For many years I was a member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame Nominating Committee. Then I and a number of others got a form letter in the mail informing us that we were no longer on the committee, that our terms had expired (I don’t remember ever hearing anything about terms) and that they were looking to bring in people who were knowledgeable about the 1970s.
It wasn’t the first committee I’d been kicked out of (nor, most likely, the last). Some years ago I was appointed to the “secret” NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, now known simply as the Recording Academy–the people who bring you the Grammy Awards). This committee, made up of knowledgeable pop music industry types, had been delegated to come up with the nominees for the four general Grammy Awards–Record, Album and Song of the Year awards and Best New Artist–mainly in order to ensure that what had been considered award travesties by the media, like Tony Bennett’s 1994 Album of the Year win for his “MTV Unplugged,” would not be repeated.
NARAS, in effect, wanted to project a younger, hipper presence to the media than its older classical and traditional pop music foundation. Hence, the secret committee (secret so that it could not be influenced by outside pressure–and so that its questionable inner workings could not be questioned)–and in the years to come, a complete shift toward artistically dubious contemporary pop and hip-hop in its TV award show focus.
My problem, as always, was going against the grain, this one being the head of NARAS, who established the committee and led it according to which nominees would cover the broadest spectrum of commercial pop music while being acceptable, if not credible, with pop music critics. My guess is that the last straw was my fierce fight for John Fogerty’s “Blue Moon Swamp” for Album of the Year in 1997. I was convinced that it was a masterpiece, but it hadn’t been a huge seller, and Fogerty was hardly the TV household name that, say, Bob Dylan was–Dylan being the winner that year for “Time Out of Mind.” But I consider myself vindicated in that “Blue Moon Swamp” won for Best Rock Album: It was Fogerty’s first Grammy–and my final year on the committee.
I took this pretty much lying down, but was mightily miffed when I got the termination letter from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominating Committee. Like I said, I didn’t know nothing about no term limits, and people knowledgeable about the ’70s? Hello! I wrote the first fucking book about The Ramones! So I angrily emailed the big guy in charge and he was decent enough to respond apologetically for the coldness of the form letter.
And that would have been that, except this year I didn’t even get a ballot! So I called the girl at the Hall of Fame, who assured me that I had been sent one, and then said she’d send me another. A couple weeks went by, and still no second ballot. I called her again, and she assured me again, this time that she’d sent me a second ballot. As the voting deadline was days away, she said I could just email back my picks. Did they get them? Did they count them? All I know for sure is that my top pick The Stooges, once again, were not elected.
Around the time of the induction dinner in March I received an email from my friend Camp, asking the kind of question I get all the time–that rock fans everywhere ask amongst themselves. “Explain this to me,” he wrote. “How are The Stooges and Alice Cooper not in the Hall of Fame, yet Billy Joel and John Mellancamp are? Just wondering.”
I responded thusly: “John definitely should be. Billy’s a judgement call. The Stooges definitely. Alice, too. What about Kiss? What about New York Dolls? But I got kicked off the committee because I always brought up Lesley Gore. The Hollies. The Turtles. Nancy Sinatra. Joan Jett.”
I noted the heavy influence of the late Hall of Fame founder Ahmet Ertegun, who founded Atlantic Records, and fellow Hall of Fame founder Jann Wenner, who founded Rolling Stone. “All you have to do is look at what Rolling Stone has always supported and take it from there, that and the makeup of the committee and the electorate which skews toward r&b and singer-songwriter.”
You could go on and on about the deserving artists who aren’t in the Hall and lesser ones who are–and maybe you have. But Kiss is a good case in point.
“The beauty of America is that you can basically start any kind of private club you want to,” Paul Stanley said in an interview on the Kiss web site. “This one happens to be called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s a very impressive name for a club, but it’s an illusion. It’s the creation of a group of industry people and critics who decide who they deem as qualified to be in their little admiration society. It’s their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it’s not the people’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
The Jim Bessman Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, then, is but one person’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame–mine. But like the rest of this site, it gives me the opportunity to play up those who have paid their dues, but haven’t gotten their due. I figure on 20 or so inductees, including, of course, Kiss. And it will go pretty much according to Stanley’s criteria: “A band or musician’s impact is measured by how they change and influence society and other musicians. That and how many albums and concert tickets they sell should be what gets them into the Hall of Fame.”
Stanley actually gave me the last word on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame himself, when I expressed my regret personally that Kiss hadn’t been inducted.
“We have our own Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” he said. “It’s in the record store bins!”