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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hall Of Lame

I promised myself that I wasn't going to bother this time around with bitching about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's predictably lame selections this year. But, you know, resolutions are made to be broken and all, so we'll compromise and keep it short(er).

Van Halen is a predictably solid choice, I suppose, but it seems like they should have been a first-ballot selection, which would have been a couple years ago by my reckoning. I mean, Eddie only influenced at least as many aspiring rock guitar players as Clapton or Hendrix, if not more. (So, for that matter, did Randy Rhoads. And pound for pound, a surprising number of modern rock guitar players claim relative unknowns such as Michael Schenker or Ulrich Roth as influences.) Why the wait for Van Halen? And is it a particular lineup, or is the one-album Gary Cherone configuration in as an equal to the classic Roth group or the later Van Hagar?

When Roth left and Hagar joined the band, I got a kick out of the ridiculous "Sam vs. Dave" arguments. Each lineup had its own focus, and as such, really became something of its own entity. The early years had some serious flaws (short albums with second-half filler; waaaay too many covers, most of them not worth bothering with), but made up for a lot of that with innovative playing and energetic riffing. The Hagar lineup featured more solid songwriting overall (for that milieu; bear with me, I don't want to get into any weird pissing contests with lonely Bob Dylan/Nick Drake fans over whose desultory poetry was most evocative of T.S. Eliot while Hagar and Roth were cribbing their "hot dog and a shake" verbiage from a restroom stall), with more attentive arranging and structuring from Eddie, but the solos no longer set your hair on end.

Still, like 'em or not, Van Halen at their prime were the apotheosis of what a great American rock band could and should be. What Aerosmith did with that magical Get Your Wings/Toys In The Attic/Rocks trifecta, Van Halen managed to reasonably replicate with their first three albums. Especially given the particular time period, when legitimate punk bands like the Ramones and MC5 were getting overshadowed by poseurs and post-disco hacks, who in turn paved the way for douchey new-wave androgynes, all of whom deserved to get their sorry asses kicked.

Which brings me to REM. I remember hearing Radio Free Europe on my cheesy little clock-radio when I was maybe fifteen. I had no idea what the words were, but I loved the energy and the melody. It was a great introduction to the garagey sound of what derisively became known as college rock.

But the more popular they got, the more I hated them -- twee, precious, tiresomely simplistic, almost to the point of fucking pomo nursery rhymes. Losing My Religion was particularly disappointing, because I actually liked the song, and then I saw the video, Stipe spasming around in his corner with a bunch of creepy, self-indulgent imagery. Feh. In the end, REM had their moments, but were never truly great. They innovated a few interesting things early on, and stuck around for a while, but that's about it. For me, they became a parody of themselves with Stand and The One I Love, the last in particular because its hooky riff was ruined by the disninterested monotony of the lyrics and vocals. Then the infamous SNL skit with Norm Macdonald's Bob Dole joining The Real World, and leaving to the weepy strains of Everybody Hurts after he overhears his roommates talking shit about him. Great stuff.

I dunno, it just seems like, say, The Cars or Todd Rundgren are long overdue, and I'm sure we can all come up with our own pet selections who've been overlooked. And not to slam the other three inductees too gratuitously, but I honestly can't name more than a song or two from any of them. I know Patti Smith has always been a critics' darling, but professional rock critics are mostly useless. The only thing good about the canonized Lester Bangs is that he died with The Human League's Dare on his stereo, which, you know -- look, as an intellectual exercise, ask yourself what music of the spheres you would wish to hear as you drew your last breath. Maybe you'd go for Bach or Beethoven, maybe you'd say Hendrix. There's no goddamned way you're going to say Human League. That's like killing yourself while listening to Men Without Hats -- which in itself is a rather slow and painful form of suicide.

So anyway, I guess I can't dump on the other three too much, because I'm simply not familiar enough with their respective catalogs. But that in itself would tend to mitigate their influence and effect on mainstream pop/rock music, which I would think counts for a significant portion of the selection criteria.

But I suppose the real issue I have, as I've said before, is that it's a bit enervating to consider this strange notion of trying to turn something which is overtly based on sex and energy and vitality into a fetishized museum piece. It's hard to knock truly great and innovative bands finally getting their due, but it's also difficult not to reflexively consider all the great ones still out there, eligible yet hung up on subjective criteria.

5 comments:

ripley said...

If VH hadn't been inducted, I probably wouldn't have even noticed it was that time of year. I'm not even sure who the other artists are, this time, though I suspect I wouldn't be very interested anyway.

I've become the cliche - I don't really care too much about what's out there anymore - at least, not what's on the charts - and even my downloads from shared music sites have dropped off, lately.

I need a rock n roll infusion or something, I suppose. Or is that transfusion? Cold fusion? Beer!

Firestarter5 said...

VH are more than worthy of induction since their music has basically covered most radio station target demographics from hard rock to rock to adult contemporary.

There are some who say that VH isn't VH without David Lee. I disagree. While early VH did put out some memorable songs, VH and Hagar put out just as many good songs. Whether certain stations want to play those songs is up to them.

REM blows.

Heywood J. said...

Rip:

Yeah, I hear you. There's very little out there anymore that drives me to snap it up immediately, or even steal it. I'm not quite at the point where I'm telling those damned kids to get the hell off my lawn. There are still a few newer or relatively new bands that do some interesting things.

But maybe we're just at that age where nothing is really all that surprising anymore, and nothing's really going to come along and punch you in the gut the way Physical Graffitti or Moving Pictures did.

The only bands I can think of offhand (and I know I'm shortchanging others, but that's life) that strike me as potentially great and truly innovative rock bands are Tool, Muse, and System of a Down. They're all doing different things, they all do them very well, and they all nod to their influences without being derivative.

Also Motorhead. I love their consistency and their productivity, their playing is asshole-tight, and they put on a hell of a show. And they encompass everything from Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran to Metallica. They should be in already, but chances are Metallica will get in first, which would explain a lot about how they think.

Heywood J. said...

F5:

Agreed about VH's worthiness for induction, it just that the lateness of it implies that they had no better choices on their plate, and are still holding some weird grudge against Rush, probably the ultimate love 'em or hate 'em band.

And I still haven't seen if it's a specific VH lineup, or just the first two, or if the short-lived Gary Cherone lineup is included. Wait till they get around to Deep Purple, for some lineup chaos. I don't know how they handled Black Sabbath, for that matter; maybe it's just Ozzy, Tony, Geezer, and Bill.

And yeah, REM does blow. Critical darlings, inexplicably as always. Critics are weird animals; not only are they almost always frustrated or failed musicians, but they almost to a person actively resent any hint of either testosterone or willingness to musically experiment.

When Yoko Ono does it it's High Art; when King Crimson does it it's self-indulgent. And the only cock-rock band they ever put up with was Zeppelin. They're just trying to out-hip each other at their little cocktail parties, sniffing each others' asses with self-important pretension.

john lenin said...

Clutch, meet Heywood J. Heywood, Clutch. You two should get along just fine.