A warm Rock and Roll Hall of Fame salute to Steve Miller and Paul Stanley

New inductee Steve Miller did us all a big service Friday night at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when he criticized the organization for neglecting female rockers during his acceptance speech, revealed its mistreatment of inductees during his press conference, then lambasted the publicist for trying to cut him off.

As for his first complaint, I always like thinking I was kicked off the Hall of Fame Nominating Committee years ago because I always spoke out in favor of Lesley Gore, Nancy Sinatra, Joan Jett and the Shangri-Las—not to mention males like The Turtles and The Hollies (Jett and The Hollies have since gone in), even though the form letter giving me the boot (along with a number of others) claimed that they wanted people who were more knowledgeable about 1970s rock—no matter that I’d written the first book on The Ramones.

So good on you there, Steve. Then again, as I’m from Madison, Wisconsin, I know how you inspired my homegirl Tracy Nelson’s signature song “Down So Low”–even if you did break her heart.

As for the RockHall’s treatment of inductees, he slagged the entire induction process backstage, in press accounts accusing the organization of disrespecting “the artists they say they’re honoring, which they don’t.” Here he specified licensing agreements between the show and inductees, and how they only gave him tickets for him and his wife while making his band and their wives fork over $10,000 per.

What I loved most, though, was how when the event’s publicist tried to stifle him, he stood his ground-—and then some: “No, we’re not going to wrap this up–I’m going to wrap you up,” he said. “You go sit down over there and learn something.”

What I’ve always hated about these award shows, or for that matter any major media extravaganza, is the way that media is herded and controlled (see Donald Trump media pens) like sheep—even if most of the time we are. Of course he wasn’t so much sticking up for the press and against big-event publicists as he was for himself and fellow RockHall inductees, but even an indirect slap at media manipulation, even among the most manipulatable, is to be applauded.

“This is how close this whole show came to not happening because of the way the artists are being treated,” he said, holding up two fingers very close together. And then he did wrap it up and walk off.

The RockHall tried to act diplomatic afterwards via a statement: “Rock ‘n’ roll can ignite many opinions,” it said. “It’s what makes it so great.”

Now there’s one big crock of shit statement! It’s the music that makes it so great, and it’s the many opinions that makes the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so despised! In fact, it’s those opinions—a good many if not most of them stupid—that makes defining rock ‘n’ roll apparently impossible! Another new inductee, N.W.A.’s Ice Cube, makes my point.

“The question is, ‘Are we rock ‘n’ roll?'” Cube said in an acceptance speech in which he proclaimed that N.W.A. and hip-hop belong there next to the Beatles, Elvis and Chuck Berry, “and I say–you goddamn right we rock ‘n’ roll.” His explanation? “Rock ‘n’ roll is not an instrument. It’s not even a style of music. It’s a spirit that’s been going on since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, heavy metal, punk rock, and yes, hip-hop.”

You may have noted, as I most certainly did, that he left out country. Not many country stars are in the RockHall, with Johnny Cash the only one coming quickly to mind outside of Bill Monroe and Jimmie Rodgers—both inducted as “Early Influences.” Seymour Stein always argued for Conway Twitty, whose career began in the 1950s with the rock ‘n’ roll chart success of hits like “It’s Only Make Believe.” I’ll always remember my late, great friend Dave Nives, who held various marketing and a&r indie label gigs and correctly ascertained, after I brought him a CD by polka legend Eddie Blazonczyk, “This is real rock ‘n’ roll.”

Ice Cube didn’t say “polka,” either. But he—and N.W.A. mate MC Ren—got into a tiff with 2014 inductee Gene Simmons over the very point at hand.

KISS’s Simmons had told Rolling Stone that he was “looking forward to the death of rap,” that rappers didn’t belong in the Hall of Fame because they didn’t play guitar or sing—much as Phil Spector once told me that “rap music” is actually an oxymoron. In The New York Times shortly before his induction, Cube said he respected Simmons, “but I think he’s wrong on this, because rock ’n’ roll is not an instrument and it’s not singing. Rock ’n’ roll is a spirit. N.W.A is probably more rock ’n’ roll than a lot of the people that he thinks belong there over hip-hop. We had the same spirit as punk rock, the same as the blues.”

