The Only Rock & Roll Hall of Fame That Matters is the One in Your Heart

(And a few words about musical excellence)

VIDEO: The Clash “White Riot”

Let us begin by paraphrasing “White Riot” by the Clash. 

 

Black man gotta lotta problems

But they don’t mind throwin’ a brick 

White people go on social media

Where they whine about the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

 

I don’t think people are necessarily wrong when they criticize the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame (specifically their choice of nominees and inductions; my comments in this piece do not apply to their museum or their charitable work). I just think we could spend our time complaining about a lot more important things. 

After all, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame is a TV show. A freaking TV Show. The slate of annual inductees exist so there’s something for HBO to build a show around. The nomination/induction process serves the interests of the television show. That’s why they have to induct five artists each year, and that’s a primo reason why this is not a legit Hall of Fame, and never will be. Now, the sundry sports Hall of Fames do not set a quota on inductions per annum (this year, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame only inducted one player). But the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame has to induct five artists; otherwise HBO would be stuck with….

“And now, ladies and gentleman, our 180-minute tribute to Skunk Baxter. It all started in a 5,000 watt radio station in Fresno California, a 65 dollar paycheck and a crazy dream…” 

So we really ought to stop wasting our time arguing about the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. We live in times far too dangerous to worry about whether Dolly Parton or Kate Bush ought to be in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. (Note: they both absofuckinglutely should be. Parton is one of the greatest songwriters and pop personalities of our era, and Bush hit the re-set button on what a woman singer/songwriter/performer could be, in ways still being profoundly felt every single day. But let’s not get into specifics). 

 

AUDIO: Dolly Parton “Big Dreams and Faded Jeans”

In order to but a pretty red bow on this thing and underline why the Hall is not worth our breath, ire, or spit, I’d like to point out something that really speaks to the general idiocy and irrelevance of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame: 

The Hall has a category titled Musical Excellence. Over the years they have inducted only twenty-five artists under this particular heading. The Musical Excellence group includes some very noteworthy session players, producers, and legendary backing musicians, like Hal Blaine, Cosimo Mattassa, Leon Russell, and Nile Rodgers. 

Only one single drummer who was a member of a post-Elvis pop/rock band has been inducted to honor his Musical Excellence. And that’s Ringo Starr. 

That’s right: the wise men and women at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame rate Ringo’s Musical Excellence higher than that of, say, Keith Moon, John Bonham, Carl Palmer, Neil Peart, Stewart Copeland, Chad Smith, Mitch Mitchell, Roger Taylor, etcetera. Now — and I’ll admit this – I generally hate all drummers not named Bobby Graham, Tommy Ramone, Klaus Dinger, Robert Grey, Martin Atkins, Don Powell, Nick Knox, or Earl Palmer (the latter, by the way, is honored in the Musical Excellence category). But even I know that there are a plethora of rock band drummers who deserve a Musical Excellence nod more than Ringo “I’ve Got a Ride Cymbal and I’m Gonna Use It!” Starr. I’m not even putting Ringo down here. Truly. I’m just saying, is he really the ONLY drummer in ANY band in the last 65 years worth singling out for his Musical Excellence? In fact, on the Hall’s official page when you click on Musical Excellence you see a picture of Ringo Starr (and no one else). That’s how utterly eager the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame is to let you know that when they hear the words Musical Excellence they think of Ringo Starr above anyone else. 

(We can visualize the Memo from HBO to the Hall of Fame: “We don’t have any Beatles on the show this year. Can you stick some award in Ringo’s hand so we can get one on the show? Heck, maybe have Paul induct him. And next time we have an in-person meeting, for the love of god can you improve the cashew-to-peanut ratio in the nut mix?”)

Am I done? No, friends, I am not done. Let’s stay on the Musical Excellence page on the Hall’s official site, shall we?

Apparently, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame also believes, to the very core of it’s mammon-gilded soul which feeds on Mark E. Smith’s tears and the mossy detritus of mailing envelopes that once contained those shiny black American Express Cards, that ONLY ONE SINGLE BAND in the ENTIRE history of Rock ‘n’ Roll ought to be specially and specifically honored for its’ Musical Excellence. 

