So, the list of this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honorees is out. I think it's pretty decent, and I note some personal geographic connections: like Madonna, I grew up in Michigan, I went to college in the Coug's homebase of Bloomington, IN (where his name is now on an athletic facility he helped fund), and some of my family resides in Seattle, hometown of the Ventures. Aside from Leonard Cohen and Huff and Gamble, no one on the list leaps out at me (although I don't know as much about Little Walter as I should), but I've enjoyed music from all of them, and none of the choices offend.
There are those that are offended by the very idea of a rock and roll museum, of course, feeling that it's something of an oxymoron (these purists overlook the irony that the museum is in Cleveland, a town whose river once caught on fire-- I mean, what's more rock and roll than that?). Emblematic of these carps was food writer/TV guy Anthony Bourdain's, on his recent trip to our fair Dawgtown this past winter (the episode aired in the summer); he visited the Hall with a Ramone and decried, in voiceover, the enshrining of a music that's meant to be "rebellious," "tough-edged," "anti-institutional," and best of all, "garage."
Well. I can see the point, I guess, but the problem for me is precisely the pairing of the anti-Hall sentiments with this sort of moldy ideological critique, which is itself no less of a museum piece, and no less of an institutional mode of address. As Jeff wrote, "The music collection becomes artifact for display at some point," and those artifacts can be critical modes as much as the Edge's guitar. Like the Hall, this sort of critique works to freeze a certain reading of the music in political and generational terms, works to control the discourse, and therefore to affect the future of the form. Does this kind of reading-- powered by an album-centered, thesis-driven sort of meaning (a critical "concept album," if you like)-- still make sense in the age of the I-pod, the the cherry-picked single, the shuffle (a term which connotes, not bearded folkies or angry punks, but dancing to the beat and sensual bliss)? Don't get me wrong-- a lot of good writing (including folks like Greil Marcus and Simon Reynolds) derives from this position in different ways, but we shouldn't fool ourselves. It's not a garage band sound: it's the music of the Man.