2007 Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame: The Politics Of Induction

Rock HallThe 2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony may go down in history like the 1919 Black Sox Scandal: disastrous, yet undeniably fascinating! The melodrama surrounding Van Halen already had a few committee members teetering on the edge of their gold-plated stools. “Why the hell did you pick those degenerates anyway,” some stodgy music critic probably grumbled. “They’re going to spike the punch, rough up my trophy wife, and steal the brown M&M’s.”

Here’s how it broke down: the Van Halen brothers were gonna go, then they weren’t, then they were, then Eddie announced he was blowing it off entirely and checking himself into rehab, and his drumming brother Alex stood idly by without uttering a single sound byte. As a fan from the days when VH played Sunset Strip clubs and backyard parties, it’s become increasingly difficult to understand where all this internal strive originated from. I imagine the kind of success they went on to enjoy has its drawbacks. Even in the face of adversity, the ego is a looming pain in the arse.

David Lee Roth came up with a million and one lame reasons why he wasn’t showing up for the honors, which is just plain weird when you consider the guy is one off-ramp away from the lizard lounge at the local Holiday Inn. I guess it was his way of staying on the brothers' good side. Why rub bad tequila and hot sauce into an already coagulating wound, Dave! As a trained paramedic, he knows better. A couple of cartwheels during “Jump” might have driven poor Eddie over the edge. Or worse yet — he’d shave his head and get a tattoo.

Fortunately, the shenanigans of Van Halen didn’t ruin the night by a long shot. Atlantic Records chief Ahmet Ertegun, one of the hall’s founders who tragically passed away in 2006, received a classy tribute from Aretha Franklin. Keith Richards ambled onto the stage sporting a pencil-thin mustache and inducted the Ronettes. Ronnie Spector then snubbed her former husband, the Svengali-like producer Phil Spector, drawing the ire of those few brave and loyal souls willing to look past his eccentricities and murder trial.

Patti Smith cried between expletives, but delivered far more than I expected. Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar — brandishing their expired Van Halen membership cards on their collective sleeves — spoke on behalf of their former band, expressing an undying love for Eddie and his efforts to return to normalcy. They certainly don’t let Oscar winners manhandle hot potatoes like this at the Academy Awards.

In the aftermath, Jann Wenner caught flak for supposedly playing favors with Grandmaster Flash & The Fantastic Five (who?) over the Dave Clark 5, an old and dusty British Invasion band who reportedly had more votes for induction eligibility. The Rolling Stone publisher allegedly said they needed a token rap act to balance out the show, and opted to skip over this minor technicality. Naturally, the story never took root and Wenner refused to respond.

Still, something’s rotten in Cleveland and it ain’t Lake Erie.

I didn’t get the chance to fly to New York to see this event firsthand. It’s a private affair that costs upwards of fifteen grand to get into because you’re surrounded by just about every living rock star who matters, a typical celebrity fest with a red carpet, a press room, free parking and chicken or fish as the main course. I’m only speculating as I watched it live on VH1 Classic without commercials. Nevertheless, I felt like I was there. Sorta.

People Have The PowerNo matter where you’re sitting though, there’s something seriously wrong with the whole induction process. I don’t want to diss Van Halen, Patti Smith, or R.E.M., but clearly there are other artists more deserving of the rock hall honor at this point in history. For whatever reason, Wenner and his pals disdain a whole faction of British bands — the Moody Blues, Deep Purple, Humble Pie, Jethro Tull, Yes, Genesis, and, apparently, the Dave Clark 5, who would have been 'glad all over' to receive the recognition. The selection board also can’t handle certain American bands that rivaled many of the aforementioned British bands. What’s it gonna take to get Grand Funk Railroad, Three Dog Night, Kansas, Boston, Heart, Kiss, and dozens of other hitmakers in the clubhouse? If Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin hadn’t sold a gazillion records, they most certainly would have been left out in the cold too.

Patti Smith is more poet than a musician. She had one hit co-written with Bruce Springsteen. After her heartfelt speech and performance of “Gimme Shelter,” “Because The Night” and “Rock and Roll Nigger,” I figured she probably earned her way in. But when compared to those deprived of such an honor, you have to wonder who’s stacking the deck. Well, not so much ‘who’ as ‘why’? The more I ask, the more confusing it gets. It's almost like trying to pin down who's responsible for running the country.

So on to R.E.M., which, to me, ended up owning the night. OK, so no one knows why 43 former and present members of Deep Purple aren’t getting the nod before this Georgia foursome, but they’re a class act without pretense, and it’s hard to deny their appeal. I guess it helps when you have Bono or Eddie Vedder at the podium, doing the inducting. Best of all, Michael Stipe stayed pure and avoided the space age raccoon look of Live 8. Without the hair, he looks like an eggplant with a lazy eye, but I don’t want to get personal.

The grand finale was “People Have The Power,” written by Patti Smith and her late husband, MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith. Actually, it was more like a train wreck full of sideshow freaks and free bagels. You had Sammy Hagar, Patti Smith, Michael Stipe, Eddie Vedder, and Ronnie Spector (totally oblivious of the lyrics and what they mean) trading verses and vying for the spotlight. Keith Richards and Stephen Stills, the resident old codgers, swung their battle axes like a couple of harpooned whales on sick leave.

At the end of the night, the Class of 2007 was no better or worse than they have been for the past 10 years. Once they got past the likes of Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, the Grateful Dead, and U2 — all shoe-ins in anyone’s book — it was anyone’s guess as to who would get in. When you throw in a television broadcast and the razzamatazz of deal-makers and record breakers, well…I wouldn’t be surprised if Kelly Clarkson beat out King Crimson in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sweepstakes somehwere down the line. In this day and age, it’s almost a given.

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