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A "piss stain" in Cleveland

October 11th, 2007

I’m not one to gloat, but my first phone call on the morning of Sept. 28 was to my father, specifically for that purpose.

I’d just gotten a press release announcing the nominees for the 2008 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

One of my favorite bands, the Beastie Boys, was among the nine nominees. My father, for no real discernable reason, hates the New York trio.

Maybe it’s their ever-evolving schizophrenic identity crisis—are they hip-hop pioneers? Trailblazing punk rockers? Buddhist activists? Jewish liberals?

All of the above, but that’s not the point.

For me, the Beastie’s nomination was the first time a band that I grew up with has been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of fame. Sure, some other artists I like are already in—Elton John, The Clash and R.E.M.—but I didn’t start listening to them until college.
Growing up at Jewish summer camp, I was practically weaned on the Beastie Boys—this nomination is either validation of my tastes, or a sign that I’m too old.

Other nominees for 2008 include Afrika Bambaataa, Chic, Leonard Cohen, The Dave Clark Five, Madonna, John Mellencamp, Donna Summer and The Ventures. Artists are eligible 25 years after their first record.

Five will get in—Madonna’s a lock, Mellencamp, Cohen and the Beasties are safe bets. I’ll pick Afrika Bambaataa to round out the inductees.

Despite my gloating, the Beastie Boys make me almost care. Almost.

It’s neat to see some of my favorite bands selected for “important” lists, but the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exists for one reason—to sell tickets (okay, two reasons—to stoke Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner’s ego).

The main criticism of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is simply this—a few individuals, including Wenner—decides the nominees.

A former board member wrote a letter to Fox News in 2001 about how artists from some record labels get consideration over others, petitions from fans are laughed off the table and how pioneers of the 50s and 60s are passed over for big names—many of which wouldn’t even exist without the pioneers.

“I saw how artists were sometimes chosen for nomination because of their affiliations with the directors of the Hall and others were shot down without so much as a moment of consideration simply because some people in that room didn’t like them personally or because an artist had bad blood with someone calling the shots,” the former board member wrote. “At one point (former foundation director) Suzan Evans lamented the choices being made because there weren’t enough big names that would sell tickets to the dinner. That was quickly remedied by dropping one of the doo-wop groups being considered in favor of a ‘name’ artist.”

So were the Beasties really selected for their innovation and influence?

I’d like to think they were, but other than those in the secretive selection meeting, who knows?

“…the curators would have you think that the honorees are chosen by some Higher Force,” rock critic Jim DeRogatis wrote in the Chicago Reader in 1996.

(He had personal beef with Wenner—DeRogatis was fired from Rolling Stone for complaining when Wenner killed his negative review of Hootie and the Blowfish).

But I agree with DeRogatis. Rock and roll isn’t about canonizing the Beastie Boys—a band that’s practically disowned much of its misogynistic early work. Rock and roll is about how the Beastie Boys are still crafting interesting and relevant music—be it hip-hop, rock or their latest instrumental groves—into their 40s.

“If I wanted to get close to the life force–the essence–of (George) Clinton or any of the other artists I cared about, I’d have been better off going back out to my car and plugging a tape in the cassette deck,” DeRogatis wrote.

Or, to quote the Sex Pistols, who skipped out of their own induction in 2006, the museum is nothing more than a “piss stain.”

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072

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