Here he invoked the “spirit” characterization of rock ‘n’ roll, that once again, takes precedence over the music itself. He added in his induction remarks that “rock ‘n’ roll is not even a style of music,” with Ren answering Simmons directly: “Hip-Hop is here forever. Get used to it.”

Never the type to suffer in silence, Simmons tweeted Saturday: “Respectfully, let me know when Jimi Hendrix gets into the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame. Then you’ll have a point.” The next day Cube retorted, also via tweet, “Who stole the soul? Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Chubby Checker help invent rock & roll. We invent it. Y’all reprint it.”

Simmons’ final reply: “Cube, I stand by my words. [I] respect N.W.A, but when Led Zep gets into Rap Hall of Fame, I will agree with your point.”

Rolling Stone, covering the exchange Monday, quoted from a 2014 Simmons interview with Radio.com: “A few people decide what’s in and what’s not. And the masses just scratch their heads. You’ve got Grandmaster Flash in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Run-D.M.C. in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? You’re killing me. That doesn’t mean those aren’t good artists. But they don’t play guitar. They sample and they talk. Not even sing.”

But KISS and N.W.A. did have one thing in common, in addition to the capital letters. Neither band performed at their induction. As Cube told the Times (and echoed Miller), “we really didn’t feel like we were supported [by the RockHall] enough to do the best show we could put on.” In fact, the members of N.W.A. actually cut out early without taking questions.

KISS had long been shunned by the RockHal nomcomm, and by the time they finally were inducted, also chose not to perform, due to dissension among band members. This was hardly unusual: Paul McCartney didn’t even show when the Beatles were inducted in 1988, proclaiming that “after 20 years, the Beatles still have some business differences, which I had hoped would have been settled by now. Unfortunately, they haven’t been, so I would feel like a complete hypocrite waving and smiling with them at a fake reunion.” And none of the Sex Pistols were present in 2006 when they were inducted, Johny Rotten, contending in a handwritten letter that the RockHall was “a piss stain” and noting that the band would have to pay $25,000 to sit at a main table. And even at last week’s ceremony, inductee Chicago’s Peter Cetera didn’t show, and Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos, who did attend and perform, complained on Facebook after how the other three originals had forced him out of the band.

“The spirit of rock ‘n’ roll means you follow your own path regardless of the critics and your peers,” Paul Stanley had said in his KISS acceptance speech, ironically presaging Cube’s speech Friday night: “Rock ’n’ roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life. That is rock ’n’ roll, and that is us.”

Stanley also observed that KISS had stuck to its path for 40 years.

“Here we are tonight basically being inducted for the same things that we were kept out for,” he noted, and nodded to the fans. “Let’s not forget that these people make it all possible. We just benefit from it.”

I was reminded how, many years ago, I interviewed Paul for a Billboard KISS special, and told him that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was irrelevant without KISS.

“You know, we have our own Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” he said. “It’s in the record store bins.”

And really, what’s in the bins is what makes rock ‘n’ roll so great.

More (Lesley) Gore

The New York Times Magazine has an annual end-of-the-year section where it commissions outside writers to pick someone who died in the past year and write a longer and more subjective piece than the straight obituaries. I was glad that Lesley Gore was one of the 20 or so chosen last month, and that the writer, Rob Hoerburger, did such a good job.

I think she was the first “celebrity” I met when I came to New York, other than Davy Jones and Tommy Boyce–both of whom I met at an East Side club whose name I can’t remember but is long gone. I think it was a Chem bank that was on the ground floor of the office building at 1775 Broadway where I worked at Cash Box, where I saw her walk in and followed her, gherm that I am. I’m sure I wasn’t the first lovestruck 30-year-old male to impose myself on her 20 years after buying “It’s Judy’s Turn to Cry.” That we became dear friends over the many ensuing years remains among my proudest achievements.

