Music, Books, and Psycho Space Robots: What’s Rock and Roll Anyway?
***”Music, Books and Psycho Space Robots” is a regular column published on Primary Ignition by Kevin Kenealy, staff writer and Nightmare Fuel Provider. The views expressed here are his, and do not reflect the views of the staff of Primary Ignition.***
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame always kind of puzzled me. It puzzled me because, well, think of all the musical genres out there. Now the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame basically says forget all that, all those genres fit into rock and roll.
I never really paid too much attention to the Hall of Fame until this year when Dr. John, Neil Diamond, Tom Waits, Alice Cooper and Darlene Love made the Hall. It would be one motley crue if these individuals were all in a band together now wouldn’t it? While I respect them all in their own right, they all are in their distinct categories.
Would Neil Diamond play Sweet Caroline with Cooper throwing a chicken at the audience while Waits hums bah bah bah real low and melancholy like on the trumpet part? This isn’t the first time the Hall has inducted someone who you would say is not a rock and roll star. Madonna was inducted in 2008. No disrespect to Madonna, but I would consider her more of a pop star; just as Michael Jackson is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. By the way, what was Jackson’s nickname? Oh yeah, the King of Pop.
In the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s induction process, criteria for artists to be inducted is based on their influence and the significance of their contributions to the development and the perpetuation of rock and roll.
According to Webster’s dictionary, the definition of rock is “a type of popular music whose origins lie in jazz, country music and blues, characterized by a strong persistent rhythm, simple, often repeated melodies, and usually performed by small, electronically amplified instrumentally singing groups.”
According to that definition, a rock band could conceivably be just about anything – but is it really? In doing research about what exactly what rock and roll is or should be, I didn’t find much. But I have always gone by the rule of thumb – “I know it when I hear it.”
James Taylor is another one in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I love James Taylor. His sweet picks on the guitar echo his sweet twangy voice. But when you want a rock show, do you go to a James Taylor concert or an AC/DC show (a band also in the hall of fame)? I think I answered my question.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been around since 1983 and has been perpetuating such inductions for some time. Yet, we as listeners should be asking ourselves: “What is rock and roll?” And more importantly: “What is the rock of today?”
This philosophical question is important because I think we lose track of what our musical roots are. I think the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was smart in ’83 in their wording of the induction process, because they saw how drastically the rock world had changed since the era of Elvis and Buddy Holly. Rock and roll wasn’t as clearly defined anymore. There were artists like Michael Jackson and Prince who competed with real rockers like Metallica for the spotlight in America. In order for the hall to include this new era of ‘rock’ they probably loosened the definition of what rock was, or should be.
They very well could have called the museum the Music Hall of Fame – but the vagueness of what they meant combined with the edginess of the rock and roll name probably meant that the Hall decided to name it the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; but in doing so, they loosened the language of rock and roll to include all these artists.
Rock and roll even still is arguably America’s most recognizable and powerful type of music. Put on an Elvis or Beatles record and 9 out of 10 people would recognize the genre as rock and roll. The power of this music is what helped shape our country and music that is here today. However, that music today is far removed from Elvis and The Beatles; so it’s important we recognize just what it is so we know why it’s important.
Front page image from maxkansascity.com.