The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been in existence for awhile now and the time has come for some ponderings and reflections as to the merits of the place. I must confess that I have yet to pay a visit to this "shrine" and the more I think about it, the more I really do not want to go and yet I'm a huge fan or Rock and Roll. Does this sound strange? Let me explain.
When I first heard that a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was going to be created, I was probably one of the most enthusiastic people on the planet. Finally, I thought, Rock music will get the respect and admiration it deserves. But then I thought about it some more and I quickly reached the conclusion that a "hall of fame" for rock music was something that, while probably inevitable, was also a sure sign that Rock had lost its most valuable and essential quality - rebellion. Think about it, when Rock first gripped the country in the 1950s, middle America wanted nothing more than to suppress and eliminate Rock music. It was the "music of the devil" and it was said to contribute to juvenile delinquency. The idea that there could ever be a "hall of fame" for rock music would have been a colossal joke to any adult or public official of the time.
But the youth of the era understood the magic and cultural significance of Rock music. The music belonged to them and what they heard in it was an expression of rebellion against the morals and conformity of their parents and of adults in general. And the performers of Rock music in the 1950s were the messiahs that delivered these messages. Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and their contemporaries represented a new voice in American culture - a voice that hadn't been heard before. In their songs and TV appearances, they articulated a cultural vision of youth, sexuality, and a general disdain for authority. This was a revolutionary cultural challenge to the stifling conformity of the Eisenhower years and the youth of the era heard the rebellious message and answered the call through their purchase of the records. Performers and the audience were in touch with each other and nobody needed a "hall of fame" to legitimize the relevancy of the music and the moment.
As Rock music evolved and changed in the 1960s, a similar pattern developed. The Rock musicians of this era and the "counter-culture" that purchased their music formed a new bond of rebellion. Who needed a "hall of fame?" Beatles fans didn't need one, Hendrix fans didn't need one, and certainly Grateful Dead fans didn't need one! The message was in the music, right? Woodstock proved that the youth of the era understood who the famous people were - the Rock musicians were the heroes and nobody needed a "hall of fame" to point that out. It was a cultural communication, rooted in rebellion, that was understood and appreciated by the youth.
But now here we are in the 1990s and we have a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The music that was once so rebellious and revolutionary now enjoys mass acceptance to the point that it's rebellious roots are being obscured. Baseball, the great American pastime, is the type of cultural phenomenon that needs a Hall of Fame. Rock music was never a great American pastime. It was a music of rebellion and that is what gave it power and significance. The creation of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a sure sign that Rock music has become a victim of its own success.
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