Axl Rose isn't the only one who has a beef with the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame and Museum.
Every year around this time, when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announces a new list of inductees into its hallowed halls, Gene Simmons, face-painted bassist for the annually snubbed glam-metal band KISS, launches into a predictable diatribe against the institution, branding it elitist, snobbish, and hopelessly out of touch with the will of the people.
Simmons is a puerile, craven, egomaniacal self-promoting one-percenter masquerading as a populist, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.
As the Rock Hall gets set for its 27th annual induction ceremony this weekend in Cleveland, the acts being honored — Laura Nyro, the Beastie Boys, an Axl-less Guns N’ Roses, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Donovan and the Small Faces — hold less interest for me as a music journalist than those acts that are not being admitted, and in most cases were not even nominated.
See if you can figure out what these artists, all eligible according to Rock Hall requirements, share in common: Hall and Oates, Eric B. and Rakim, Bon Jovi, Cher, Dionne Warwick, DJ Kool Herc, Chic, Kraftwerk, Journey, Slick Rick, Donna Summer, Motley Crue, Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie, Depeche Mode, the Monkees, Sade, Janet Jackson and “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Yes, they’re all awesome. More than that, though, they all perform a style of music that, while falling under the classification of “rock 'n' roll,” isn't typically thought of as traditional R-O-C-K “rock.” They work in genres that were or are considered disreputable: hip-hop, disco, pop, hair-metal, whatever it is that “Weird Al” does.
They often don’t write their own songs or play guitars (or any instrument at all, in the case of DJs). They’re nakedly commercial acts, or performed for audiences typically held in low esteem by the rock cognoscenti (women, gays, people of color, whoever it is that goes to “Weird Al” shows). They dress funny. They’re “fake,” or “for girls,” or, worst of all, “sellouts.”
For Rock Hall and Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, real rock 'n' roll has always stood for certain principles — authenticity, self-expression, disregard for authority — and used specific tools: guitars, drums, one’s own poetry. Allowances are made for artists from the ‘50s who were still working in a Tin Pin Alley tradition, and for some sexy superduperstars like Madonna.
But for the dogmatic baby boomers who dominate the Rock Hall nomination process, rock has been on a steady decline since the Beatles broke up. (And they still blame Yoko.) Punk, rap, synth-pop, poodle-rock: all junk food, bad influences, false idols.
Pop music flourished in the ‘80s, but as MTV made image transcendent and hip-hop rendered the guitar unnecessary, a divide opened between old critical guard and new that’s never been fully bridged.
As a longtime music magazine editor, and the co-founder of the pop-music news and opinion site Popdust.com, I wanted to do something to recognize the artists, producers and DJs whose contributions to popular culture have not been properly recognized by the rock establishment. Toward that end, and with the help of some leading contemporary artists and journalists, I’m pleased to announce the establishment of our very own Popdust Hall of Fame, honoring achievement and accomplishment in pop music.
Our nominating committee — including, among others, Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, dance-pop star Robyn, New Yorker pop critic Sasha Frere-Jones and NPR Music critic Ann Powers — culled from a group of nearly 50 eligible artists to come up with the 10 inaugural nominees.
To be eligible, artists had to fulfill two criteria: Their first record had to be at least 25 years old; and they could not be members of the Rock Hall. The nominees are: Hall & Oates, Chic, Eric B. & Rakim, Kraftwerk, Journey, Duran Duran, Donna Summer, Janet Jackson, the Cars, and — yes! — “Weird Al” Yankovic. Fans will have the ultimate say, though — the five artists who receive the most votes will be inducted into Popdust Hall of Fame in May.
Oh, and sorry, Gene. It was close, for real. Good luck next year.