I worked hard on her behalf, writing about her at Billboard and examiner.com and here. I tried to get her in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while I was on the nominating committee and when I got kicked off—probably for bringing her and Nancy Sinatra and other deserving and still missing female rockers up every year—I put her in my own Rock ’n’ Roll Pantheon at examiner.

I was at BookExpo at the Javits Center on Feb. 16 when I saw an email alert on my phone that she had died. I was in the press room and maybe someone noticed tears streaming down my face. I had been calling her and leaving messages, and it wasn’t like her not to return them. Now I knew why.

I mentioned in my own last roundup of the people who died in 2015 who had affected me how Lou Christie, who had performed with Lesley since the early ‘60s, had said how she was one tough broad, essentially. This, of course, I knew. In Hoerburger’s piece, he had a great quote from her: “You gotta make your 16-year-old self proud.”

Lesley and Lou and Nancy, The Turtles, Chris Hillman, The Zombies, Eric Burdon, Darlene Love, Peter Noone, The Cowsills and all the other artists from my 16-year-old self that I’ve gotten to see and sometimes gotten to know, who are—or were—just as great as I remember them, as they were back then, for them I am so grateful. I’ve written this before, that they make you proud of where and when you came from, who you were and who you still are.

I’m proud that I knew and loved Lesley Gore.

The iconic misuse of the word “icon”

Didn’t agree much with the late conservative New York Times columnist William Safire, but he was an excellent writer, and I read his weekly “On Language” column in the Times Magazine regularly. I’m sure he’d agree with me that like the words meme and trope, neither of which I know how to use correctly, icon, which hardly anyone else knows how to use correctly, is likewise a good writer’s overworked, and in its case, wrongly used term.

What rankles me so much about “icon”—and by extension, “iconic”—is how it came suddenly out of nowhere and is now inescapable, such that not a day goes by when I don’t get a PR pitch regarding someone or other who’s an icon or iconic, which, presumably, is why I should give a shit. But i don’t, because they’re invariably neither.

It’s so out of hand that last week I got a release titled “Legacy Lounge Brings Suiteness to Iconic Levels at the London West Hollywood.” Okay, I guess “suiteness” is a clever made-up word, or else a play on “sweetness.” Whatever. But whatever the fuck it is, bringing it to “iconic levels” makes no sense at all, that is, “level” singular or plural can’t be made iconic, that is, unless you stretch the meaning of iconic far beyond its traditional usage.

Okay, so what constitutes the use of “iconic”? Simply put, it has to refer to an unmistakable icon. The word usually means “a usually pictorial representation,” that is, image, or “an object of uncritical devotion,” that is, idol (merriam-webster.com).

But the word “idol” has been so watered down (thanks, to finger one culprit, to American Idol), that it’s lost its connotation of singularity. I mean, not everyone is an icon, or an be, unless we’re allowed to worship a lot of idols equally.

Hence, the only real icon in contemporary music who comes readily to mind is Madonna. Of other highly visible current female pop artists, Beyonce, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift, all are surely superstars, even shining much brighter than Madonna now in terms of airplay and sales, but have a very long way to go before ranking with Madonna as a true cultural icon.

As for other female pop artists, Aretha Franklin comes to mind, as she stands by herself and could rightly be considered an icon. Nancy Sinatra really defines the word, what with her signature look based on her signature song (“These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”) and with an iconic career also defined by acting in the Elvis Presley classic Speedway and with Peter Fonda in the pioneering outlaw biker genre film The Wild Angels, her other landmark hits with songwriter Lee Hazlewood, the James Bond movie theme “You Only Lid Twice” and her chart-topping “Something stupid” duet with her father. Obviously her father was a male pop music and acting icon, as was Presley. Iconic actresses who come to mind include Marilyn Monroe, of course, and Bette Davis, since after all, she had a song written about her eyes.

