Ask you shall receive, right?
Last week I lamented how every time someone makes the argument that there’s not enough women or not enough people of color in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they fail to do the basic task of researching the demographics of those already inducted into the Rock Hall.
Evelyn McDonnell, I salute you for taking the time to do some research and present these basic figures. McDonnell places the number of acts who were women or included female members at 40 out of 296, or 14%. Similarly, when I did a quick survey of African-American representation, I came up with roughly 80 out of 296, or 27%.
What do these numbers mean?
They mean a whole hella lot if you’re one of those convinced these numbers are too low, and you believe artists like Joan Jett, Heart, Chaka Khan, and Donna Summer are more deserving that Guns ‘N’ Roses, The Beastie Boys and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Unfortunately, there’s no objective way to place the correct range of these numbers.
Double unfortunately, McDonnell ruins all the good work she did by walking right into the subjectivity trap. Notice how she frames the careers of Guns ‘N’ Roses (A band who was just inducted to the hall of fame) and Joan Jett (An artist on the outside looking in):
Guns N’ Roses: Two notable albums that I thought recycled Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and Rolling Stones riffs but that admittedly sold gangbusters, and people I respect actually dig them. Two songs we can’t get rid of, yet: “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Welcome to the Jungle.” Stupid, awful lyrics. (What dumb hick moves to the city and is offended by gays and immigrants? Dude, they’re what you leave the small town for!) Then a quick devolution into comic acrimony, drug abuse, bloat, critic-baiting and other outsize rock-star cliches.
Joan Jett: Led one of the first all-girl aggressive rock bands, the Runaways, who have had two movies made about them but have never been nominated to the Rock Hall. Had a string of hits throughout the 1980s, from “I Love Rock ’n ’Roll” to “Crimson and Clover” to “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” Co-wrote and performed one of the greatest rebel rock songs of all time, “Bad Reputation.” Became a model, mentor and producer for 1990s female rock bands. Still tours constantly not as a pathetic parody of her old self, most recently gigging with the Foo Fighters at Madison Square Garden.
Can we at least pretend to be fair when framing our arguments for one act and not another? “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” isn’t exactly lyrical genius, either.
And, it’s not like McDonnell doesn’t like hard rock. She praises Joan Jett and Heart as “Two acts that topped the charts with their guitar-based hard anthems.” She just doesn’t like hard rock bands whose songs are also popular at karaoke bars (“When karaoke dies, so will ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine.'”)
But, but, but, do you know who else had chart-topping anthems? Guns ‘N’ Roses. But, but, but, do you know who else is popular at karaoke joints? Joan Jett and Heart.
Oh, hell. Do you see the point I’m trying to make here? Even when you have the best intentions; Even when you have your sharpest pen in place; Even when you have the facts and you can demonstrate that there’s a good old boys network who are sometimes sexist (Because that’s what the good old boys network does) and you correctly point out the process of selecting inductees needs a lot more transparency, your arguments can still come undone when you write I like one band better than another band in the style of upset bitter critic.
Yes, useful criticism of the Rock Hall is still difficult to come by, and in the absence of reliable objective measures (And we really don’t want to consider objective measures), I fear we’re stuck with this pointless, post-announcement tradition where each critic pens their best comment bait.
Now, can we talk about why The Replacements and Husker Du aren’t in the Rock Hall yet? There has to be an anti-Minneapolis college rock sect amongst the Rock Hall’s governing body determined to keep these bands from getting their due. It’s the only reasonable explanation. R.E.M. is in the Rock Hall and both The Replacements and Husker Du are way better than R.E.M.