The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (& Museum) isn’t much.
I get the gist of what it’s trying to accomplish in creating a singular source (and tourist destination) dedicated to the immensity of popular music. In a (non-obvious) sense, I applaud their efforts in making artistic recognition more athletic recognition-ish.
I love music. I love sports. Let’s squish them together. In Cleveland.
However, on paper, populating a Hall of Fame of musicians makes no sense since artistic appreciation is 100 per cent subjective. Any effort to quantify “everything” is ultimately going to offend in the court of personal preference, not to mention realms such as gender, creed, sexual preference and age.
The physical Hall of Fame opened in 1995 and the concept seemed massively antiquated even at that time. Once Internet became the Internet, YouTube views and Twitter followers and iTunes sales became the new (and more legit) signifiers of “making it” rather than enshrinement and/or the chance to rub elbows with Jann Wenner and friends .
However, maybe that last paragraph doesn’t speak to an apples-to-apples comparison. “Greatest” (in a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (& Museum) sense) shouldn’t be a measure of pure volume.
… and to clarify, that’s volume in the $$$/eyeballs sense and not in the “hey, Dinosaur Jr are f**kin’ loud” sense.
If we’re talking pure metrics, WWW-based signifiers would be more akin to:
– Albums sales
– Number of Billboard Top 10 singles
– Concert tickets sold
For math nerds or Nate Silver-types, these numbers are absolutes. But again, they are merely quantitative counting stats and not qualitative “greatness” measures.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (& Museum) aspires to be the latter.
It never will be.
In short, does anybody really care who gets elected to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (& Museum)? With the possible exception of Rush (who’s fan base anecdotally has a disproportionate amount of math nerds and Nate Silver-types), there have been few fan bases who visibly gave a (damn) as to whether their favourite artist(s) was/were elected or not.
For modern superstars like Kanye West or the Arcade Fire, is anybody anywhere wondering how their latest album or tour will contribute to their respective Hall of Fame resumes? Of course, not. The Hall will continue to induct acts who are quantitatively great (ABBA, The Eagles) and acts who are qualitatively great (Laura Nyro, Randy Newman).
It’s fine. Nobody really cares and nobody puts any real demands on the Hall. Again, nerdy Rush fans are the exception to this rule. And perhaps the staff of PositivelyCleveland.com.
… strangely, this whole Rock & Rock Hall of Fame (& Museum) spew isn’t even the point of this post. It’s moreso a set-up to assess a pair of other “greatness” measures and determine if they’re still relevant in the present.
Most artists who appear on Saturday Night Live have hit some level of critical mass. There have been a few outliers over the years but in general, it’s a pretty static measure of popularity (greatness?).
Janelle Monáe, HAIM, Alabama Shakes and Kendrick Lamar are some of the artists who made the leap in 2013. On paper, appearing on a TV show that is almost four decades old seems a hugely antiquated measure of anything. However, the shareability of these performance via YouTube (and GIFs) gives an SNL appearance a cultural resonance that goes way beyond the original airtime.
What about the cover of Rolling Stone? In general, nobody buys magazines anymore and Rolling Stone is almost a decade older than SNL. However, back in the day, a Rolling Stone cover was typically a guaranteed measure of both qualitative and quantitative greatness.
… In spite of this and this and this. Can’t win ’em all, I guess.
Circa now, the only time a magazine cover tends to get noticed is when controversy or nudity is involved. Boston (the city, not the band) freaked last year when Rolling Stone put civic bomber Jahar Tsarnaev on its cover, he looking very much like Syd Barrett in the process. Boston’s mayor got mad, a ton of people wrote about the controversy. Etc. Etc.
A hypocrisy ensued because on the one hand, we are conditioned to believe that nobody cares about magazines any more (statistics and this Twitter feed support this). And yet on the other, we are supposed to feign outrage when a player from within this (supposedly dead) medium does something irksome.
Parallel: the public outcry in Toronto over the sale of Honest Ed’s. Arguments rooted in neighbourhood preservation and community are completely valid. But the store itself? Kinda brutal and no doubt teeming the kind of sweatshop-supplied “goodies” that’d make Walmart seem righteous in comparison.
Anyway, the point is that magazines might be dead and/or dying but in the right context, a magazine cover story can still have a broad impact.
So what is the real value of a Rolling Stone cover in 2014?
I think the value is largely rooted in intent. Back in the day, a lot of Rolling Stone cover stories sought to lift the curtain on our heroes. Popular themes: substance abuse, the rigors of the road, grappling with fame, relationships, troubled childhoods, more drugs, more drinks, depression, drugs, rehab, a few more drinks, stronger drugs and death.
The writing had a lot of gravity (not in a bad way). The word “fuck” was typically left in (in a good way). Sometimes the articles were great and insightful. Other times, they were beyond pointless.
A 2003 Rolling Stone cover story on the Strokes is a good example of the latter. Tough assignment for journalist (and The Game purveyor) Neil Strauss, trying to get anything quotable from a band bred to look and sound bored. The full feature can be found here but more interesting is the play-by-play from Strauss’ notepad. Dude gave it the ol’ “college try” but this was an obvious “blood out of stone” scenario. Strauss should be commended for not hurling his pad towards Julian Casablancas’ face.
Again, the value of this brand of puff-y modern journalism is the intent, not the content.
In the present, lifting the curtain is a technique that publicists have reclaimed from journalists and bloggers. Wanna give your fan’s a peek at something? Put a snapshot on Instagram. Release a live recording on your website. Have your bassist tweet something wacky or offensive. Call TMZ.
The content is technical authentic but also completely fabricated. It’s so real, it’s fake.
On the flipside, subjecting oneself to a Rolling Stone cover feature is now (somehow) a post-modern means of letting go. By speaking to this under-read magazine, an artist is making this statement…
Hello. I am temporarily put my image in the hands of this writer. The resulting article will be largely irrelevant unless I say something provocative, stupid or racist. In short, the content doesn’t matter. What does matter is that this interview is an act of trust and I am comfortable with exposing myself in this manner. I hope this makes me look real. Because I am either real or want to be seen as real. Ideally.
This isn’t new. Trust has always been the subtext of any interview. What’s different is with so many more controlled options available to market oneself in the present day, there really is no need to pursue publicity in something as disgustingly antiquated as a (wretch… puke) magazine. Unless you’re consciously trying to make a statement about relinquishing control in a “I have nothing to hide” fashion.
The willingness is a statement. Everything else isn’t much.