Hall of Fame Feels
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was a scheme designed by a record executive to allow the music industry to pat itself on the back for corrupting America's youth for nearly 60 years. If you think that when you plop down $23 for the price of admission that you're somehow furthering music education or preserving popular culture, you're sorely mistaken.
Take the location of the museum, for instance. You can argue that Cleveland was chosen because Alan Freed, a disc jockey who faced criminal charges for the payola scandal, coined the term rock and roll. Honestly, the city offered public funds to have a glass pyramid built on the shores of Lake Erie so that someone visiting for a random professional convention could have something to do during their downtime.
I was that someone. While my wife hobnobbed with her peers, I headed to the North Coast Harbor to see rock memorabilia preserved under Plexiglass.
I was asked if I wanted to pose with a guitar before I bought my ticket for the purpose of a picture to commemorate my visit. I politely refused, bought my ticket, and made my way to the basement where sixty percent of the museum's collection is on display.
As soon as I walked in, the cynical feelings that I describe in the above paragraphs went away.
Lou Reed, one of my favorite musicians, had been on my mind lately. He's one of those artists that the more you learn about him, the more you understand his artistic choices. I had been listening to a lot of Velvet Underground recently, but I also had managed to take the bus in the wrong direction that morning. I wound up in East Cleveland. As I gazed upon scantily clad women and men ranting about race while wearing pink glitter makeup on the bus, I felt trapped in a verse of Reed's hit "Walk On The Wild Side."
Reed was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. As I viewed his sequined "Rock and Roll Animal" shirt on display along with a handwritten note he wrote to his former band mate John Cale, I was overcome with emotion. I wasn't even born when the live album Rock and Roll Animal was released, but I listened to it constantly in college. It aided in the development of my sonic tastes. I felt I was being offered a glimpse into someone whom I loved, whose music gave a voice to the forgotten citizens of New York City.
David Bowie, the glam musician who was inspired by Reed, has his glittery footprint all over the place. Costumes from his various tours gleamed in the spotlight. A model of his ambitious Diamond Dogs tour stage was on display. I was seeing before my eyes what I had only seen in pictures. I was totally mesmerized.
I hastily took pictures with my iPhone of all the displays that meant something to me: a poster of a Talking Heads show at CBGB's, handwritten lyrics of The Clash's "London Calling," a yellow DEVO jumpsuit, and Motown memorabilia that proved I was raised in a city known for some of the greatest music in the world, not just a high crime rate. Music videos I saw growing up were shown on televisions documenting MTV's impact. Rolling Stone magazines I had read as a teenager were yellowing on the walls.
On the third floor of the museum, the signatures of all the Hall of Fame inductees are on display. I frantically sought out the names of those musicians who changed my life: David Byrne, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Billy Joel, Peter Gabriel, and Leonard Cohen. I was frustrated by who wasn't on that wall: Roxy Music, The Jam, Nick Lowe, and Brian Eno. Eno has a creative hand in the music half the inductees released. Bowie wouldn't have released "Heroes" without Eno. U2 wouldn't be relevant without Eno. How has he not been recognized?
This has a lot to do with the Hall of Fame's committee. The most prominent member of the induction committee is Jann Wenner, the founding editor of Rolling Stone and the reason why the magazine's logo is all over the walls. He's not a musician and, to quote Almost Famous, the magazine "trashed ‘Layla,’ broke up Cream, ripped every album Led Zeppelin ever made." They've allegedly shut out The Monkees. How does Genesis make it while the men who outsold the Rolling Stones and the Beatles combined in 1967 continue to be overlooked?
One can only assume Wenner's personal tastes, along with the need to sell tickets to a museum in Cleveland, play a factor in the selection process. As music becomes more independent and diverse, will the Hall of Fame continue to be relevant? It was something I pondered as I exited the museum through the gift shop. I doubt artists who are consistently great like Wilco and Spoon will ever be inducted, while my unborn children will ponder how Bon Jovi managed to have a career, let alone a display in a museum.
I am grateful there is a place that the artists who helped blaze a musical trail for the music I love now can preserve their life's work. I can see how frustrated Billy Joel was when he scrawled out the lyrics to "My Life" or how truly egotistical Paul Simon was. The debates of who deserves a spot on the music museum's walls will rage on despite who's on the induction committee. So if you happen to be in Cleveland and need a few hours to kill, head west down 9th Avenue and purchase your ticket to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Enjoy the journey.