Friday, October 5, 2007

I KNOW IT'S ONLY ROCK 'N ROLL BUT I LIKE IT, LIKE IT, YES, I DO: Each year around this time we have had considerable discussion on this blog about the types of musical artists appropriate for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One group, whom I will call the theorists, has suggested that only "rock" or "rock and roll" musicians should be admitted. Another group, whom I will call the empiricists, has noted that the Hall has in fact inducted quite a few musicians who are not archetypal "rock" artists. In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably note that I have been part of the empiricist group.

I believe that I have stumbled upon a fairly simple way to way to describe the scope of the Hall. First, let me set the stage. Jann Wenner, the co-founder and publisher of the pop music magazine Rolling Stone, is also the founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The process of nominating artists for the Hall is allegedly controlled by a few individuals, including Wenner and former Rolling Stone writer Dave Marsh. Similarly, last year Roger Friedman of FOX news published an article claiming that The Dave Clark Five should have been the fifth inductee that year because that group had more votes than inductee Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. The article went on to say "[Jann Wenner] used a technicality about the day votes were due in. In reality, The Dave Clark Five got six more votes than Grandmaster Flash. But he felt we couldn't go another year without a rap act." In light of the foregoing, it seems likely that Wenner and others affiliated with Rolling Stone have a strong influence on the contours of the Hall.

At Christmas a few years ago, a mutual friend of Adam’s and mine gave me an excellent book, which I would urge all of you to buy. It’s called The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (3rd. ed. 2001). I read it all the time. Last night, for example, I read the excellent essays on Nanci Griffith, Green Day, and The Guess Who. Many of the individual entries are written by people who appear to have connections to Rolling Stone.

Note the similarity between the title of the book and the name of the Hall. I’d like to suggest that given the influence that Wenner and other Rolling Stone affiliated people have over the Hall, this book is a good way to judge how they view the definition of the term “rock and roll” and thus a good way to determine the range of artists apt to be considered for the Hall.

Not surprisingly, the book (like the Hall) is very inclusive. The book profiles jazz artists. Country and bluegrass artists are included. The encyclopedia contains entries on heavy metal and progressive rock acts. There are quite a large number of rap and hip-hop artists listed. Disco, R&B, and soul artists are heavily represented. “Pop” artists are covered, including such “non-rock” pop stars as Debby Boone and the Carpenters.

Adopting the "Baseball Hall of Fame nomenclature" that we used in the comments on Adam's recent piece on Madonna, I would like to respectfully state that Madonna is neither a hockey player, nor even a relief pitcher. Madonna is a catcher.

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