Wednesday, March 19, 2014

In & out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Let's briefly interrupt our Kiss Ikons celebration. This will split it in half, and bring back the issues raised in Kiss off, so it seems relatively appropriate.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame doesn't induct, or doesn't just induct, a band name into its roster. It inducts a group of individuals that makeup that band. Largely, the rule itself has caused little controversy. One of the chief original ideas for it was, at least on the surface, was to avoid inducting the names of bands that no longer had original members, this was especially an issue with singing groups, many of whose names were owned by a record company or management group, and were touring, and occasionally even recording, under the name, but had no other real connection to the history.

As such, I think it's a very good idea in principle. Probably even necessary.

However, it does require setting where those limits are, which has been less successful. That seems to be really coming apart at the seams this year, as has been much discussed.

Kiss guitarist, drummer join list of snubs by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Mike Boehm lists some of this complicated history.

This year marks two groups, Kiss and Nirvana, being inducted. Both bands have a clear "classic" lineup in the public imagination. Peter, Ace, Gene and Paul. Kurt, Krist and Dave.

However, both have much more complicated histories than that, which is where the controversy lies.

In these and other cases the trouble seems to lie in the lack of a standard by which they gauge what makes a member worth induction.

In 1996, as noted in the article above, Doug Yule was left out of the Velvet Underground list, despite being on more VU recordings than John Cale, significantly more when one notes that the majority of songs on both popular "rarities" collections, VU and Another View, which were a large part of the rediscovery of the band, were recorded with Yule. One might also note that the VU songs one is almost certain to hear on the radio, on the rare occasions one might hear VU songs on the radio, "Rock & Roll" and "Sweet Jane" basically, were recorded with Yule.

The Artist Formerly Unknown as Doug Yule by Jennifer Yule covers some of the details of that, along with much else worth reading, I think.

The whole thing has the stink of politics, but if the Hall of Fame were to be what it aspires to be, and claims to be, it should be above such things, or at least appear above such things.

Having no clear standard, even one that allows for a bit of abstraction in one direction or the other, would allow them to be able to defend the choices on historical or artistic grounds. The answers we get now are fuzzy.

I covered the controversies surrounding the Kiss members selected for induction, and my thoughts, in my post "Kiss off", linked above.

There has been a similar, but smaller fuss over the inclusion or non-inclusion of original Nirvana drummer Chad Channing, which most Nirvana fans supported. The up-to-date news, per Nirvana’s Ex-Drummer Chad Channing Won’t Be Inducted Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Brian Ives among other sources, is that he won't be.

I think Chad should be in. How does that fit with my disagreement with Kiss over their new guys? Certainly, when it appeared Chad was being included, there was a lot of "If Chad Channing is inducted, shouldn't Tommy Thayer be inducted too?", although I suspect some of that was manufactured by the media. Does that mean every passing member of every band should be inducted with them for historical accuracy?

Here, I'll give a standard. We'll see if that helps.

"Contributed in a significant fashion to Rock & Roll history as a member of the inducted band, especially as part of their musical and artistic legacy."

You see, it's fuzzy. It could use work, I think, but it's a start.

Channing helped build the Nirvana sound in the early years. Not only playing on the bulk of Bleach, their first album, but touring with them for two years, playing and creating a great number of the songs that would make up Nevermind, including demoing many of them. Dave is on record as noting the influence of Chad's playing on how he approached drumming for Nirvana, including how little he changed in the style of songs they re-recorded from earlier demos that Chad played on.

That's a pretty inarguable significance to the overall history of the band and, as such to Rock & Roll history, as it applies to the significance of Nirvana, who is being inducted.

It's a much more tangible artistic significance than I personally can find for Eric Singer, who I have no beef with. I just don't see him as more than a footnote in the history of Kiss. He has successfully toured as part of their glorified "greatest hits" package for a lot of years, he appears on two albums that no one outside obssessive fans, myself included, have heard. He's a good drummer and probably a good guy. Most likely a better drummer and better guy than Peter, who obviously has a number of personal problems.

However, Peter is the one who "contributed in a significant fashion to Rock & Roll history as a member of the inducted band, especially as part of their musical and artistic legacy."

