Is the Rock Hall a Museum or Mausoleum?

After all the controversies about The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and also the disrespect and disdain towards rock/Metal, Alec Plowman from UG spoke his mind about it. Read it here:

Last week, Iron Maiden front man Bruce Dickinson said that, if Iron Maiden were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he’d refuse to attend the ceremony:

I’m really happy we’re not there and I would never want to be there. If we’re ever inducted, I will refuse – they won’t bloody be having my corpse in there.
“Rock and roll music does not belong in a mausoleum in Cleveland. It’s a living, breathing thing, and if you put it in a museum, then it’s dead. It’s worse than horrible, it’s vulgar.

It’s not the first time that Iron Maiden’s very own air raid siren has taken the Rock Hall to task. At a spoken word event in Melbourne a few weeks back, he didn’t mince his words on the matter:

I actually think the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is an utter and complete load of bollocks, to be honest with you.
“It’s run by a bunch of sanctimonious bloody Americans who wouldn’t know rock and roll if it hit them in the face. They need to stop taking Prozac and start drinking f*cking beer.

In summary, then, Dickinson isn’t a fan. And he’s not the only one. Plenty of people have railed against the Rock Hall in recent times.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is the worst arts institution in America. It’s establishment, in 1983, the worst idea anyone’s ever come up with concerning rock’n’roll. Yes: even worse than when Lou Reed formed a supergroup with Metallica. (Metal Addicts note: You see? It’s not only us.)

That particularly savage assessment, for example, comes from Guardian columnist Dave Bry.

So what’s the problem? Why does the Rock Hall evoke so much ire from considerable numbers of critics, musicians and fans?

In no small part, it’s because the nomination process is controlled by a very select group of individuals (not themselves musicians) – Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, former foundation director Suzan Evans, and writer Dave Marsh to name some of them – and it’s their personal tastes, rather than more objective criteria of a given artist’s merit, that determine who gets in.

As former record executive Tim Sommer, who views the Rock Hall as a “Towering Shitstack of Low/Mid Expectations” notes, the criteria for induction is:

Did they sell a lot of records in the United States? + Did Rolling Stone like ‘em a lot? + Springsteen and [E Street Band guitarist] Little Steven are okay with this, correct? + They’re not heavy metal, right? + Did they ever piss off Jann or diss the Hall in any significant or public way? + Will they play our Awards Show?

It’s not just that the nomination process is weighted towards a select group of tastemakers’ personal preferences, though. The Rock Hall is a private enterprise, rather than a public body. And that means they want the Awards Ceremony to make money. As a result, “name” acts – even middle-of-the-road ones – inevitably get prioritised over influential, yet not-household-name pioneers. As one former board member told Fox News back in 2001:

At one point Suzan Evans lamented the choices being made because there weren’t enough big names that would sell tickets to the dinner. That was quickly remedied by dropping one of the doo-wop groups being considered in favor of a ‘name’ artist … I saw how certain pioneering artists of the ’50s and early ’60s were shunned because there needed to be more name power on the list, resulting in ’70s superstars getting in before the people who made it possible for them. Some of those pioneers still aren’t in today.

It’s a weighted system, then. But how would one go about changing it? Well, firstly Wenner et. al would have to want to change the way things work, which isn’t going to happen. In the unlikely even that they did, though, music journalist Roy Traikin has suggested that the Hall should target a subgenre to honor – be it punk, post-punk, British Invasion or heavy metal – so that we get more inductees from severely underrepresented genres.

That would certainly be a start. But, there’s perhaps a bigger question at stake here. Do we even need a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the first place?

Dave Bry certainly doesn’t think so, and his argument echoes the comments made by Bruce Dickinson. As he notes, the philosophy of rock ‘n’ roll is “A philosophy in direct opposition to institutionalism.”

Why would we ever choose to dedicate a museum to such an art form – a form dedicated to ephemerality?,” he continues. “There should be a sign on the front that says: “Dedicated to the preservation of that which wants not to be preserved.” A museum to enshrine the spirit of rock ’n’ roll is not a museum. It is a prison for the spirit of rock ’n’ roll.

When you think about it, the very idea of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is anathema, less of a museum and more of a mausoleum, as Dickinson put it. If rock is to live on, then perhaps the Rock Hall shouldn’t.