Why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Made the Right Call

Imagine you were asked to be one of a few members on the nominating committee for your family’s Cousins Hall of Fame. Never mind why such a thing exists, it just does, okay? Now, pretend that you accept the responsibility of celebrating your heritage and let’s assume you are one of the first tasked to decide which one or two of your kinfolk gets inducted annually.

Let’s further surmise that this honor was bestowed upon you 30 years ago. By now, your cousin Chachi, who was the first in your family to graduate, or your cousin Nernie, the first to be a doctor, are already in. Those guys were no-brainers. The firsts, the influential ones, the contributors whose bold steps set the path for your family's future generations – they’re all in, of course. You’ve nominated some cousins who came before you, because your parents or their parents lobbied for them to be forever immortalized. You made sure your favorite cousins got in too, the ones who maybe weren’t that influential, but were solid and made a personal impact on your own life. Maybe they always seem to spearhead the family reunion or, more dubiously, taught you how to smoke a bowl.

This is essentially the work that’s been done by the nominating committee members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In our music family, they’ve made tough but lasting decisions about which of our musical cousins join the ranks of family legends like Elvis and Aretha and The Beatles. This week, many of those committee members were absolved of their services. Billboard was one of several music publications to report that as many as 16 of the Hall’s 42 nominating committee members were relieved of duty. Reception to the news has largely been critical since many who were let go were reportedly on a subcommittee for early rock and R&B influences. The notion is those long-ago acts which are deserving but not yet inducted will have a lesser chance to gain entry now.

Is this really a bad thing? Using the Cousins Hall of Fame as a reference point we can all relate to (ahem), let’s examine this closer:
If she’s that influential, why isn’t Cousin Emily already in the Hall?
We have to have some criteria for allowing our kin into our hallowed establishment. Let’s say no one gets in until after their 25th birthday. That's ample time for one to have made a mark of some sort and, conveniently, also the time period that must have passed from an artist’s first recording to be eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

If we started voting for these cousins in 1985, then any cousin who was born by or before 1960 would have been eligible that first year. Chachi and Nernie and Cousin Fred and Cousin Berniece all got in that year, let’s say. And, in the 30 years since then, any of those cousins who were eligible for entry back in 1985 could have been considered again, along with a new crop of candidates each year.

So, why isn’t Cousin Emily in? She’s a nice person, a tax attorney who’s been balancing the books since the late 1980s. She’s not the family’s first attorney or the first female attorney. She is the first tax attorney, her supporters argue. That’s something. But, is it enough? Is it influential in a meaningful way? This is the kind of argument that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has had to consider. As years pass, the notion of what is truly influential gets diluted. Doesn’t it seem better to maintain some integrity for those truly influential members than to change the definitions to fit someone who doesn’t quite hit the mark?

But Cousin Emily has been doing this for four decades…
Like the Steve Miller Band, Em was good at her job and brought happiness to many. But, just because she was able to do fancy bookkeeping for decades doesn’t mean she gets to stand with the immortals.
Removing nominators who know Emily’s history ensures she’ll never get in…
It’s already been established some artists are just not Hall of Fame-worthy. Like Cousin Emily. And, possibly, Jethro Tull. The continued hanging-on of those familiar with their work won’t change the fact that someone more deserving always got the call ahead of them. It could, in fact, be hurting the band’s chances.

Is it really fair to those who may be replacing the released nominators to think Jethro Tull might never one day be voted into the Hall of Fame? Conceivably, these new committee members will be music aficionados who can read about band histories, hear their recorded work and be open to the arguments supporters of bands like Tull can offer. Don’t they deserve a chance to prove they could actually honor the acts that their nominating predecessors never found a vote for?

What will the new nominators have that the previous ones didn’t?
I love all my cousins, of which I have many, but I’ll be the first to admit there are some younger ones I don’t know all that well. Yes, I’m aware of their accomplishments from Facebook bragging or from seeing their names called as winners on the AVN Awards telecast (just kiddin’, cuzzins). But, there’s something missing in my vote for them that another, probably younger, more emotionally attached cousin could offer. When it was time for Nirvana to be elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, any schmo who paid attention at all knew they were first-balloters. Intellectually, the voters knew Nirvana belonged there, but some of them may have lacked the emotional involvement to Nirvana's music necessary to fully appreciate it.

With the years marching by, it’s important we preserve those feelings that stir in us when we hear music. Next year, No Doubt and Rage Against the Machine will be eligible for consideration. I like those bands and think they’re Hall-worthy, but watching them be inducted won’t feel the same as watching Stevie Ray Vaughan’s induction, which caused a few tears to fall into my bushy beard. Anyone who truly loves music should hope all music fans get a chance to feel that same sense of pride and love as future acts closer to this era are inducted. Those acts may not be first cousins of the first Hall inductees anymore, but they’re family and also deserve the recognition and devotion we reserve for our loved ones.

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