So let’s Rock and Roll all nite

KISS

It was a no-brainer for KISS to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And yet, somehow, they weren’t, at least not until today

Congratulations to the first live act that I ever saw, all those years ago back in Springfield Illinois, and then once again a few years ago in Chicago.

I played once Ace Frehley for a philanthropy competition called Rock-Alike back in college. I couldn’t play a lick of guitar, but I had fun wearing the makeup and being up on stage, anyway.

The only paid writing I did for some online costume seller was for KISS-themed attire a few years back. I’ll add a link if I can ever find it online. It’s out there somewhere, though.

My visit to the Rock Hall was a lot of fun, and I won’t be going again specifically to see KISS. But if I find myself there again sometime in the future, I’ll be sure to stop in and say hello. In the meantime, here’s a little Black Diamond–one of my favorite KISS tunes, to play us out.

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I’m feeling good to play a little music

Earlier this month, MCA from the Beastie Boys passed away after a fight against cancer. He was just a couple of years older than I am now, and it reminded me once again of how short life can be. I fear getting old more than I fear dying young, but that doesn’t mean early deaths aren’t hard.

I was in Cleveland when I learned of MCA’s passing, and the day after it happened I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the first time. I was originally down on the idea, because of some groups that have been left out, but I realize that’s just silly. Rock and roll has always been a big part of my life, from the time that I heard the guitar solo on Styx’ Renegade back when I was ten years old. If this place is where the history of this artform is being preserved, then so be it. As I was looking at some of the artifacts on display, I felt like such a place is needed, in order to remind us of who has made this music and why.

And so it was that I came to the rounded hallway where all of the inductees’ signature are displayed, and then to the display for new inductees. That’s me on the left above, with the Beastie Boys’ exhibit. Pictures weren’t allowed inside the display, but rock and roll is about bending the rules, so I enlisted my daughter and we waited for an opportune moment. I don’t think I could have staged a better shot if they allowed me to.

There were already four pictures commemorating Rock hall inductees who had passed away, in the first few months of this year. Dick Clark was there, along with three others. MCA would have been the fifth picture on the wall, but they hadn’t had time yet to find a suitable picture. And Robin Gibb has passed away since then, bringing to six the number of Rock Hall members that have died in the first five months of this year. You can say that rock is dying right before our eyes. That’s a bit dramatic, but it hasn’t been the best of years so far.

I listened to the Beastie Boys in college, and  haven’t stopped since. I’m glad they moved away from the juvenile stuff on Licensed to Ill, but kept the weird references in their lyrics. Nobody ever did what they could do, and that’s what made them unique. Their absence will be a big void, not the least of which is a 2009 Lollapalooza show that they pulled out of due to MCA’s condition. They had bigger issues to deal with than playing a concert in Chicago, but the release of a new disc last year made me think we might see them on stage somehow. But it was not meant to be.

I wrote this piece tonight because, as my daughter was listening to Radio Disney in the car this evening, I heard the opening bars of “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” in the background during some meaningless DJ chatter. There were no lyrics in what I heard, but it was if I was being reminded to get some thoughts about MCA and the Beastie Boys out to the wider world.

After leaving the Beastie Boys display, I came to a jukebox  where you can put on some headphones and pick out any song by any of the Rock Hall artists. I did this for at least a half an hour with Beastie Boys tunes, and I would have liked to do it for even longer,  but impatient children had other ideas. I didn’t know half as many rhymes as I thought I did, but it was fun anyway. And the band that provides that to its fans is rare, indeed.

NOTE: The title of this post comes from an MCA lyric toward the end of Root Down, which can be seen and heard here.

When the music’s over, turn out the lights

For as long as I can remember, The Doors have had a place in my life. I first got into their music after I bought the Greatest Hits album on vinyl, back when I was in elementary school. I read No One Here Gets Out Alive, Danny Sugarman’s biography of Jim Morrison, when I was supposed to be reading The Great Gatsby or whatever else we were reading for American Lit. And on and on, right up to looking at Jim Morrison’s Boy Scout uniform at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame one week ago. It’s hard to imagine that the Lizard King was ever a Boy Scout, but I’ve seen the proof.

