"Rock and roll has become respectable," a tuxedoed Pete Townshend said at one of the first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
He paused, and after a significant number of people in the audience applauded, he delivered his inevitable punchline: "What a bummer."
The latest batch of Hall of Fame inductees were announced last week, and they demonstrate yet again what a silly institution the hall is.
Of the six artists inducted this year only two can legitimately be called rock artists. Darryl Hall and John Oates are pure pop, or blue-eyed soul at best. Peter Gabriel's great, but is he rock 'n' roll? I think not. Linda Ronstadt has rocked out on occasion, but she's done more folk, country and American standard songs than rock numbers.
And Cat Stevens? Seriously? I went through a phase where I liked him a lot, and still enjoy him on occasion, but he has never come close to performing rock 'n' roll.
That leaves Kiss and Nirvana as the only rock artists inducted. And let's face it, Kiss is, by any objective measure, awful. They're terrible singers and musicians (a lot of the riffs people like on their records are played by session musicians, including the great jazz man Robben Ford) and they only occasionally come up with great songs.
Their live shows are supposed to be amazing -- even people who dislike the music say so -- but that's more about stage designers and pyrotechnics experts than the band. Their main contribution to the art form is coming up with idea of covering up their faces with greasepaint.
(The E Street Band was inducted too, but essentially in a category or sidemen.)
It's fine that the Rock Hall includes non-rock people. Big Joe Turner, B.B. King and Muddy Waters were all inducted way back in 1987. But they were people who paved the way for rock 'n' roll. A lot of people objected that hip-hop artists were inducted, but at least hip-hop extrapolates the spirit of rock music.
What's the argument for this current crop?
Peter Gabriel was influential in making rock music more cerebral and theatrical, so may
be we can consider him a marginal shaper of the genre. Cat Stevens was part of that singer-songwriter trend in the '70s, but he didn't really advance it. Linda Ronstadt has a gorgeous voice and great taste in songs and arrangements but she never even wrote.
Hall and Oates? They should probably be disqualified for their bastardization of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." But aside from that, they're just pop hitmakers. That's fine, of course, but that doesn't make them significant to rock 'n' roll. If they're in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, what's keeping Barry Manilow and Engelbert Humperdinck out?
After this year, it seems anyone who has sold a lot of records is eligible. What's the point of a hall of fame that just rewards that? That's what gold records and money are for.
You can argue, as Townshend implicitly did, that rock 'n' roll should be subversive, and that an institution honoring it is antithetical to its ideals.
A valid argument, but I'm not against a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on those grounds. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum has done a whole lot of good for Cleveland, my hometown and, perhaps still, the most underrated city in the country.
It's just that when the Hall of Fame says that Hall and Oates and Cat Stevens have anything to do with rock 'n' roll, and it honors such silly bands as Kiss, it has made itself and its honors inherently meaningless.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.