Rock Hall Ceremony Centers on Hackneyed Acts

Danny Evans, Arts Editor

I know of only one event in the world where Green Day, Miley Cyrus, Karen O, Beck, Ringo Starr and Stevie Wonder could feasibly share the stage to play a Beatles song: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. The ceremony, which took place in Cleveland last Saturday, fell flat despite featuring a number of on-stage collaborations as jaw-dropping as this one. It focused solely on aggrandizing the already oft-awarded rock music establishment and did nothing to recognize artists who tend to fly under the radar of mainstream critics.

This year, the Hall of Fame Induction Committee honored Bill Withers, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Stevie Ray Vaugahn and Double Trouble, the “5” Royales, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Lou Reed in addition to Green Day and Starr. Each of these acts has received countless accolades in the past, many of them from the Hall of Fame. The Rock Hall solidified its reputation for disinterest in innovation by ignoring a number of less establishmentapproved artists, like N.W.A. and Kraftwerk, who received nomination nods earlier this year. I knew from the moment I found out that I’d be attending the ceremony that it wouldn’t exactly be up my alley, but I would have never expected it to be so aggressively boring.

The tedious nature of the induction ceremony itself did little to diminish the air of stuffiness and monotony that awarding such unsurprising acts created. A portion of the ceremony was dedicated to each inductee. Generally lifeless speeches, which often came close to the 10-minute mark in length, took up most of the time devoted to each of the performers. Occasionally, the speeches verged on being downright offensive in addition to being dull. Miley Cyrus’ induction speech for Joan Jett included a painfully unfunny, arguably problematic story about Jett’s experiences in Israel, among other mishaps. Certain speeches did stand above the others, though. Patti Smith, a longtime friend and collaborator of Lou Reed, and Laurie Anderson, Reed’s widow, both gave excellent speeches in remembrance of the late Velvet Underground frontman. Both imbued their speeches with genuine emotion and intriguing stories about Reed, contrasting the humdrum quality of nearly every other speech of the night.

We had to sit through close to an hour of inductees and family members rambling before finally getting to the musical portion of each induction. This mind-numbing format only added to the sense that the Hall of Fame only exists for the rock establishment to pat itself on the back; the music took a secondary role to self-congratulation. The musical performances paired with each induction were mostly disappointing anyway, especially considering the monumental waiting time before each one. John Mayer, Gary Clark Jr. and several other acclaimed guitarists performed in honor of Stevie Ray Vaughan after a lackadaisical induction speech for Vaughan by Mayer. These theoretically seminal guitarists mimicked the character of the ceremony as a whole: They came off as self-absorbed and completely uninterested in originality, offering irritatingly long blues solos that did nothing to differentiate them from a million other Vaughan-worshipping shredders.

Nearly every musical section made me cringe at least as hard as the Vaughan tribute did. Strained vocals and technical issues plagued Ringo Starr’s nostalgia-obsessed set, which boasted a Paul McCartney collaboration that shocked exactly zero people. Green Day sounded muddy and exhausted in a set of past hits. However, like the speeches associated with it, the musical performances included alongside Lou Reed’s induction shined. Beck’s and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ renditions of classic Reed tunes like “Vicious” and “Satellite of Love” displayed the potential of the induction ceremony, paying tribute to Reed in a unique, less conceited manner.

The ceremony frustrated me as both a fan and a musician. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why honor these artists yet again?” The Hall of Fame has, at this point, set a precedent for doing two things rock should never do: repeating itself and failing to surprise. Starr was being inducted for the second time at this year’s ceremony, and every other Beatle has already been inducted twice; Eric Clapton has been inducted three times. Meanwhile, bands like Thin Lizzy, the Smiths and the Replacements, all of whom have been heavily campaigned for by fans, haven’t even been inducted once. I know that I, at least, don’t take the Rock Hall inductions seriously anymore, after years of watching the committee promote canonized artists and honor the same people over and over again. The induction committee will have to reconsider their preoccupation with a limited pool of relatively homogenous artists if they want their ceremony to remain relevant and influential.