The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – controversy, celebration, and advocacy

by Andre Calilhanna on May 1, 2012 · 18 comments

in Events & Reviews,Fast Forward

In the eye of the whirlwind of internet chatter and media coverage leading up to the 27th Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction this April was Guns N’ Roses, and more specifically, Axl Rose. GNR was being inducted to the Rock Hall… would there be a reunion? Would the five original members be able to stand shoulder to shoulder on the same stage? Would Axl pull some sort of ludicrous stunt? Where’s Izzy?

At the end of the saga, the most surprising takeaway from the whole affair is the simple fact that Axl handled himself respectably. That in itself is noteworthy.

Also of note are the persistent questions that dog the Rock Hall of Fame – what is it, exactly? Is it relevant? Does anyone really care? What about the long list of notable snubs – worthy artists who have not been recognized? Is it a personal gripe? What are the criteria by which artists are being judged? Who makes the decisions? Apparently, Axl had some of the same questions.

Axl declines induction – is inducted anyway
Amid all the build up to the induction ceremony, Axl Rose did something that few would have guessed: he declined induction. In a letter he sent to the LA Times, Axl said the following (this is an excerpt, you can read the entire letter on the LA Times blog):

“Under the circumstances I feel we’ve been polite, courteous, and open to an amicable solution in our efforts to work something out. Taking into consideration the history of Guns N’ Roses, those who plan to attend along with those the Hall for reasons of their own, have chosen to include in “our” induction (that for the record are decisions I don’t agree with, support or feel the Hall has any right to make), and how (albeit no easy task) those involved with the Hall have handled things… no offense meant to anyone but the Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony doesn’t appear to be somewhere I’m actually wanted or respected.

For the record, I would not begrudge anyone from Guns their accomplishments or recognition for such. Neither I or anyone in my camp has made any requests or demands of the Hall Of Fame. It’s their show not mine.

That said, I won’t be attending The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction 2012 Ceremony and I respectfully decline my induction as a member of Guns N’ Roses to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

I strongly request that I not be inducted in absentia and please know that no one is authorized nor may anyone be permitted to accept any induction for me or speak on my behalf. Neither former members, label representatives nor the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame should imply whether directly, indirectly or by omission that I am included in any purported induction of “Guns N’ Roses”.

In closing, regardless of this decision and as hard to believe or as ironic as it may seem, I’d like to sincerely thank the board for their nomination and their votes for Guns’ induction. More importantly I’d like to thank the fans for being there over the years, making any success we’ve had possible and for enjoying and supporting Guns N’ Roses music.

Considering the active version of Guns ‘N Roses is on tour, with Axl as the sole member left from the original Appetite lineup, you’ve got to admit he’s got a point. The band is still playing, and ignoring this fact and the current lineup means the Hall is basically writing its own history of the group before it has run its course. Clearly, the acrimony and anger that have been synonymous with Rose throughout his music career are also at full boil here, considering he once said to Billboard magazine – regarding a possible reunion with Slash – “What’s clear is that one of the two of us will die before a reunion and however sad, ugly or unfortunate anyone views it, it is how it is.”

Not showing up to the ceremony is one thing, but declining the Hall’s induction was an unexpected move, though it does have a precedent. When the Sex Pistols’ induction was announced in 2006, John Lydon (AKA Johnny Rotten) posted a handwritten note to the Hall on the Pistols’ website:

“Next to the SEX-PISTOLS rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain. Your museum. Urine in wine. Were not coming. Were not your monkey and so what? Fame at $25,000 if we paid for a table, or $15000 to squeak up in the gallery, goes to a non-profit organisation selling us a load of old famous. Congradulations. If you voted for us, hope you noted your reasons. Your anonymous as judges, but your still music industry people. Were not coming. Your not paying attention. Outside the shit-stem is a real SEX PISTOL”

For a fairly incomprehensible spew of randomness and misspellings, it makes its point pretty clearly. That said, the Hall declined to accept their decline, and inducted the Sex Pistols anyway, as it did Axl, as part of the original GNR lineup. After this year’s ceremony, Axl penned another open letter, posted on Guns N’ Roses website.

“I seriously didn’t plan on or expect the overwhelmingly positive response and public support for my decision regarding the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. With such a generous outpouring of solidarity from fans, media outlets, writers and other artists, I’m truly humbled, blown away and unbelievably relieved! To be honest, I thought it would go the other way and was just hoping to weather the storm. As I said, I sincerely didn’t want to disappoint anyone. It gets old being the outlaw even if ‘it’s only rock and roll’.

It took a lot of focus and soul searching to be sincere and informative while making a genuine effort to be somewhat diplomatic. We made, what I feel, are real efforts to learn about the Hall and the Board, spoke as I said with the president and various members, and though I inducted Elton John and Bernie Taupin in ’94 saying something to the effect of ‘I’m learning what the Hall’s about…’

I still don’t exactly know or understand what the Hall is or how or why it makes money, where the money goes, who chooses the voters and why anyone or this board decides who, out of all the artists in the world that have contributed to this genre, officially ‘rock’ enough to be in the Hall?

This isn’t an attack. These are genuine issues I don’t have enough verified information on to have more than rough ideas. Certainly not enough information to make any judgments about.

