I'd not been to the I.M. Pei-designed seven-story pyramid that houses the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland for at least six years. With my family traveling to Akron for a long summer visit, it was inevitable that I'd make the short journery north to take in the history of rock. Well, the caveat being, not the entire history of rock as it continues to be wriiten, but the inductees into this American-based Hall of Fame since the first class of 1986. Hard to believe the museum itself opened on September 2nd, 1995. (The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation was born on April 20, 1983.). It's easy to spend a full day in the museum taking in the exhibits, artifacts, and movies.
Current curator Jim Henke has done a terrific job of engaging both the casual fan and hardcore rock trivia fanatic with all sorts of rock 'n' roll minutia. I'm fascinated by all the equipment and instruments used in recording and/or played in concert. In that respect, little has changed. One strikes strings on a guitar in a band -- preferably two guitars, bass, and drums -- and the "devil's music" ensues. But the Hall has much more to offer.
Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power is a terrific two-story interactive exhibit featuring 70 pioneering gals -- everyone from rockabilly Queen Wanda Jackson to Gwen Stefani. Plenty of artifacts, costumes, instruments, video footage, etc. to keep even the most jaded male rock chauvinist engaged. And my son and I truly enjoyed the four-minute "induction" films for each class of inductees, all deftly displayed on a giant three-paneled screen that keeps your head moving from side to side to take in the rapid fire of images, archival footage, and performances. (Kudos to my friend JB having produced and edited the last three classes.)
But even with all of the majesty, I keep wondering how some of the most beloved bands of all times have yet to find their way to the shores of Lake Erie. How has Yes, one of the greatest progressive rock bands of all times, not been voted in? Ditto for fellow proggers Rush. In fact, a common gripe amongst some rock critics is that the whole prog rock genre seems to be MIA except for Genesis. I would argue that Yes was certainly just as influential and popular. Ditto for King Crimson and probably Emerson, Lake & Palmer, too.
If I'm not mistaken, the Hall's "rules" of nomination/induction are 25 years after an act's first release -- period. (Although that rule has been bent for some inductees. Not sure why.) Some 500 or so voters then vote for induction after the "nomination" commitee presents their picks.
Or Kiss, one of the most successful rock franchises in history of popular music. Say what you will about Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, but their music is every bit as vital as that of recent 2011 inductee Alice Cooper or other lesser known bands. In fact, Cleveland and the Midwest in general helped elevate this band to superstar status. Tons of fans, over 100 million units sold globally, multiple covers of the Detroit-based Creem Magazine. (Never a cover on Rolling Stone. Can someone explain why?)
Ditto for another enormous and beloved '70s rock band, Grand Funk Railroad. At one time, this power trio from Michigan was second only to The Beatles in sales for Capitol Records. They sold out stadiums and wrote memorable rock anthems such as "Closer to Home" and "We're an American Band" that continue to be Classic Rock FM radio staples. Yet, they remain shuttered from the RnRHoF, too.
Or how about Don Van Vliet AKA Captain Beefheart? When will his ballot find its way home? Certainly an acquired tasted, but his aggro-blues-alt-rock influence is undeniable, namechecked by smart musicians far and wide. My friend, former Beefheart guitarist and manager, and guitar hero Gary Lucas had this to say about that major oversight:
"It is unbelievable to me that such a seminal American artist as Don Van Vliet has still not been inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame--a true Godfather of Punk and all that came after it, his visionary albums changed the face of music forever."
One can only hope that the voting committee fianlly sees the light with some of the aforementioned acts and continues serving up the majesty of rock in this majestic museum. - Dusty Wright
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 4 solo CDs, and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was a William Morris agent.