Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Is Moving Closer to Parody than Relevance

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Let’s start this with a disclaimer.

From my youth, I’ve loved music. I can remember saving up my money when my age was yet in single digits to buy records to play at home. As I got into high school, me and my best friend DJ (his real name was Dennis, but DJ was the ONLY name he went by) would go on field trips to nearby Champaign and religiously make a pilgrimage to the University of Illinois’ campus record store, Mabel’s (yes, back then it was a record store and had a small performance area). We’d emerge after hours of scanning over the racks with armfuls of albums, with my stack normally leaning towards things like the Bus Boys, Elvis Costello and the Motels, among literally hundreds of others.

After high school, I delved into the world of music even more. While in college I started working as a radio DJ, something that would be a career over the next 20-plus years of my life. From that small college station until I was a Music Director at an AOR (Album Oriented Rock) station in a Top 75 market (and even afterwards when I went into news/talk), music – and rock music in particular – was a staple in my life. As I have gotten older, music still resonates with me and, with age, I’ve expanded my listening interests into many diverse styles of music including two that I previously despised, rap and country.

Thus, it pains me when I say the following:  After looking at the list of the nominees for induction into the Class of 2017 for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which was released a couple of weeks ago, I’ve now come to the realization that enshrinement in this group is moving closer to a parody along the lines of This is Spinal Tap than being the venerable Valhalla of rock music that it should be.

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Yes, there’s been these rumblings before. None were louder, perhaps, than the commentary from one of last year inductees, Steve Miller, regarding what the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has become. In various areas, Miller railed over pretty much every aspect of the Hall (“I think it’s time for the people running this to turn it over to new people…you don’t need to insult every artist that comes along,” was one of his calmer comments), signifying his displeasure with the outfit. “You tell me what the hell is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and what does it do besides talk about itself and sell postcards?” he asked.

Miller was the embodiment of what many had said of late regarding the Hall. Thought of originally as the pinnacle of rock music royalty, of late the Hall has been inducting what many would consider “non-rock” artists and bands, stating that their contributions “to rock music history and music overall” warranted their induction into rock music’s biggest honor. I’ve always contended that, in 9.9 of 10 of those cases where the artist wasn’t “rock” (a very wide ranging scope, to be honest), then their contribution to the actual evolution of rock was pertinent (this is why I don’t have a problem with Johnny Cash being in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame).

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In looking at the crop of nominees for the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, there are some very qualified candidates on the list. One of the “first time” nominees for the hall is Pearl Jam and they should be a virtual lock for entry because of their contributions to the “Seattle sound” that was pioneered by Nirvana and their group. Another first-time nominee – and this one surprised me quite a bit – was Electric Light Orchestra, who should also find their way into the Hall for their innovative usage of electronics, keyboards and production (all in the masterful hands of Jeff Lynne) and their contributions to the music.

Whereas in year’s past I didn’t get bugged by some of the “non-rock” nominees – hell, I agree that rap acts like the Beastie Boys, Run DMC and N.W.A. and other “non-rock” acts like Donna Summer, Darlene Love and Bob Marley SHOULD be in the Hall – this year’s list of nominees left me wondering why they were being nominated when they shouldn’t have even been considered. Besides Pearl Jam and ELO, here’s the list of other nominations (asterisk means it is a first-time nomination):

Kraftwerk
Yes
The Cars
The Zombies
Joe Tex
J. Geils Band
The MC5
Bad Brains*
Depeche Mode*
Jane’s Addiction*
Joan Baez*
Journey*
Steppenwolf*
Janet Jackson
Chaka Khan
Chic
Tupac Shakur*

Now, you could give me viable reasons for any of the artists down to Steppenwolf being nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Personally, why Journey and Steppenwolf have never been considered previously is gross misconduct by Hall voters. Over the remainder of the list, I personally would question the inclusion of Joe Tex (yes, a hard-working individual who overcame a great deal of adversity to become a rival of Hall of Famer James Brown), the J. Geils Band (solid group, not “Hall of Fame” outstanding) and Bad Brains and maybe Jane’s Addiction (reasoning ditto to J. Geils’ nomination). Where it goes off the rails for me – repeat, for the first time ever – is in some of the “non-rock” nominations.

Chic has been nominated several times and, on first view, they would be a viable contender. The real drivers of that group, however, were Nile Rodgers, the late Bernard Edwards and the late drummer Tony Thompson. Inducting a “group” requires that all the members were great and that’s where Chic falls short. I can see nominating and even inducting Rodgers and Thompson (I remember his powerful work with Robert Palmer and The Power Station – outstanding music), but to put every person in Chic (usually featuring a rotating cast of female vocalists that joined Rodgers and Edwards) isn’t Hall worthy.

