recent autumn-songs post: hearing that title cut for the first time on a late Saturday night with my bedroom windows open was the perfect introduction to that album. I have the promo edition of the redux S&S with the basic 3-disc issue and the DVD; it’ll be fun to hear the album in surround sound, but there’s nothing wrong with my old Ryko copy…or that long-lost 8-track, beyond spreading a few selections (the title track included) over two programs.

  2. The RRHOF is actually the Jann Wenner Hall of Fame. It’s a museum featuring exhibits commemorating his personal taste in music. Any/all other criteria be damned. There was still a LITTLE bit of credibility when Atlantic Records exec., Ahmet Ertegun was still alive. He reined in Wenner a bit. But after Ertegun passed away Wenner has been arbitrarly making sure anyone who has met that 25 year criteria gets inducted.

    Being a huge Chicago fan it used to rankle me that they’ve been eligible since 1992 and still have never been nominated, let alone inducted. There were a handful of DJs back in the mid-late 90s who were lobbying to get them nominated but Wenner got wind of it and changed the nominating criteria to nullify their potential nomination. What I’ll say about them though– they deserve to be nominated on the strength of their first 5 albums alone… but their later material (especially the material released following the passing of guitarist Terry Kath in 1978). has tanrished their legacy a bit. And in interviews in the past they said things that didn’t exactly endear them to their staunchest critics.

  3. Thanks for the links and the kind words. Much obliged!

  4. Schilling has little chance of being inducted into the HOF. He’s not even as good as Bert Blyleven. I’m still bugged about Ron Santo not being in.

    As for the R&R HOF, Uncle Ted and The Doobies belong there. At least Alice Cooper should make it this year. School’s out!

  5. WestBerkeleyFlats | Reply

    Non-obvious inductees get inducted if they’ll sell tickets to the induction ceremony, get ratings for the induction ceremony TV specials, sell copies of the induction ceremony DVD’s, etc. Bon Jovi will attract attention; ELO at this point won’t. Of the acts that you mentioned, I’m kind of surprised that Hall and Oates and maybe Heart haven’t been inducted. They seem like the kind of acts that VH1 viewers would have some nostalgic interest in.

  6. Few additional thoughts since I posted here:

    Cheap Trick isn’t in, either.

    If the Hall intends to honor innovators and influences–which it says it does–ELO should definitely be in, because nobody took the Beatles’ melodic and production influences further than they did. (They were at least as innovative as Pink Floyd, and in a more commercial fashion.) The Moody Blues were in that sweepstakes, too. Todd Rundgren ought to be in as a producer–and I think everybody should do what commenter Jeffrey suggests when visiting the R&R HOF, asking where the Todd Rundgren exhibit is. Heart: first major band fronted by women. Yes: apotheosis of the prog-rock genre. And so on.

    And regarding Schilling: he’ll get in where Blyleven didn’t because of his connection to the ’04 Red Sox and the infamous bloody sock incident, despite being a guy who hung on through a long career of mediocrity thanks to the general decline of pitching in the 80s and 90s, and had the good fortune to land on good teams at the end of his career.

  7. The RRHOF, to me, is a joke with no credibility, at all.

  8. Wait, rock and roll promoters are making unsubstantiated claims?

    Blyleven will get in the Baseball Hall of Fame next year. He got 74.2% of the votes last year. Only 8 more sportswriters need to die/learn basic statistics and he’ll be in.

    The Cheap Trick thing is a travesty, unlike sticking it to some pretentious prog rock types, which is what this country was founded on. I can only hope that the pride of Rockford, Illinois has been inducted into some kind of Power Pop Hall of Fame, perhaps now housed in one of Alex Chilton’s former residences.

  9. Oh, and I think that Schilling is a pretentious blowhard, but I don’t see what other people are seeing in his stats. He had an ERA+ of at least 120 every year from 1996 to 2004, and most years it was much higher than that. Actually, he had an ERA+ of at least 119 every year from 1995 to 2007, with the exception of 2005. The thing that will hurt him is that he only had 216 wins, and it’s been a while since a starting pitcher got in the Hall with fewer than 250. The win total is largely a reflection of the fact that it took him until his late ’20s to get truly established as a consistent pitcher.

  10. As a major fan of The Phillies I have to come to Curt Schilling’s defense. I watched the guy for years and he was a major factor in the fortunes of the 1993 Phillies, the AZ Diamondbacks in 2001, and the year the Red Sox broke the curse. Unfortunately, his unfortunate personality has created this unfortunate controversy.

  11. For the R&R hall, I call for the Moody Blues, ELO, the Doobies and Three Dog Night. Bon Jovi? Only after Norman Greenbaum gets in. For the baseball hall, Bert Blyleven, Jim Kaat, Ron Santo and George Van Haltren (look him up at baseball-refence.com) before anyone else. Schilling? I don’t see it.

    1. That should be baseball-reference.com.

  12. WestBerkeleyFlats | Reply

    I would vote for the Moody Blues (they’re more deserving than the Dave Clark Five; then again, DC5 had to be let in after Jann Wenner screwed them over the previous year in favor of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five), but one thing holding these older bands back is the fear of a bit of pathos surrounding the induction and performance of a band that most people haven’t thought of in decades. No one expects Andre Dawson to get up and be prepared to hit a home run off major league pitching at Cooperstown, but rock and roll (and time) aren’t kind to its elder statesmen. No one wants a “moldy oldies” group putting a damper on the festivities. Or ELO.

    Why is George van H. particularly deserving of Hall of Fame induction? He has the same WAR as a position player as Geoge Burns and a whopping WAR of 1.0 as a pitcher.

  13. I’m not entirely serious about George Van H., but he was a hell of a player if I read things correctly. WAR is one tool to take into consideration. I look at the first edition of Bill James’ WIn Shares (2002), and George ranks 96th all-tme there, behind some folks who aren’t in the Hall and ahead of quite a few who are (and I don’t think the past seven years would alter that signifcantly, if at all). His similarity scores put him in the same range, and then those runs scored per game — especially in the stretch from 1892-99 — are pretty impressive.

  14. WestBerkeleyFlats | Reply

    Yeah, I looked up George Van H. in the New Historical Baseball Abstract. James has him as the #29 center fielder all time, after Willie Davis. The runs scored per game is impressive. Actually, the comment from James that impressed me is that he played 6 more years in the PCL after his “major league” career was over. The PCL was probably as close to a major league as any of the minor leagues.

  15. Brian A. Henegar | Reply

    Just something to add

    I guess I am just a “mindless consumer” but I have always LOVED Bon Jovi. On any given day, you’ll find me humming “You Give Love a Bad name”, “Wanted Dead or Alive”, “Runaway” or any others. I guess I’m just a product of my era, I’m 28 and a child of the 80s. No to be fair, I honest;y don’t think Bon Jovi is H0F calibre. Quite frankly, I’d love to see “Weird Al” Yankovic get in, but that’s just me.

    Brian~

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