Thursday, March 15, 2007

Don't Push Me, 'Cause I'm Close To Losing My Religion and Running With the Devil

Before we head into a day of trivial matters like the biennial budget for the State of Ohio, we have something important to talk about: The inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this week. This year saw the induction of the first rap act -- Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. And rock purists are not happy.

I'm not happy that there are such things as rock purists. A rock purist is like a purist member of the American Mongrel Club. This is rock after all, the polyglot, unprofessional, countercultural, youth-obsessed, stripped-down, built-up, mindless, brainy, undefinable scourge of uptight polite society. Rock is supposed to bug people, especially grown-ups. Rock purists are the parents your friends warned you about.

Rap is a part of rock just like the Black music that spawned rock, split off from it and merged back again. One can't seriously define rock to exclude rap without that definition also ruling out R&B, soul and funk. Some people might be OK with that, but frankly they ain't rock and roll if they do.

Moreover, if the Hall keeps rap out, it will sign its own death warrant. If the Hall is to maintain an audience as baby boomers age out, it has to continue to induct the acts that people listened to as they came of age. For people just a little younger than me, that increasingly means rap. Grandmaster Flash's signature single -- "The Message" -- hit the charts my freshman year in college. For a white boy from the 'burbs attending a small liberal arts school in the sticks, it was a revelation.

As for Grandmaster Flash, I'm happy the Hall chose him as the inagural rap act. They could have waited a couple years for Run/DMC, but that would have slighted the subgenre by ignoring its first great hitmaker. They could have inducted even earlier rap pioneers like Sugarhill Gang or Kurtis Blow or Afrika Bambaataa, but that would have given more fuel to the anti-rap forces.

With "The Message," Grandmaster Flash shook things up. He spoke great truths and did so by making lots of noise.. He comforted the afflicted but mostly afflicted the comfortable. And he modified his own equipment to do it. And after he hit it big, he developed a spectacular drug problem. How much more rock and roll can a guy get?

Jamie's Laughing

People are also upset that Van Halen is in. Unlike Grandmaster Flash, it's hard to make the case for VH as a seminal group -- in the sense of influencing other acts, they certainly were in the other sense. And in fact that was the problem. Few would have a problem seeing Eddie Van Halen in the Hall, brilliant technician that he is. The problem is David Lee Roth.

Like Flash, David Lee spoke truths. Just not great truths. Up until Diamond Dave came on the scene, rocks prevailing view of itself was that rock artists said Big Things and made Great Music and were generally Really Quite Important and that, oh by the way, as a reward they got laid a lot. David Lee Roth proudly proclaimed that it is all about getting laid.

This was nearly the first time anyone said this out loud, without irony or shame, and without backing down. Grand Funk Railroad made noises along those lines and were widely derided for it, so they cut "I'm Your Captain/Closer to Home." Roth caught flak for being all about the party and he wrote "Hot for Teacher."

Certainly he had talent as a vocalist -- an impressive range, great expressiveness and undeniable stage presence. So ultimately anti-Roth bias is a bit of rock hypocrisy. It didn't help that he had no comeuppance. Sure, there was a pot bust, but Roth failed to crash and burn in any meaningful way. Eddie, the one we liked, missed the Induction ceremony to go back into rehab. David Lee Roth had a great time, made no bones about it, and paid no discernable price. Bastard.

Things are only going to get rockier for the Hall from here in. What other rap acts get in? What about pop-metal arena acts like Motley Crue or Def Leppard? Harder metal like Guns and Roses and Metallica will get in, but what about true hardcore metal like Slayer or Pantera?

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for many of the acts that influenced the music I loved best back in the day. Aside from The Ramones and The Velvet Underground, few of the forebears of punk and "alternative" rock are in. Where are Big Star, New York Dolls, Wire, Television or The Feelies? We're still waiting.


bonobo said...