In country music there are several female vocalists who are icons in the genre, namely Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton, though Dolly would be the only one with the mainstream pop recognition to ensure her overall icon status. Likewise, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, who, incidentally have another duet album just out, are both male vocal country music icons, but only Willie could be considered an icon in general, and he would pale in iconic level—now I’m using that idiotic construct—next to Johnny Cash, who most certainly was iconic any way you look at it.

My point is, the words “icon” and “iconic” should not be applied so freely if they are to retain the required sense of uniqueness. Me? I tend to use “legendary” in reference to any veteran artist with any kind of history, who’s reached a point where at least some kind of “legend” has been established.

Lesley Gore

I was on the nominating committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for several years before being unceremoniously dumped, ostensibly because they were looking for people who were more knowledgeable about the 1970s (that I wrote the first book on The Ramones, apparently, was of no consequence), but I like to think that it was because every year at the nomcomm meeting I would put up Lesley Gore for nomination.

So it’s not my fault that she’s not up where she belongs, though when I started my own Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantheon, she was one of the first inductees.

Lesley was also one of the first stars I met when I moved to New York in 1982. It was at the Chem Bank at 57th and Broadway, where the Cash Box office was–where I worked. I’m sure I was the ultimate geek when I went up to her and introduced myself and then started slobbering all over her—as well I should: After all, “Judy’s Turn To Cry” was one of the first records I ever bought. I still remember the great B-side, “Just Let Me Cry.”

It remains one of those wonderful things in my career and in my life that I got to know her so well as the years went by. But I didn’t know she was sick. I should have figured it out when she stopped responding to phone calls and emails the last few months, but no, I just figured she was busy and gave her space.

I really should have figured it out last month at APAP—the Association of Performing Arts Presenters annual trade conference at the Hilton, where she was scheduled to showcase. I tweeted my excitement and got there early to surprise her—but she wasn’t there, and no one knew why.

I emailed her again, no response. And then I got carried off with work and whatever else gets in the way of the important things in life.

I’m thrilled to see so many wonderful tributes to her now on Facebook and Twitter. My tweets followed Mark Lindsay’s tweet announcement in the middle of the afternoon. I was at Toy Fair at the Javits Center, the annual toy trade show full of thousands of toy manufacturers and dealers, a business centering on fun and joy and happiness, and suddenly, incongrously, I was fighting back tears.

“It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Lesley Gore in rock ‘n’ roll history. That she’s not in the Hall of Fame is true travesty,” I tweeted. When I got home I called Lou Christie, who knew Lesley since 1963, when she had “It’s My Party” and he had “The Gypsy Cried.”

“We stayed friends for all these years,” Lou said, fielding the calls we make at such times. “She was hard and tough, baby. She’d want me to tell you that, too! And she knew she was very talented and very smart and had a great sense of humor. I loved the sound of her voice, and she was a better singer than most people knew. And she went out there and put it all on the line.”

I’ll have more to say about Lelsey shortly and not so personal at examiner.com. I just wanted to get this up now quickly, and with a couple videos. But first I should say that although I knew her very well and loved her very much, I’m not at all alone in either regard. As I told a Facebook friend who offered condolences after reading my tweets, while it surely is a personal loss for me and more so for Lou, it’s personal for anyone who feels it. Lesley touched us all, and we’re all the better for it. And sadly, Lesley was hardly alone among female rock artists (Connie Francis, Nancy Sinatra, The Marvelettes, The Shangri-Las, etc., etc.) in suffering unforgivable neglect by those who should most know better—The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominating Committee.

So here’s video of two legendary rock ‘n’ rollers and longtime friends and contemporaries who aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

And while there are so many Lesley Gore hits to remember her by—most obviously her proto-feminist anthem “You Don’t Own Me”—here’s one to help us smile through the tears:

Finally, big thanks to Chris Matthews, who an hour or so ago on Hardball, amidst all the overblown coverage of Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary special and the pseudo-singers and celebs it honored, saw fit to run an old Lesley clip and simply, succinctly state, “A loss for the world.”