But the most vivid, and most bizarre, memory I have of the Doors was visiting Jim Morrison’s grave at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. His grave has been a shrine, of sorts, ever since he died in Paris in 1971. In fact, it was the first thing I wanted to see when I visited Paris, back in the 1990s. The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre and the palace at Versailles were all on the itinerary, but Morrison’s grave came first for me.

The problem is–and this surely is a problem–that it’s not easy to find his grave. Pere LaChaise is possibly the most famous cemetery in the world, and the list of artists and other luminaries–nearly all of them French–who are buried there is long and impressive. And the French, who guard their culture like no other people on earth, don’t like the crowds who come looking for the grave of an American singer. And they like it even less when other graves are defaced with arrows pointing in the direction of Morrison’s grave.

But getting to the gravesite is its own reward. People leave food and joints and other offerings, and they take pictures and talk to others about the Doors and what their music means to them. It’s probably time that could be better spent wandering through the streets of Paris, but it’s also the closest that I’ll ever come to making a pilgrimage, in the Canterbury Tales sense of the word.

So to end with a quote from Morrison’s poetry,

When the music is your only friend

Dance on fire as it intends

Music is your only friend

Until the end

Are you happy, Rock Hall?

Word of Axl Rose dissing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, just days before the induction ceremony, struck me as vindication for what I wrote last year about the band not being suitable for induction. I stated, at that time, that Appetite for Destruction was worthy of Hall of Fame induction, and the “November Rain” video was, as well. Both are achievements that I’d be hard-pressed to find a parallel to.

With that being said, the band itself has been a dysfunctional mess for almost 20 years. Or at least the lineup that produced those great achievements is a mess. Without Slash’s guitar, there is no Guns n’ Roses. As far as Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan, Steven Adler, and Matt Sorum are concerned, it would be nice to have at least some of them involved in the induction, too. But the head member, the one who apparently owns the band’s name all to himself, is the one I can do without.

Rock bands have tended to operate on the opposite principle. Journey somehow soldiers on without Steve Perry. Boston is going on tour without the late Brad Delp. Judas Priest got by for a decade without Rob Halford. And Queen without Freddie Mercury is about to become a reality, too. There is lots of precedent for this sort of thing.

But Guns n’ Roses  (i.e., Axl Rose) has turned that on its head. You and I could be in Guns n’ Roses, if that’s what Axl wanted. And Slash and the others can play together, as they have in Velvet Revolver, but they can’t use the name that Axl controls. So you have the mess that now exists: Axl wants Guns n’ Roses to be thought of as the band he leads, while if they tried to show up and play at the induction ceremony, nobody there would know who any of them were (besides Axl, that is).

If the Velvet Revolver contingent showed up at the induction ceremony and played “Paradise City,” with Kid Rock or anyone else on vocals, Axl would feel pretty stupid (if he can even feel this way at all. I have my doubts). His letter states that he doesn’t want to be inducted in absentia. But for this one moment, he doesn’t have control over what Guns n’ Roses is. He could have issued this statement months ago, and the people who are planning to be in Cleveland to see them perform on Saturday night may or may not have gone ahead and booked the flights, reserved the hotel rooms, and made other necessary arrangements.

Would the ceremony still be sold out, as the website claims it is, if Axl’s intentions were made known last winter? We can’t know that for certain. But just as Axl routinely disrespects fans by starting concerts hours later than they’re supposed to start, he also disrespected, I have to believe, the fans who were planning a trip to Cleveland this weekend. I’m hoping that Slash and the others who once made up Guns n’ Roses show up instead, to deliver a pointed message to Axl. He sure has left himself open to getting one, in my view.

I’ve written about how the ongoing exclusion of KISS from the Rock Hall is wrong, in my view. They wrote the rock anthem that everyone knows, judging from the reception they received on Dancing With the Stars this week. That song is Hall-worthy all by itself, but it’s looking like KISS might not ever get in. RUSH is worthy of getting in, too, but they’re also on the outside looking in.