Mind you, I think Eric Carr qualifies by that definition as well.

It's fuzzy still. I don't know how you could create a definition that didn't leave a little fuzzy area.

But if we look at the other members of Nirvana, it helps, for me, clear it up.

Dale Crover, of The Melvins, is the only other player I'd even consider qualifying. He played on a 10 song demo the band recorded with Jack Endino to secure their deal with SubPop Records. 3 of those songs were included on "Bleach", 4 of those songs were included on Incesticide, the "rarities" collection released between "Nevermind" and In Utero, and 2 more of them were eventually included on With the Lights Out box set. Those recording are electrifying and, for me, among the best things the band ever recorded.

The problem is that the drum sound he creates with them is a dead end, at least in terms of Nirvana. Chad had his own style. Dave had his own style, that included elements begun by Chad. But nothing familiar to the public sounds like the Crover stuff, for better or worse. In terms of the band achieving success on the scale they did, and needed to for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, one assumes, they probably needed to move on from that sound. One notes that Crover's band is not being considered for inclusion, despite enormous artistic achievements.

(As a total side note, I just saw The Melvins's King Buzzo doing an acoustic set in support of his album This Machine Kills Artists, which was fucking fantastic. If you get a chance to see him, I highly recommend it.)

If you want historical completeness, then there are others, but I can't bring myself to think the full barrage of Nirvana players should be listed.

Jason Everman, was credited on "Bleach", but only played on "Do You Love Me?", their Kiss cover, of all things, that can only be found on Hard to Believe: A Kiss Covers Compilation.

(Hard to believe now that album was released long enough ago that anyone would think a compilation of Kiss covers would be "hard to believe".)

For the record, while I'm not endorsing Everman's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of fame, you should still read The Rock & Roll Casualty Who Became a War Hero by Clay Tarver, if you have not, in order to find out more about Everman and his life since Nirvana.

I can't come up with an argument for Everman's conclusion. He was hired in part for his Heavy Metal presence, which matched, in part, the sound the band had on "Bleach", recorded before he joined, and that was largely abandoned after he left. I can't see that he contributed significantly to the artistic or musical legacy.

Dan Peters is wonderful, and if I handled the nomination process myself, would be inducted as a member of Mudhoney. The single he played on is "Sliver", which has much larger significance. It might be the first record they released that sounded like "Nevermind", it had a video on MTV, etc., but the demos recorded with Chad previous to that shows that to merely be the direction the band was moving in. Peters was, by most reckonings, a placeholder in Nirvana.

Pat Smear, of The Germs, yet another band I'd induct into my Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, toured with Nirvana for "In Utero", played with them on Unplugged, but doesn't seem to have made a meaningful contribution to the band, aside from allowing Kurt more comfort with his live guitar playing during that period, due to having back-up.

No one wants me to examine Aaron Burckhard, Dave Foster or Melora Creager for inclusion potential, do they?

I can imagine a future in which Pat Smear and Melora Creager's contributions to Nirvana's sound from "Unplugged" along with that tour could have evolved into something more significant in their musical legacy, but sadly that was not to be.

Ultimately, I don't find a significant justification for anyone other than Chad in Nirvana by the standard I applied, and none of those I failed to include by that standard that made me re-think the standard itself.

In writing this, I've noted that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's induction process for members of inducted bands is unnecessarily arbitrary, at least from artistic and historic perspectives. I've also noted three bands associated with Nirvana - The Melvins, Mudhoney and The Germs - that I feel have made significant enough contributions to rock & roll and have not been, and almost certainly will never be, inducted. I suspect the flaws in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in practice certainly, although likely in theory as well, are finally showing through the nice show they put on of themselves.

Probably only to huge music dorks like me, right? And different dorks have different issues, so we do little to help each other.

I know many people who gave up thinking about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It's much the same as me finally giving up on the Oscars a few years back, I'm sure, and that's a decision I've never, ever regretted.

And yet, despite saying all of that, I'll almost certainly be watching on HBO when it airs, because... it's fucking Nirvana, and for me, if only this once more, that makes it worth pretending, one more time, that it means something real. I'll pretend really, really hard.

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