Jackson and Khan, while fine vocalists who were charting gold during their careers, didn’t exactly do anything that would have separated them away and make them Hall worthy, either. Being the sister of the members of the Jackson 5 isn’t an immediate pass (and, really, what did she do that was notable?). Khan, if you include her time with Rufus, has a bit more credibility as to Hall-worthiness, but there’s not enough of it on the resume to push her over the top.

My biggest criticism would be with Shakur, however. Yes, Tupac was one of the first voices for “gangsta rap,” but we’ve already inducted the originator of that field in N.W.A. Additionally, if you induct Shakur, why aren’t you inducting Biggie Smalls (just as powerful a performer and rapper) or Sean “Puff Daddy/P-Diddy (or whatever the hell he calls himself these days)” Combs for their work? Shakur is one of those performers that, in many people’s eyes, an early (and violent) death made them a musical martyr. As such, he must be revered in their opinion…reverence because of near-deification is not what I would call Hall worthy.

When it comes to “non-rock” entities, you’ve got to have blown the doors off things to be considered for entry inside the gates. A Madonna, a Johnny Cash, a Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five…THESE are the types of performers who, by their music and by their styles, personified the “rock attitude” despite the fact they weren’t performing traditional “rock” music. Every one of the persons or bands nominated this year don’t fit that category for enshrinement.

Of course, I couldn’t end this without my own “WHY AREN’T THESE GUYS NOMINATED” choices, and this is just a sample of those that should have already been in the Hall. Pat Benatar, Warren Zevon, Jimmy Buffett, Dolly Parton (one hell of a songwriter who has had an impact on music overall, what the Hall is supposed to venerate), Kate Bush, Roxy Music, Iron Maiden, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, X, Duran Duran and Kool and the Gang (all never nominated) and the New York Dolls, the Wailers and Afrika Bambaataa all should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame RIGHT NOW as they have arguably done more for “rock” music than those under consideration for 2017.

But I digress, at least for now. We’ve got the list of nominees and, for this year, we’ll have to deal with them. But if the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame doesn’t want to continue down that road of becoming a joke of itself, a parody of what it is supposed to represent, it would behoove them to start considering the actual ROCK artists (and those “non-rock” performers who truly had an impact) that they are bypassing.

The Paradox of Ted Nugent

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There are occasions in our lives when we regret some of the things we’ve enjoyed. Everyone has that particular hair cut that, if there are photos still in existence, they cringe when the Polaroids come out. There are clothes that have been – or, in many cases, still are – in our closets that are so far out of style that they might be coming back into favor any day now. But what happens when it is some of your favorite music, actors or other performers who have gone so far off the rails that you’re in a paradox of how to justify supporting them anymore?

The man that is known as Ted Nugent has worn many a hat in his nearly 70 years on planet Earth. First known as a guitar virtuoso with the Amboy Dukes in the late 1960s, Nugent segued into a highly successful career as a solo artist through the 1970s and 1980s, the era of “Album Oriented Rock.” As the grunge movement of the 1990s began, however, the “Motor City Madman” suddenly fell out of favor, which ushered in the next, more controversial phase of his life.

Long an outdoorsman that talked about his connection with the “spiritual” nature of the world (AKA in relation to the Native American mode of thought and lifestyle), Nugent suddenly moved into more dangerous territory as a vehement supporter of the National Rifle Association and its vigilant (some might say dangerous) support for the Second Amendment. That was fine when there was a Republican in the White House, President George Bush (Bush II), but when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Nugent went off the deep end…in fact, it started before President Obama was even elected.

In 2007 during a concert appearance, Nugent allegedly said to the audience, “This country should be ashamed. I wanna throw up. Obama, he’s a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun.” When the elections came around again in 2012, Nugent piped up again in stating, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will be either dead or in jail by this time next year.” Nugent has also gone to the lengths of calling the President of the United States a “sub-human mongrel,” a term so vile and racism-laced that virtually no one supported him. Obama hasn’t been the only one who was the target of Nugent (no pun intended), in fact it seems that anyone with a “D” in front of their name has drawn the ire of Nugent’s political scat.

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Political viewpoints aside, Nugent has also gone after homosexuals, the poor, “foreigners” (“Foreigners are assholes, foreigners are scum.”) and feminists (“What’s a feminist? A fat pig who doesn’t get it often enough.”). But it seems that Nugent finally found a group that he couldn’t take on…or maybe it was a subject that he shouldn’t have broached.

