That's the location of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, and this week the nominees for the Hall's Class of 2010 were announced.
A group of music historians takes a look at musicians who've had "a significant impact on the evolution, development and perpetuation of rock and roll" who released their first music at least 25 years ago. The categories are performers, which is the spotlight area, as well as sidemen -- the session and concert performers who often made headliners look better than they might have otherwise.
The Hall also honors non-musicians, such as producers, DJs, promoters and journalists, who've had that significant impact, as well as "early influences," or musicians whose careers predate the rock era but who had their own significant impact. People like Jelly Roll Morton make it in as "early influences." Morton died when Elvis Presley was in the second grade and "Rock Around the Clock" performer Bill Haley was a teenager trying to make it as a yodeling country singer, but his influence on jazz and blues music influenced some of the post-WWII blues that would cross over into rock and roll on the bridge of Chuck Berry's guitar.
Of course, Oklahoma rockabilly gal Wanda Jackson also makes it in as an "early influence," even though probably 95% of her recorded output takes place during the "rock era" that followed "Rock Around the Clock"'s no. 1 charting in 1955. Early apparently means different things to different people.
After the nominees are picked, a voting body made up of about 500 rock experts -- which does not include people who merely listen to and buy the music, of course -- cast their ballots. The top five or so who get more than 50% of the vote are in.
When the Hall began 25 years ago, it was nominating and electing people like Presley, Berry, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, James Brown and so on; musicians whose impact on rock's birth and initial growth was obvious. To this day I know people who say you should never trust a guitarist who can't play Chuck Berry music, and I am one of those people. But check out this year's list of potential inductees at that first link.
OK, Kiss makes some sense. They are indeed a rock band and their Halloween made-up faces were pretty much everywhere between about 1975 and 1979. David Bowie, Marc Bolan and Gary Glitter probably had more influence in creating the glam-rock genre that Kiss worked in, but they'll do because of how large they were on the scene during their time.
Genesis fits even better. Although in their 1980s video-friendly phase they were pretty much the backing band for Phil Collins' pop albums, they began as a full-fledged "progressive rock" band. Along with prog-rockers like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, Jethro Tull and Rush, Genesis ushered in the use of a variety of instruments in rock songs and expanded the roles of others, including electronic instruments like synthesizers. They moved away from the three-minute format and often included extended instrumental breaks instead of short solos.
Some of the others, though -- ABBA? Really? The Swedish foursome may have sung some nice songs and harmonized well, but rock music? That'd be like calling someone an early influence who was actually contemporary with some of the people they were supposedly influencing...oh. Never mind. And truthfully, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is no longer about rock and roll anyway. But their 1976 song "Money Money Money" does at least let us know why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in neither Memphis (home of Sun Studios), Chicago (home of the Chicago blues), St. Louis (home of Chuck Berry), New Orleans (home of the Delta blues) or New York City (home of most everything else) but in Cleveland, Ohio (home of $65 million).
Although many inductees were better known in rock-related genres like R&B, blues, soul and reggae, the HoF pretty much kicked down the genre boundaries in 2006 with Miles Davis' induction. The immensely talented Davis was really in no way a rock musucian, working entirely in the jazz arena. Madonna's induction in 2008 confirmed that the phrase "rock and roll" was descriptive of the museum, not the artists enshrined therein. Madonna is a pop and dance music star -- some good and some bad, but she's not a rock and roll musician. But the name's already on the museum and calling it the "Pop Music Hall of Fame" makes it sound less serious than "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," and the last thing you want to do to music buffs is somehow insinuate that their subject matter is not deadly serious. Plus, "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" still has an aura of decadence about it that "Pop Music" doesn't. "I'm a rocker" sounds cool. "I'm a popper" sounds like you're a fan of one of those generic colas that discount stores sell in place of the real thing like Dr. Pepper.
Heck, even the Beatles straddle the fence -- while they were obviously a rock act in their pre-moptop days and their first releases, they morphed into a pop/psychedelic band that sometimes did rock songs. Noted rock despiser Frank Sinatra covered George Harrison's "Something" and called it "the greatest love song ever written." "Let It Be" is not a rock song. Neither are "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da," "A Day in the Life," and so on (As an aside: Nat "King" Cole is an "early influence" but Sinatra isn't? Can we check with someone on this? And maybe take a look at why Little Walter is in only as a sideman but Willie Dixon is an early influence and John Lee Hooker is a performer?)
Add a subjective standard like "Hall of Fame"-level greatness to a subjective field of artistry like music and you get something that's pretty much The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because it calls itself that.
If I believed in the concept of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which I kind of join the Sex Pistols in not doing, I would suggest that the criteria would be trying to imagine the modern music industry without the artist under consideration. So, try to picture what modern music would be like if there had been no Elvis. Would it look at all like it does now? Probably not. Same thing with the Beatles. Or the Who, or Muddy Waters, Ray Charles and so on.
But how would modern music be all that different if Agnetha, Benny, Björn and Anna-Frid hadn't told us that we could dance, we could jive, having the time of our lives? Sure, there'd have been no Mamma Mia Broadway show and movie, but I don't know if that's a bad thing.
By that criterion, we can pitch a bunch of inductees. Say goodbye to the Dave Clark Five, the Lovin' Spoonful and Billy Joel. We can bar people we shouldn't be talking about; whether talented or not, they weren't that influential. Obviously, this being the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the idea of some kind of morals component like the one that keeps Pete Rose out of the baseball Hall of Fame doesn't apply. So uber-creep John Phillips with the Mamas and the Papas gets to stay. And we pretty much start to close the doors on new inductees starting right about this year. Beginning with the mid-80s, the idea of a band or performer that has a major, art-form-altering impact kind of goes away. Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and maybe Pearl Jam get in, but we should be ready to face years of no inductees (but since that would mean no $25,000-per-table banquet, we can't have that).
Of course the whole "things would be different if this person hadn't done this" is a high bar. My own CD collection would shrink considerably if I applied it there, but I'm not purporting to run a Hall of Fame.
Does the Arcade Fire rate? Tell ya in 2029. How about indie darling My Morning Jacket? Ask me again in 2024. Radiohead? Hmmm...we might learn that starting in 2018. Coldplay? I'll pretend you didn't ask.
Sure, you could say, Britney Spears had that define-the-form change effect on pop music. But any little pop tart who could halfway sing would have had the same impact; there was nothing special about Spears that meant if she hadn't done it, nobody would have. Same goes for the boy bands of the 1990s and early 2000s.
A Hall of Fame implies links to traditions and roots in a past. Rock and roll works almost the exact opposite way. When I was a kid, so-called oldies stations played Berry, Charles, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and so on. Then younger baby boomers hit their 30s and became nostalgic for the music from their teens and early 20s, but they didn't like the idea of their music or themselves being old, so they invented the label "classic rock."
Now classic rock includes music 20 years newer than the 1960s rock and soul that it originally meant, and "oldies" has dropped its 1950s-era artists and much of its 1960s catalogue for stuff that had its heyday during the bicentennial. Bob Seger may have sung that "Rock and roll never forgets," but his 2006 single "Wait for Me" didn't crack the top 50 in the US country charts and stalled at 16 on the adult contemporary charts. It didn't make the overall Top 40 at all.
As much as I love quite a bit of rock (and pop) music, I recognize that it's always been kind of ephemeral. And if fame indeed is as fleeting as we've been told, the concept of fame layered onto the Memento-short memory of modern music turns a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame from an institution that honors important contributions to a significant modern art form into just another thing rock fans can argue about.
Which may have been a better idea anyway.