That group, of course, is the E Street Band. 

The Jimi Hendrix Experience? No, not as Musically Excellent at the E Street Band (according to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame). The Who? No, don’t be silly, says the Hall. The Grateful Dead or Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention? No, of course not; according to the Hall, the E Street Band is MORE Musically Excellent. What about King Crimson, Porcupine Tree, or Phish? No, says the Hall, we have had decades to consider this and the ONLY band in HISTORY worth honoring specifically for their Musical Excellence is the E Street Band. 

(Here’s another memo: “Just like your damn cashew-lite nut mix, this year’s show is a little paltry on real old-school rock stars. Can you think of some reason to get Bruce on the show?”) 

Really, That’s all you need to know about the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. 

None of this, not one word, is meant to denigrate the legitimate and proven musical skills of the members of the E Street Band. But to claim they are the ONLY band in HISTORY worth honoring for their Musical Excellence?!? I mean, I’d rate the Good Rats over the E Street Band. That’s a compliment to both of them, by the way.

Although the Hall of Fame organization itself does some good work and they have a good museum, the “honor” itself is just a front for a pile of cashew-dissing fools that puts on a TV show. That’s all. Sure, you want to see the New York Dolls in the Hall of Fame. I want to see Matthew Macfayden and Nicholas Braun perform Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I mean, it might happen, but there are more important things to worry about. 

Friends, the only Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame that matters is the one that is in your heart, in your experience, in your memory. Your Hall of Fame is full of the artists that changed your life. The artists that made you get up in the morning or run quickly home from the bus stop after school, the artists that rocked you to sleep at night, the artists that gave words to your tears and whose songs provided mnemonics for your experience. Your experience with music is your Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. That’s all that matters. 

 

VIDEO: Sweet “Fox On The Run”

Perhaps you remember something like this: Just as your senior year was beginning there was this girl, and every time you saw her the song “Fox on the Run” popped into your brain. And you knew, you just knew, that even if it wasn’t her, one day someone just like her would kiss you, actually kiss you. That is YOUR Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame! Or maybe it was this: Do you remember staring at that strange and beautiful dog man on the sleeve of Diamond Dogs, and you felt something you were afraid to name, and then suddenly, almost immediately, you were no longer afraid to name it? That’s YOUR Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Do you remember that song that was playing the first time you kissed the person you knew you were going to spend the rest of your life with? Maybe it was “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys, maybe it was “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty, maybe it was “Primary” by the Cure. It doesn’t matter.  But that song, and the way that moment comes back to you every time you hear that song while walking around in CVS, that is your Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. 

Your story, and the music that was always there, the music that comforted you when no other comfort could be had and gave you words when you could find none, that is your Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. It was in your heart all along. 

Every one of us has our own Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. You have your story, and I have mine. Our Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame is the way music changed our lives, led us to the ones we love, found us our best friends, brought us back to long-gone cities and streets. It lives on when we remember what we felt inside of us, a feeling we couldn’t quite name in a place we couldn’t exactly point to, when we first saw or heard Bowie or the Clash or the Dead. Rock ’n’ Roll is the road map that led us to our own hearts and that directed others to our hearts. 

And that’s your Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. 

 

VIDEO: Greg Harris announces the 2022 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominees 

 

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Tim Sommer

Tim Sommer is a musician, record producer, former Atlantic Records A&R representative, WNYO DJ, MTV News correspondent, VH1 VJ, and founding member of the band Hugo Largo. He is the author of Only Wanna Be with You: The Inside Story of Hootie & the Blowfish and has written for publications such as Trouser Press, the Observer and The Village Voice. Learn more at Tim Sommer Writing.

2 thoughts on “The Only Rock & Roll Hall of Fame That Matters is the One in Your Heart

  • February 12, 2022 at 5:17 pm
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    First thing they should have gotten straight is this: “what is rock & roll?” And then we could narrow down the arguments a bit at least. As it stands now, any act from any genre can somehow be shoehorned into the RRHOF ahead of scads of obviously deserving rock artists and if you complain, you’re some sort of white supremacist.

    Reply

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