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

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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

19 thoughts on “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – controversy, celebration, and advocacy

  1. It is amazing that drummer Buddy Saltzman is not in the Hall of Fame. Really, what are the criteria for induction as a sideman?

  2. Valuable info. Fortunate me I found your website unintentionally, and I’m shocked why this accident did not happened in advance! I bookmarked it.

  3. There needs to be a Hall of Fame for people like Buddy Saltzman.

    Over the past several years session musicians like the Wrecking Crew and the Funk Brothers have gained a lot of overdue attention because of their contributions to the music world. We listen to these songs and it’s THEM we hear! I suggest that the studio musicians have a greater value to these songs than the songwriters or artists themselves.

    In Buddy’s case, he never flaunted his work…he knew the rules and was probably very happy “making a living” at it. But how can anyone listening to “Dawn, Go Away” without recognizing his incredible rolls and great touch? Even the solo break on to Valli’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” practically makes the record.

    I think Hal Blaine has received his due (mostly through self-promotion) yet the truly unsung heros practically go unnoticed.

  4. The R&R Hall of Fame seem to have little to do with how artists and performers make their mark in music especially since the artist’s work is already permanent and already archived in the annals of society public and private. What good is the organization? What is the purpose of R&R HOF and what is it they actually do? Are they a source of recognizing and preserving fine music or a standard for music appreciation? Not hardly in all accounts. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame selection process is at best arbitrary and is rife with bias and prejudice in practice. Ignore this ridiculous organization.

  5. It sounds like to me the HOF was an institution founded outside of the music industry and since the industry insists on controlling every aspect of music, they are mad someone else is doing it.
    And then the comments about Cleveland being a “bad choice” for the HOF show how ppl feel about real America. If a sports team, or other institution is not placed in new York or LA then it’s considered some backwards hick dump and doesn’t conform to these major media markets. I am from Detroit. Last summer’s ignoring of Miguel Cabrera winning the triple crown shows that if a winner isn’t from a major money market, then Jeremy lin’s shoe choice is more important. And that’s why the HOF is hated. If major money does not finance it and back it and ultimately profit from it then a media campaign is started to drive it into the ground. And Eddie trunk is a perfect example. He’s a total industry shill.

  6. Some glaring mind-boggling omissions in the hall of fame are Connie Francis, Paul Anka, Jay Black and the Americans, and especially Chicago–how many great records do you have to sell to be recognized–what is going on here?

  7. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a pretentious, false insitute that makes a mockery out of an amazing genre of music. Madonna? In the ROCK AND ROLL hall of fame? Last time I checked she sang pop music. They have enlisted some great bands, yet they have discarded many others. KISS, Deep Purple, Dio, Ted Nugent, and many other amazing artists/bands are not included in this pompous joke. No true classic rock fan understands or acknowledges the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It is a disgrace to the music we love so much.

  8. the problem with the hall is that its not selective enough.  they put in way too many good
    but not great acts so the whole process is diluted.  they should really call it the “music”
    hall of fame. 

  9.    My biggest complaint about the Rock Hall is that they never made any attempt to define what they were going to memorialize.  They need a clear definition of what constitutes “Rock & Roll.”  As much as I love Motown, Rap, and Pop music, none of those qualify as Rock & Roll.  The radio station that managed to bring the Hall here did it as a publicity stunt.  When they won, they handed it over to the city officials, who had no clue what to do with it.  They city handed it over to some of their campaign flunkies as a pork barrel deal.  They were clueless too.  With the Hard Rock Cafe’s already way ahead on the memorabilia collecting, the Rock Hall turned to the record companies to provide them with guidance and handouts.  So, of course, the Hall now features whatever the record companies wish to see promoted.  A recent exhibition on “Women in Rock” was a virtual insult to female musicians.  It did feature some great things from the likes of Joan Jett, Heart, Bonnie Raitt, and some others.  Still, the vast majority of it was dedicated to things like Cher’s ‘Half-Breed” costume, and Brittany Spears and Madonna’s stage costumes.  Great performers certainly, but NOT Rock & Roll.  Maybe a Burlesque Hall of Fame is in order.  They do host some great programs at the Hall, but they do focus a bit more locally to make money.  Any museum has to do that, you just can’t count on the tourists to be regular and predictable.  The Black-Eyed Peas?   FABULOUS!…but NOT Rock & Roll…

    1. Candidates are
      reviewed and discussed relative to their impact, innovation and influence on
      this music that we broadly define as rock and roll.  Gold records,
      number one hits, and million sellers are not appropriate standards for

      1. My point precisely!  WAY too broadly.  We need a definition that applies to the music as a form. Not to everything put out is Rock & Roll.  Gold records certainly count, but not just any gold record by any artist.  We need a clear definition of what Rock music is, then you can apply the template to the decision making process.  Otherwise, the selection process is far to broad to be valid.  Sadly, I suppose by now it’s altogether too late to see it happen. 

