Let’s not dance around this. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RRHoF) has always been a mess. Some of it is not the fault of the Hall. Every nominee has some credible reason to be added into the potential pool, so fans of those nominees are going to be miffed when they don’t get the nod. There are far and few glimpses into how and why acts are chosen or excluded. Someone is bound to claim the fix was in.
Likewise, anytime a younger pop act gets included or a hip hop performer, anger rises and claims are cast that, “THAT’S not rock and roll!” The court of public opinion has long decided this was a club out of touch with anyone and everyone and the Hall of Fame is, therefore, irrelevant. You’re a sucker for caring.
And then the Jann bomb went off.
Jann Wenner, co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine, was recently interviewed by the New York Times, promoting his new book, The Masters. (Unfortunate title, as we’ll soon discuss.) The book highlights interviews with well-known and worthy artists, but the roster included has a distinct bias. Put it this way – there’s a reason why whenever a new Bob Dylan album comes out, one automatically expects Rolling Stone will give it a five-star review a month or more before anyone else. The Times reporter asked Wenner why there were no women or black artists among his “Masters.” He responded that he could not think of any of them that were “intellectual enough.”
We could go on about Wenner’s presumed white man’s party, the negative energy around calling the book the “Masters” to the exclusion of anyone other than a white guy, and why that’s his prerogative for his book. That’s his choice.
Another function into which Wenner’s input was a choice? Rock and Roll Hall of Fame voting, as he was an instrumental figure in its inception. “Was” is the point of interest. After his controversial view that black and female artists were not intellectual enough, the committee and the writer parted ways.
Fine for Wenner, I suppose. I expect in these days of controversy and outrage, his statement will help – not hurt – his book sales. But this has further tarnished the RRHoF’s reputation. How so?
In my mind, anyone in the Hall deserves to be there. But what about all the acts that were overlooked, continually nominated and passed over, and why weren’t they given their due? Was it for a lack of merit? Was it for a lack of sustained success and/or output? Or was it strictly for a lack of Wenner’s support? This wasn’t a question before the Times piece. It is now, and now people can’t easily dismiss the RRHoF’s oversights as them merely being out of touch. Now, they must ask if they were based on fundamental biases or grudges canceling worthiness.
In the end, there’s only one way for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to get rid of the shadow now hanging over their process. They need to reintroduce all the acts that didn’t make it before, and give them another shot. Otherwise, their exclusion will always be tied up with questionable decision-making.
Will they do it?