Monday, March 17, 2014

Rockhall Called Out on Its Own BS

Anyone who has followed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame news this year has witnessed a spectacle of dysfunction. When KISS's induction was finally announced, hell truly had frozen over. The KISS haters were still out in force. Blowhard critic Dave Marsh (who famously while on the Nominating Committee swore he would do everything in his power to keep KISS out) was still railing against reality this week. He asked readers of his blog to list bands not in the Hall but still better than KISS, inspiring invective from Gene Simmons, who questioned everything from Marsh's credentials as a critic to his penis size.

The drama really got started early on when it was announced that only the original line up (Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss) would be inducted. Frehley and Criss left/were booted in the early 80's, and since then Stanley and Simmons have soldiered on with various replacement drummers and lead guitarists. Soon after the announcement of their induction, all four original members seemed open to performing together at the ceremony. But nothing is easy with KISS. Simmons and Stanley soon started making noise about wanting to honor all eras, past and current members. Ace and Peter refused to perform with current members (understandably so, as Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer both don the make-up of Ace and Peter, respectively, it would be a bit ridiculous with multiple Catmen and Space Aces sharing the same stage). Gene and Paul finally declared there would be no performance at all.

ABOVE: Ace and Peter's perspective - They do not want to perform with current members of KISS at the ceremony who wear their make-up. It was Ace Frehley who first broke the news that the original KISS would not be performing at the ceremony. In an act of kindness, he broke the news in an open letter right before tickets went on sale for the ceremony at Barclay's Arena, saving KISS fans lots of money.

My take:

If the Hall had been consistent all of these years, then they would be right to only induct the original four. It is the 70's work that got them here, they aren't going into the Hall of Fame for "Lick It Up". (No, it is the much deeper and mature work of their early days, with tunes like "Cold Gin," "Hotter Than Hell" and "Love Gun" that really made the impact).

So if the Hall treated every band this way (as in their stated position on the KISS issue: we only want members inducted from the most important eras), then fine. But that is not the way they have done business in the past. When the Grateful Dead went in, they asked the band who should go in. The Dead got about 257 people in, including lyricist (but non-band member) Robert Hunter and people who played very minor roles in the Dead's history. When Metallica went in, new bassist Robert Trujillo (who had played on one irrelevant album) was inducted. The Red Hot Chili Peppers got in most of their guitarists, some of whom were in the band for a short period of time during less significant periods. (On the other hand, fairly important members of Fleetwood Mac and Jefferson Airplane were omitted). Point is, there has been no rhyme or reason for how the Hall decides who will and who will not go in for any given band.

Paul Stanley's point is that while Nirvana's pre-Dave Grohl drummer (Chad something, who was in the band for two years and only played on Bleach) will be inducted this year with the rest of Nirvana, Bruce Kulick, Eric Carr, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer are all being passed over in the KISS induction. These guys all played with KISS for about a decade or more. Why Robert Trujillo for Metallica but none of these guys, who played substantially larger roles in KISS than journeyman Trujillo has in Metallica? Why was The Grateful Dead asked to more or less submit a list of inductees, yet Simmons and Stanley were never consulted?

It has also come to light that the Hall told KISS that they could only perform in make up and only with the original line up. The Hall has never dictated a dress code to anyone else as a condition of performing, or told them who they could bring with them onstage. (Recall the notorious Blondie induction, where Debbie Harry performed with her hired guns, as some of the inducted/former members of Blondie heckled her from the audience. Yet the Hall did not tell her she could only perform with inducted members.)

The Hall has also supposedly restricted each member of KISS's acceptance speech to four minutes. As far as I know, that is unprecedented as well (although some speeches from the past could have benefited from a time limit). Undoubtedly this is in part due to very public criticism from Simmons and Stanley so far of this whole process, and the Hall wants to avoid prolonged rants from them at the self-congratulatory ceremony.

ABOVE: Gene and Paul's perspective - All significant members of KISS should be inducted, and they only want to perform if current members Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer are up there as well. Ace and Peter are significant historically to the band as co-founders, but are impossible to work with. Also, Gene insists that critic Dave Marsh is not well endowed.

In sum, I understand Ace and Peter's refusal to perform with posers like Thayer and Singer in the make-up and "characters" that they created (but the rights are now owned by KISS, Inc., which is Simmons and Stanley). They are the only good guys in this fiasco. Gene and Paul, as usual, are a-holes and have been basking in the public war of words with both their former bandmates and the Hall itself. They should just suck it up and play with Ace and Peter for one night for the fans. (Simmons says it is like being honored with your ex-wife but being unable to bring your current wife to the ceremonies). But they also are right with pointing out the Hall's hypocrisy and inconsistencies in inductions. If the Hall had been consistent in inducting only crucial members of bands all along, I would get it. But they haven't.

This reeks of sour grapes and reluctant acceptance of KISS, never a critical favorite, into the cool kids club. The Hall accepts them with disdain, demonstrated by their unprecedented stubbornness and "conditions" that simply have not applied to more critically beloved inductees. One thing is for sure, I will be interested in hearing the truncated speeches from Ace, Peter, Paul and Gene, as the sparks will be flying in all directions. At each other. At the Hall. At the critical establishment. It will be entertaining, for sure.

ABOVE: Dave Marsh's perspective - KISS sucks. Marsh is notorious for trying to influence the Hall's decisions. A hater of everything West Coast (although KISS hails from New York), he argued against The Doors, The Grateful Dead...many significant West Coast bands. Along with KISS, he is also a well known vocal despiser of Journey. Steve Perry of Journey has called Marsh an "odd little man" who tries to rewrite rock and roll history.

UPDATE: it turns out that early Nirvana drummer Chad Channing will not be inducted after all. He mistook an invitation to the ceremony as notification that he would be inducted. In a move that exudes class, the powers that be informed him via a curt text message to Nirvana management along the lines of "please tell Chad..." He had been telling news sources that he was being inducted along with the classic line up.