Big Star gets in when Paul Westerberg shames the hall during the Placemats induction. New York Dolls are seen as too gimmicky, but Buster Poindexter might have a shot (n.b. it doesn't show so much in the photo you see here, but David Johannsen is easily the celebrity I most resemble), The Feelies are too obscure, Wire's snub allows people like me to feel superior to the Rock Hall (an important part of the Hall dynamic), and Television... Television isn't in? Do they know that?

p.s. Your analysis of GMF as the 'correct' choice for bringing rap in is spot on, but as a lame has-been, I'd say that there's a somewhat undefinable line that separates rap acts that are operating in a different sphere, and rap acts that are operating at least partially within the broader 'rock' sphere. I can't explain it, but Public Enemy and Jay-Z have rock contact, Tupac doesn't.

bryan said...

the feelies? did someone mention the feelies? the most criminally-underrated group of the late-80s and early-90s.

btw -- i share the angst of the anti-van halen set. if they had to induct a hair metal band, why not twisted sister. what i wouldn't give to see that snider speech!

k-pho said...

Rock purists are the parents your friends warned you about. = Awesome

It might be easier if we had an umbrella term like the English use "Pop music" to refer to all of rock, hip-hop, R&B, what we call pop, etc. But we don't, so we use Rock sometimes for the overall super-genre and sometimes for the subgenre, which is bound to bother some.

By the way, the "the polyglot, unprofessional, countercultural,... sounds like the reasons some other types of rock purists say it's stupid for Rock to have a Hall of Fame. I will both grant that they have a point and enjoy my visits to the Hall. And care who gets in.

One the other hand, the Rock Hall's other news of the month, , is an abomination. As others have mentioned.

Jill said...

REM and Van Halen - not sure about the Don't Push Me reference though.

redhorse said...

Who the hell are the feelies? The name doesn't even remotely, distantly in some far away la-la land ring a bell.

As for Diamond Dave...that's one charmed life for one dense dude.

Guns, Metallica, and Pantera: in. Slayer, meh.

What about Dave Mustaine?

k-pho said...

...not sure about the Don't Push Me reference though.

That would be:

Don't push me cause I'm close to the edge/I'm trying not to lose my head/It's like a jungle sometimes/It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under

"The Message" - Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.


boringmadedull said...

I'm certainly not a rock purist, or even someone who pretends to be knowledgeable, but I'm not sure that I buy the "Rock Was Great Art" meme.

For some, it was. For most of the bands, I suspect that they subscribed to the David Lee Roth train, but at least maintained the veneer of 'speak truth to power hypocracy.

My problem with the Rock hall - like the problem I have with most halls o fame, is that most of these guys are still playing. The body of work isn't finished.

Mencken said...

The HOF inducted too many, too soon. Now they're down to the whistle and the steam. Look for Wavy Gravy, the Plaster Casters, Bebe Buell, and Don Kirshner to be inducted in the next couple of years.
They can then start inducting the roadies, the drug dealers, and Paul Shaffer's sunglasses.

Village Green said...

Here's one that they missed -- Donovan. And if you don't think Donovan rocked out, you never really listened to him.

Pho said...


I get what you say about your gut-check about a rap-rock nexus, but I can't honestly say A Tribe Called Quest is anything but rap and I want them in.


The more I think about The Feelies the more I think it's a pipe dream. They were basically the Velvet Underground taken to the next step. They neither made hits nor cut a pile of brilliant albums nor indispensibly influenced the genre. They certainly are the bridge between the Velvets and the Strokes, but that's about it. Underrated to be sure, but probably not Hall material.

And Red? I'll hook you up once I get my burner back online.


Love the whole comment. And yes, any list that includes a Kenny G album and doesn't include the word "sucks" in its title is by definition an abomination.

Also, thanks for helping Jill out.


I've listened to Donovan and don't think he rocked. But the argument against him is the argument against Dusty Springfield, James Taylor and Billy Joel and they are all in, so I'm not going to the mat for the Hall on that one.

Evorgleb said...

I'm still buzzing off of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five being inducted into the Rock of Roll Hall of Fame. It was so big for me when we got to interview Grandmaster Mele Mel over at Highbrid Nation. As a person who grew up on hip hop, I'm just glad to see it being respected.