Tuesday, January 09, 2007

2007 Hall Inductees

The votes are in, and this year’s list of inductees includes Van Halen, Grandmaster Flash, REM, Patti Smith, and the Ronettes. A few of these artists come as no surprise to me, if you see my earlier article called “Living Legends”, but there are still a few interesting points to comment on.

Van Halen is a band that sometimes gets forgotten when discussing the hard rock bands of the 70s and 80s, and it’s a shame that it happens that way, especially when a band like Aerosmith gets so much undeserved attention in its stead. Eddie Van Halen was (and still is) a role model to so many guitar geeks, trying to replicate his solos and riffs. Alex Van Halen should equally be recognized for his prowess on the drum kit. And lest we all forgot the fun we had during the “1984” album, rocking out to hits like “Panama”, “Jump”, and “Hot For Teacher” (best video ever?), with David Lee Roth’s antics leading the way. With a collection of hits scattered across the radio and MTV throughout the 80s, we shouldn’t also ignore the talent seen on their early albums in the 70s. Van Halen may not be as much a household name today as they were 20 years ago, but their induction into the hall is well deserved.

REM is another well deserved inductee, often being credited as the seminal band of the “alternative” era, with albums such as “Life’s Rich Pageant”, “Document”, and “Green” leading the way from indie rock lore to mainstream popularity. REM has always had a gift for simple but elegant song writing, with Michael Stipe’s distinct vocals resting on top of the instruments, and their range in songwriting has been from the low-fi indie sound to pure pop to politically charged rock. Many of the modern alternative and indie rock acts owe a great deal of credit to the path that REM paved.

To keep it short, I just wanted to finally comment on Grandmaster Flash, meaning no discredit to Patti Smith nor the Ronettes. The induction of Grandmaster Flash marks the first rap/hip-hop artist in the hall, which is very significant as to the future of the hall. In the arena of rap, there is little debate that Grandmaster Flash is considered the father of rap for his contributions in the early 80s, and, for that reason, he is absolutely deserving of the nod.

The doors are now open for other rap and hip-hop artists in the hall, but I believe we will have to wait a few years until artists like Public Enemy and NWA are eligible. What I don’t want to gloss over, though, is that the name of the building itself is the “Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame (and museum)”, and thus, with the inclusion of a rap artist, in some way we’re acknowledging that “Rock and Roll” in this context is more than simply the genre – it encompasses blues, jazz, rock, reggae, and now, rap. I don’t disagree with this, but I have trouble articulating why. I believe that there are two definitions of “rock and roll”, the first being the genre itself, the second being more an attitude, philosophy, or state of mind. On the first definition, we should note that while rap has become a genre unto itself, it has spread into the rock genre, with so many rock artists borrowing rap techniques for their own music, to a point where we now have a genre called “rap rock” all to itself, and, as further support of this induction, Grandmaster Flash’s influence is even more widespread. To the second definition, it means something to say that “Miles Davis was rock and roll”, that “Led Zeppelin was rock and roll”, and now, that “Grandmaster Flash was rock and roll”. There is an attitude central to rock and roll of trying to use music to describe and equally challenge the world around you, to inspire and lead movements, to drive change and to unify communities. The Rock Hall of Fame appears to celebrate the artists who have done that with their music, and for that, I applaud them. Grandmaster is deserving of this vote from the perspective of both definitions, despite being tagged as solely as a “rap artist”.

So cheers to this year’s inductees!


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