The Hall of Fame's board would probably argue that it's a disgrace that a surprise show by many of them would send even serious rock fans to the exit, or at least the bar. But what they don't understand is that the hall cannot manufacture a legacy for good artists they would like to make great. It's just that type of thinking that makes the Hall of Fame seem like a homework assignment in rock history rather than a prime vacation destination.
Yet year after year the board packs the hall's ranks with second- and third-tier doo-wop and R&B acts, with the occasional rock legend sprinkled in to get the press there. And when they run out of rock legends, do they move to the art form's lesser-known innovators? No, they simply re-induct one of those legends for a second or third time. Eric Clapton, for example, has been inducted three times, for his work with The Yardbirds, Cream, and his solo career. This year Paul Simon will be inducted for a second time.
The Mistakes in Cleveland
The flaws in the Hall of Fame's selection process are numerous, and no level of the institution is unaffected. The most superficial and obvious was the decision to locate the museum in Cleveland, a city that's more likely to attract Shriners than rock fans. It says a lot that the hall's annual induction ceremony is held in New York City. One has to wonder how many musicians would show up to be honored if they had to commute to Cleveland. And while I have no figures to support it, I would bet that any Hard Rock Café in America has more visitors annually than the Hall of Fame.
But the biggest reason for the skewing toward the early days is that the rock hall has set up an incredibly stupid rule that artists aren't even eligible for induction until 25 years after the release of their first record. That means that when the hall inducted its first members in 1986, when rock 'n' roll was only about 30 years old, only artists who had recorded in rock's earliest days were eligible.
Of course it makes sense to impose a waiting period. The folks who give out the Grammys could have saved themselves plenty of embarrassment in the Best New Artist category over the years if they'd have had the benefit of hindsight in determining who would be influential. But did we really need to wait until the 21st century to know that the Sex Pistols was one of the most important rock bands ever? Will it take us until 2014 to know whether or not Nirvana changed the course of rock? Should we be listening to Muzak interpretations of Rage Against The Machine before the band is eligible for the Hall of Fame?
Rock Grown Fat and Old
There are plenty of reasons for a 25-year waiting period, of course. But none of them is good.
For one thing, the old men who sit on the Hall of Fame board apparently don't want to have to worry about keeping current on their music. They were there when rock was being born, but they probably haven't taken their limos to an underground club to put in some time in a mosh pit in a very long time.
And the hall is nothing if not a perfect example of rock 'n' roll grown fat and old. While young musicians reinvent rebellion every day in clubs across America, the Hall of Fame is about putting on a tuxedo and smoking a Cuban cigar in the Waldorf Astoria ballroom.