  10. I’ve questioned the legitimacy of this organization since its founding. What does Cleveland OH have to do with rock and its origins? The Baseball Hall of Fame I get. This? Graceland, the Sun Records studio, The Cavern in Liverpool, Buddy Holly’s resting place in Lubbock, TX. These are the shrines. This Hall of Fame is just an empty shell to me.

    1. 1- Cleveland DJ Alan Freed popularized the term “rock and roll”.
      2- The first rock and roll concert, The Moondog Coronation Ball was held in Cleveland.
      3- Cleveland was the site of 19-yr old Elvis Presley’s first concert outside the south, David Bowie’s first concert in the US, Otis Redding’s final concert and where earlier in the day he appeared on “Upbeat” TV based in Cleveland.
      4- 110,215 votes were called in for Cleveland in the USA Today phone poll (January 1986), which far surpassed the totals of any other city.
      5- Cleveland collected 660,000 signatures in support of the Hall of Fame from various musicians and the public.
      6- Cleveland lined up star endorsements from top performers, including Michael Jackson, Neil Young, Tina Turner, the Everly Brothers, Hall and Oates, and Pat Benetar.

      Any more questions? 

      1. The Moondog who? Most of your points are meaningless. I don’t see what a DJ who might have helped launch the genre has to do with anything. It’s the artists who created it. If there’s a Hall of Fame at all it should be tied to one of the surviving “shrines” where something historically meaningful took place. Read the points above that “Clevelander” made. Additionally, plenty of other relevant rock pioneers performed their first shows in other cities. My answer to this is so what? It would be more important if a pivotal album was recorded somewhere or perhaps an event (like Woodstock).

        1. Your points don’t matter either. It came down to a vote, and Clevelanders had enough balls to really want it. The Rock Hall wouldn’t survive any where else.

  11. First of all, you quoted Wikipedia.  A lot of your questions could have been answered from an actual interview, reference to, or by calling the foundation.  The current Inductees have a vote on the nominees- which would make up about 681 of those “500” votes for every year of nominees.  Like I said, check for the facts before you write such assumptions.  Second of all, Axl admits that he still needed to find out what the Rock Hall is about.  That makes him look like an idiot.  Do you go into the Bar Exam without studying first?  Axl- do your research BEFORE you decide- I don’t think this opportunity is going to pass you, again!  Third: You all saw the author actually reference Wikipedia, correct?  Just checking.
    In addition, your inaccurate assumptions and hurtful opinions can really affect how Rock Hall supporters, members, donors, board members, inductees and board members view your independent artist company.  Like you stated, the Rock Hall’s mission is to “…educate visitors, fans and scholars from around the world about the history and continuing significance of rock and roll music…”.  Well there are thousands of independent “rockers” that visit the Rock Hall in Cleveland only to feel inspired and hopeful to one day be Inducted themselves.  If that isn’t a successful day at the museum, then you need to re-assess your thoughts.  Maybe a visit yourself?  You can’t judge a man before walking in his shoes…

    1. I also quoted directly from the RnR HOF website. There was nothing hurtful in this post. I simply was collecting information and relaying things others have publicly said about the Hall. I have no particular bias or allegiance – the reason I chose to post about this at all really stemmed from Axl Rose’s apparently sincere appeal not to be inducted in absentia, and the Hall’s ignoring that request and doing it anyway. Same for the Sex Pistols. Doesn’t make him an idiot. He has a right to do what he wants, and I guess the Hall does, too. And I’ll admit I find the list of snubs worthy of taking note of. You’re taking this rather personally, seems to me. For the record, I tried to visit, years ago. But the Hall closed at 5pm. I took to yelling “Hello Cleveland!” out my hotel window… It was a sad night for everyone.

  12. I would love to see my dad Buddy Saltzman, the great NY session drummer of the 1960’s etc. be considered for entry in the Rock Hall of Fame as a sideman.  He sadly passed away this week.  He was the drummer on hundreds of records including many by The Four Seasons, Archies, Lesley Gore, Lou Christie, Peter Paul and Mary, etc, etc, etc.  Please let me know what you think.

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