Music Industry

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: About the Best the Industry Can Do

I understand why there was a push to create The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Such an institution helps legitimize the cultural, social and political contributions made by rock, pop, R&B, hip hop and all the other genres that make up popular music. At the same time, though, it feels a little wrong to put something as primal as rock and R&B and hip hip et al into a museum, you know?

To formally acknowledge or not? And if so, how? Who votes? Who ultimate chooses? That’s always been the philosophical conundrum. NPR takes a look at this sticky situation.

Every October, when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announces the nominees for next year’s inductions, there’s a phrase that seems to come up organically in discussions of the shortlist. Indeed, I’ve used it several times myself. The phrase is “out of committee.” It’s an acknowledgment of the central role played by the Rock Hall’s semi-secret Nominating Committee in the selection process. Before the Hall’s hundreds of voters, or its millions of fans, can vote on their favorites — this year’s shortlist ranges from first-timers Chicago and Janet Jackson to perennials Deep Purple and Chic — an elite committee of a few dozen critics, musicians and Hall insiders determines who is worthy of the vote in the first place.

Of course, you know what other byzantine institution uses the phrase “out of committee” as part of its sausage-making rules? The U.S. Congress.

To anyone who has followed the maneuverings of either the Rock Hall or the Federal government, the analogy feels apt. Both systems began with the best of intentions, conceived by founding fathers who felt they knew best. Each system is prone to lobbying and driven by insider maneuvering and partisan bickering. The voting body’s leaders have to contend with a restive, often reflexively conservative base of representatives and citizens. (Jon Landau, meet John Boehner.) The results each system produces are often frustrating, haphazard and maddeningly incomplete — living proof that supposedly democratic systems don’t work right.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38341 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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