The Rock Hall people–apparently not embarrassed enough by the spectacle of Van Halen’s induction without any actual Van Halens being present–have upped the ante with Guns n’ Roses this year. We’ll see how it all plays out, I suppose, but there will be lots and lots of awkwardness in Cleveland on Saturday night. Welcome to the Jungle, Jann Wenner.

A Sure Shot for the Rock Hall

To me, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a fraud. Rock and roll began as an expression of rebellion, and that gleaming building on the waterfront in Cleveland is anything but rebellion. Some of the bluesmen who helped to create rock and roll are enshrined there, but too many of them have been lost to history, unrecognized for their contributions.

Rock and roll was born when white folks began dabbling in “colored” music during the 1950s. The best Broadway show I’ve ever seen, Memphis, tells a fictionalized story about this time and place. It’s still playing in New York, and there’s also a touring company out there somewhere, but it’s well worth spending some time and money on if you have the chance.

But back to the hall of fame for a moment. The continued exclusion of KISS from the hall makes no sense at all. If there’s any better expression of the rock ethos than “Rock and Roll all nite,” please tell me what it is. But beyond that song, there’s a whole Army (literally) of fans out there who go to the concerts (with or without face paint on), buy the merchandise that has made Gene Simmons and the others rich, and keep the band going so that they’re more than an REO Speedwagon-type nostalgia act.

The first concert I went to as a 13-year old was KISS and the Plasmatics, and the clothes I wore that night probably still reek of pot. And the most recent concert I’ve seen was also KISS, at the United Center in Chicago. That might change when the Wall comes to Wrigley next summer, though. I’ve seen a lot of shows in between, but KISS brings it to the stage as well as anybody, and better than most. Why that’s not hall-worthy is beyond me.

But with this year’s nominees, there’s one I feel strongly about in a good way, and one I feel strongly about in a bad way. The good way goes first. With my non-existent vote for the Rock hall, I would put the Beastie Boys in, without a doubt.

A rock purist might disagree with me on this, because they aren’t a band in the Led Zeppelin mode of drums, guitars, and bass. That’s true, but they sampled Led Zeppelin repeatedly on their first album (which was my introduction to the group, even if I can’t listen to it anymore, since catchy and goofy isn’t a good mix). They clearly appreciate Zeppelin, and I can appreciate that.

They’ve also sampled the Beatles, Bob Marley, AC/DC, the Ramones, and many others. Their song “High Plains Drifter” is essentially the Eagles’ “Those Shoes” with a story told over it. They’re brilliant at what they do, and they couldn’t do it without rock records to draw from. Grandmaster Flash is already in, and Bono has given his blessing to Public Enemy, so there’s no reason why the B-E-A-S-T-I-Es shouldn’t be there, as well.

The one I feel strongly against is Guns n’ Roses. If you could just put one album in, I’d be fine with Appetite for Destruction being enshrined. Start to finish, it’s as good as anything that’s ever been released when it comes to rock and roll. And if you could put one video in, I’d cast my vote for “November Rain.” It’s head and shoulders above any video that’s ever been made. But the band itself now seems to consist of Axl Rose (which is an anagram for “oral sex” by the way) and whoever he can find to play with him.

Slash, Duff MacKagan, Steven Adler/Matt Sorum, and Izzy Stradlin are the band’s so-called “classic lineup,” but I promise you that not one of them would show up for the induction ceremony. No, it would just be a vanity night for the cornrowed Axl Rose, and a night in the spotlight for guys who didn’t write or record any of their classic work. Can you name any of them? I sure can’t. It gives me no great joy to say this, but putting Axl and his traveling sideshow in the Rock hall would be a mistake.

I’m curious to know how it all turns out, though. Heart is also on the ballot, along with Donna Summer (a true WTF moment for me), Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and others I can’t think of right now. But there’s only two that matter to me this time around.