I would like to apologize to Cleveland, Ohio for not apologizing to them beforehand for not attending [the ceremony] in their city. I think they know how much I genuinely love performing there. Cleveland does in fact Rock!!

Now that the smoke’s cleared a little, any desperate, misguided attacks have been just that, a pathetic stab at gossip, some lame vindictiveness, the usual entitlement crap, he’s obsessed, crazy, volatile, a hater. I once bought a homeless woman a slice of pizza who yelled at me she wanted soup. We got her the soup. You can get your own.

Again: HUGE thanks to the fans and to everyone for the incredible public support. My congratulations to the other artists inducted. And my apologies to the city and people of Cleveland, Ohio. I hope you’ll forgive me and we hope to see you again soon!

Keep Rockin’,

Unlike my open letter to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, Guns N’ Roses Fans and Whom It May Concern this was written for GNR’s official website, Facebook account and my personal twitter account and not intended as a press release. If anyone does choose to pick this up as has been done previously I’d appreciate if you’d run in full including this paragraph so as not to give a partial picture, have things taken out of context or to imply or inadvertently give the impression this was intended for other outlets.

Who’s in and who ain’t
Of course, GNR was not the only act inducted in 2012, this full list includes: in the “Performers” category, Guns N’ Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Donovan, Laura Nyro, The Small Faces/Faces, Beastie Boys, The Crickets (Buddy Holly’s band), The Famous Flames (James Brown’s band), The Midnighters (Hank Ballard’s band), The Comets (Bill Haley’s band), The Blue Caps (Gene Vincent’s band), and The Miracles (Smokey Robinson’s band); in the “Early Influence” category, Freddie King; and in the “Sidemen” category, Don Kirshner, Cosimo Matassa, Tom Dowd, and Glyn Johns.

Since the start of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation in 1983 and the opening of the museum in 1995, the Hall has had many detractors, and one of the primary criticisms revolves around the notable list of pioneers who have not been inducted. Allegations of favoritism and vote rigging are among the many that have been leveled, and the notoriously non-transparent voting process is one the Hall wears as a badge.

According to the Wikipedia page on the Hall, “Artists become eligible for induction in [the Performers] category 25 years after the release of their first record. In order to be inducted, an artist must be nominated by a committee that selects anywhere from nine to a dozen candidates. Ballots are then sent to 500 ‘rock experts’ who evaluate the candidates and vote on who should be inducted. The performers that receive the highest number of votes and more than 50 percent of the vote are inducted. The rest of the categories are voted on by special committees.”

It goes on to say that “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has garnered criticism for allegedly allowing the nomination process to be controlled by a few individuals, nominating too many artists in too many genres that are not entirely rock, ignoring entire rock genres, and using technicalities to induct groups who may not have been among the top vote getters.”

A popular online endeavor is to list all the bands that ought to be included in the HOF but are not. Jann Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone and co-founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, apparently has a distaste for progressive rock, and a host of specific artists from all sorts of genres, and is largely blamed for the omission of such acts as Rush, Yes, ELO, The Moody Blues, Cheap Trick and a host of others. There are plenty of lists online devoted to notable HOF omissions, but a great one to start with is Stereogum’s “11 Biggest Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Snubs.”

What is the Hall of Fame?
While Axl and others have publicly questioned the ultimate mission and purpose of the HOF, its mission statement indicates a broader scope than simply the museum bestowing its self-appointed affirmation of legitimacy to popular and pivotal music artists. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fames’ website includes the following information:

“The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. is the nonprofit organization that exists to educate visitors, fans and scholars from around the world about the history and continuing significance of rock and roll music. It carries out this mission through its operation of a world-class museum that collects, preserves, exhibits and interprets this art form and through its library and archives as well as its educational programs.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum exists to collect, preserve and interpret the impact rock has made on our world. The evolving story of rock can be found on the Rock Hall’s blog and feature pages, in addition to videos and galleries that capture the moments that matter in rock and roll. Here you’ll find rock and roll news, artist interviews, performance notes, the latest event and exhibit happenings, and more. Consider this your backstage pass.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s education programs have become one of the most celebrated and award-winning emanating from any fine arts museum in the nation. Music gives us a microphone to speak to the world. And music has the power to bring generations, nationalities and people together. Now more than ever, it’s critical to study and understand how music is changing our world as well as reflecting it.”

On the education tip, the Hall does have a variety of offerings that sound intriguing, including classes for high schoolers that explore the “powerful form of expression” songwriting can be by dissecting classic song lyrics and videos. Other educational programs are aimed at toddlers, fifth and sixth graders, head start students, and more. All told, an estimated 25,000 students and teachers participate in HOF educational programs every year.

Whether the Hall really “matters” in the long run is surely a subjective question, and the induction ceremonies can boast some pretty amazing performances, pairing inductees with influences, artists they’ve influenced, seemingly disparate artists, and great music icons from the past and present. But also seemingly subjective is the Hall’s induction process, and every year it’s likely to garner criticism and praise for its choices, and its mere existence.

Whichever side of the fence you’re on, Axl and the Sex Pistols’ decisions to decline induction is pretty anti-establishment – which is what rock and roll was supposed to be all about.

Sources and more reading:
Axl Rose pens letter to Rock Hall: won’t attend, declines induction (LA Times)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Wikipedia)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum education programs teach kids about this important art form (The Plain Dealer)
The 11 Biggest Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Snubs (Stereogum)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website

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