December 17, 2011
By Hampton Stevens - Special to The Washington Times

KISS is an act that has defined the rock genre, yet the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has not found a place for the band that has the third-highest total of platinum albums in rock history. Selective “open-mindedness” - or maybe mission creep - however, has let in blue-state favorites such as Madonna and the Beastie Boys. (Photo - Associated Press)

Ever get the feeling that the open-minded voters for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are welcoming to every genre, subgenre and hybrid of popular and vernacular music — except rock?

Part of the fun of having a hall of fame, of course, is debating over who should get in, but the rock hall keeps making such incredibly bad choices that it has even sucked the joy out of arguing. Just look at the list of inductees for 2012, announced last week: Guns N’ Roses, the Beastie Boys, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Laura Nyro, Donovan, and the Small Faces/Faces.

Only Donovan deserves it. The rest of the acts on that list merely show just how incredibly insular and irrelevant the induction process has become.

Let’s start with the Beastie Boys. They are unquestionably trailblazers. They just didn’t blaze any of them in rock. Sure, they played with punk guitars, but at heart, the Beasties are a rap act, joining previous inductees Grandmaster Flash and Run-D.M.C. And rap music is emphatically not a subgenre of rock — whatever the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame says.

The hall has claimed reggae, funk and disco in the name of rock. Its appropriation of rap is a serious escalation in this ongoing mission creep, expanding the museum’s definition of rock to include, basically, virtually every form of music that rose to popularity in the latter half of the 20th century. If the hall insists on inducting rap artists, shouldn’t they admit, say, Public Enemy and L.L. Cool J before bringing in white rappers from wealthy families? Given the racially exploitative history of American pop music, it’s the least they could do.

Of course, the real divide institutionalized in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame isn’t the line between black and white. It’s the one between red and blue. The great divide in Cleveland isn’t racial, but cultural, with artists that appeal to a red-state audience getting shoved aside time and time again in favor of more blue-state-friendly acts. While the hall has been making a display of its musical ecumenism by extending its reach to embrace ever more remote cousins of rock, it has simultaneously revealed an equally strong prejudice against the mainstream rock of the American heartland, pejoratively dubbed “arena rock” because its representative acts fill sports arenas rather than the pages of Rolling Stone and Spin.

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