It will be tough to top the shock factor of last year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, when Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson turned his acceptance speech into a surrealist/Dadaist bit of performance art, uttering the statement “blah blah blah” over and over again with varying inflections of voice and facial expressions. Whatever you think of Rush – and anyone who reads what I write is probably aware that I’m a lifelong fan of the band – Lifeson’s speech probably made an impression on you. It was hilarious.
But behind the hilarity, Lifeson had a point: He was making fun of the pomposity of the whole process, yes, but he was also sticking it to Rolling Stone editor Jan Wenner and his cohorts, the supposed gatekeepers of rock culture taste, the bouncers at the door of the rock hall. Wenner has never tried to hide his dislike of Rush, and whenever his magazine bothered to write about the band over the years, it did so snottily and disparagingly. Fan demand got Rush into the hall, and Lifeson knew it. “Blah blah blah” was a nice way of telling Wenner what he thought of him.
Which brings us to the just-announced list of 2014 nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Littered among the roster are a few analogs to Rush – bands whose fans have been rabidly demanding their induction for years, initially through letters to the hall’s voting members, and now, by blanketing social media with petitions. Progressive rock giants Yes, glam rock icons KISS and hard rock lords Deep Purple have never been favorites of the Wenner crew. But their fans are busting a serious move to get them all inducted.
It seems like these fans might finally have their day. Last year was the first year that voting on induction was opened to the public. In years prior, the hall followed a closed-door policy, allowing its panel of music industry insiders, musicians, music historians and journalists to handle the voting. It’s interesting that Rush was inducted the very first year the voting was opened up; the band’s fans had been clamoring for as much since Rush became eligible for nomination, in 1999.
The upside of fans being allowed to pass the velvet rope into the machinations of the rock hall is obvious: Rock music always has been, ostensibly, the people’s music. So allowing the people a voice in the voting seems like a no-brainer. But could there be a downside? Will democratization of the voting process turn the rock hall into an “American Idol”-style dog-and-pony show, where “America” gets to vote on who stays on the show and who goes? (To be brutally honest, America, your track record isn’t exactly flawless.)
The danger here is that the rock hall will become nothing more than a popularity contest. The “behind-closed-doors” aspect of the voting always has been a little bit creepy, but at the very least, one felt that the panel of “experts” would bring the expertise their titles suggest to the table. Some sort of musical and cultural criteria should enter the equation. It would be nice to assume that the people voting know the difference between a major and minor chord, or at the very least, something about the history of popular music, in order to tell the groundbreaking artist from the mere coattail-rider, the icon from the imitator, and the visionary from the calculating cynic with dollar signs in his or her eyes.
How might votes from the secular world of fandom affect this year’s induction process? Nirvana and the Replacements are pretty much a sure thing, in my estimation. They’d be getting in even without fan input, because both bring with them the credibility that has always been appealing to the Wenner gang – Nirvana because it made a few hugely influential records, and then Kurt Cobain died, leaving behind a perpetually youthful and barely post-teen-angst-ridden corpse; the Replacements because it made a bunch of great records and never had the lack of decency to become massively commercially successful. Both are credibility builders for the rock hall. The same goes for the edgy and groundbreaking hip-hop of N.W.A.
Far knottier propositions are the likes of Yes, KISS, Deep Purple and Peter Gabriel.
Yes is quite likely the most visionary of all the progressive rock groups to find popularity in the ’70s; its albums “Close to the Edge,” “Fragile,” “The Yes Album” and “Going for the One” are, for me and many others, every bit as significant as the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” or the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper.” KISS released a string of killer glam-rock/power-pop albums in the ’70s that blended the grit of Humble Pie with the hook-heavy pop urgency of T. Rex and the Raspberries. Deep Purple mixed blues, classical music, hard rock, progressive sounds and abundant virtuosity into a sonic onslaught in league with Led Zeppelin. Peter Gabriel is already in the rock hall as a founding member of Genesis, but he’s been an imaginatively vibrant, genre-defying solo artist for far longer than he was in that band. If Gabriel doesn’t get in this year, a pall will be cast over the whole induction process. There are few artists more deserving than him.
Only time will tell if the newly opened-up voting process will be a positive or a negative. What can be stated definitively, however, is the fact that democracy only works when it is actively participated in. So if you care, you should vote, which you can do until Dec. 10, through www.rollingstone.com.