In February, Nugent went on a rampage on his Facebook page, accusing prominent Jewish leaders of promoting the anti-gun agenda in the United States. In his screed, Nugent scathingly and derisively touched on their association with anti-gun activities in saying, “They hate freedom, they hate good over evil, they would deny us the basic human right (hey, Nugent’s words) to self-defense & to KEEP & BEAR ARMS while many of them have tax paid hired ARMED security!” While some of his fans tried to point out that he might have gone too far, Nugent instead ranted further, stating, “Never fucking again, assholes!”

The targets of Nugent’s rant? Such prominent Jewish leaders as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (called “Mikey” on the rant, as many of the photos had some sort of derisive commentary that mentioned their ties to Israel), California Senator Dianne Feinstein, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and prominent attorney Alan Dershowitz, among others. Naturally, the comments drew a huge amount of outrage, not only from those that disagree with Nugent but also those who support the NRA that went as far as calling for Nugent’s removal from the Board of Directors of the organization. Perhaps realizing that he’d finally stepped too far (and apparently the NRA was about to pull the trigger on his removal), Nugent issued an apology and said he “wasn’t anti-Semitic” (but that was after he had already said…well, here).

As a fan of hard rock music, I like Nugent’s work. While we’re not talking Beethoven or Mozart, some of his work is among the best classic rock and hard rock tracks in existence. When his solo career slowed in the 80s, he formed the powerhouse super group Damn Yankees with Tommy Shaw of Styx and Jack Blades of Night Ranger and put out a couple of albums of really good music. And Nugent puts on a great live show, if you can get by the political rants that he goes off on nowadays.

I’ve also had the chance to meet him on a couple of occasions through my days in radio. Both times were like a force of nature had swept through the room as Nugent – who says he has never had any drugs or alcohol – bounded through the fans with an energy that would rival that of a 20-year old. He also always seemed to have time for his fans before, during and after every show.

But that doesn’t negate his actions of today nor those of his past. When I was younger, I could overlook Nugent’s history due to that youthful ignorance. Today – and especially with the power of the internet – it is difficult to do that.

There are several questions regarding his proclivities with wanting his ladies to be – and I will put this as delicately as possible –a little on the younger side. Spin Magazine found that Nugent somehow persuaded the parents of a 17-year old girl to allow him to became her legal guardian, naming it the 63rd “sleaziest” moment in rock history (and that’s saying something). And there are legends that Courtney Love – yes, the widow of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobainonce performed a sex act on Nugent when she was 12.

Now, if that weren’t enough, there’s also the question regarding Nugent’s method for avoiding service in Vietnam. Of draft age when the war was at its apex in the late 1960s, Nugent was able to get a deferment, but just exactly how is the question. According to a 1977 High Times interview, Nugent supposedly let personal hygiene go for up to a month – including performing bathroom functions in his clothing – to get the military psychologists to give him the deferment. In 2006 – not surprisingly at the height of his paramilitary, right-wing rebirth – he told the British newspaper The Independent that he made that story up. Whether he is a draft dodger or not – he did actually get a 4F deferment, the question being was if for a worthy reason or not – is the big question.

FattyArbuckle

This is where the paradox takes place and it is something that we have seen in many of our pop culture icons throughout history. Arguably the first noted case of this type of situation (since we have a hard time going back before “yellow journalism” or the paparazzi) was popular) was in the case of actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who was a popular actor and performer in the 1920s. Despite his bulk, he was a noted dancer and his comedic timing was impeccable, leading many to admire him and Hollywood to pay him $1 million in 1920 for his talents.

That was before a highly publicized rape trial, however. From 1921 through the next year, Arbuckle was the defendant in the rape and manslaughter trial of actor Virginia Rappe. Two trials ended in hung juries and the third finally acquitted Arbuckle, but the damage was already done. Arbuckle would never again reach the level of success he previously found, passing in 1933 of a heart attack at the age of 46.

That type of situation – celebrities with public admiration tainted or destroyed by scandal – has been seen through the 20th century to present times. Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh, the “Hollywood Blacklist” that ensnared Dalton Trumbo and the “Hollywood Ten,” to O. J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, Sinead O’Connor or Jared Fogle…all have seen or saw their careers either crippled or ended by scandal in their lives. But what do people who admire them do?

MichaelJackson

There is no easy answer for this situation. I can still enjoy listening to Nugent’s music, but there is a constantly nagging voice in the back of my head that will not silence some of the things he’s done. Others might be able to easily separate the juxtaposition – it seems that fans of Donald Drumpf find it far too easy to do that – but does that say more about their either pleasure of enjoying an artist or thinking that an egregious error is “OK” (sorry, there’s some things that just aren’t allowable)?

You might be able to put a different subject in its place and you might have a different answer for each different subject, but the paradox that is Ted Nugent is still something that I have to ponder and, unfortunately, I’ll probably never come up with an acceptable answer…either to myself or to anyone else.