Long Live Rock?


Was it really only a couple of

weeks ago that The Rock and Roll

Hall of Fame and Museum ushered

its latest all-corpse ensemble

into pop's self-proclaimed

pantheon on the shores of Lake

Erie? As the glare of the

millennium approaches and the

wisest among us start checking

out the early enrollment

procedures for the local

Heaven's Gate chapter, all we

can say for sure is that the

ceremony happened sometime after

the first war protested by the

baby-boom generation ended and

sometime before the first war

produced by the baby-boom

generation got underway.

This much, too, we can mumble

with a smidgen of metaphysical

certitude: The most recent set

of literally and figuratively

deceased inductees suggests that

rock, if not quite dead, is

getting there just as fast as

its motorized wheelchair can


Who would have

thought that death had

undone so many? The two "early

influence" honorees were Bob

Wills and His Texas Playboys

and Charles Brown. Wills,

who inspired such great rock

acts as Merle Haggard and Asleep

at the Wheel, died in 1975,

after an 18-month-long,

stroke-induced coma. Brown, not

to be confused with the

similarly named Charlie Brown

(currently kicking out the jams,

motherfucker, on Broadway),

started recording in the 1940s

and most recently served as

onstage roadie for

self-identified "rocker" Bonnie

Raitt in the early '90s; he died

of heart failure in January.

Among the other inductees were

Dusty "I Only Want to Be with

You" Springfield (who died of

breast cancer in early March),

Del "Runaway" Shannon (who

committed suicide in 1990 after

recording an album with Jeff

"Don't Bring Me Down" Lynne),

and Curtis "Superfly" Mayfield

(a quadriplegic since a 1990

accident; reportedly, Jeff Lynne

was not involved).


And then, of course, there were

the truly sad cases—the

Nosferatu headliners, whose

exact dates of artistic demise

or musical incapacitation

are more difficult to pin down

but no less disputed for that

uncertainty: the recently

widowed Sir Paul McCartney (as

solo artiste), Bruce "I'm a

Rocker" Springsteen, and Billy

"It's Still Rock and Roll to Me"

Joel. Tellingly, while introducing

rock's first full-blown,


going-into-the-studio knight,

newly outed McCartney fan Neil

"Rock and Roll Will Never Die"

Young feigned enthusiasm not for

the Liverpudlian's recent

Flaming Piece of Crap LP or

symphonic caterwauling but for

songs written back in the '70s,

back before the farm crisis had

effectively rendered Young

himself musically impotent.

Whatever the arguable merits of

either Springsteen or Joel, even

– or perhaps especially—their

fans could hardly deny that,

relative to their own careers,

they now suck.

Mirroring the physical and

creative health of the inductees

is the state of the actual

museum itself. Rock and roll may

never forget, but its hall of

fame is teetering on the verge

of Chapter 11. What does it say

that its members—even, or

perhaps especially, the live

ones—are loath to haul their

rock-and-roll asses up to

Cleveland? The actual induction

ceremony is routinely held in

New York, partly out of fear

that the few honorees who are

still relatively ambulatory

would choose not to attend if it

were held elsewhere. The same,

apparently, holds true for the

fans: In 1996, the museum's

first full year of operation, a

reported 867,000 visited the

place. That number dropped to

615,000 in 1997; hall of fame

officials have refused to

release last year's figure

(while disputing a report that

the number was about 560,000).

To battle such declines—and

annual losses of about US$1.37

million—the hall has brought

on its fifth director,

52-year-old Terry Stewart,

since opening. His

previous gig as CEO of Marvel

Comics was undone not by the Red

Skull but by red ink. "We don't

want to turn [the hall] into

Disneyland or use theme

restaurants," Stewart told the

Chicago Tribune, which noted

that, as head of "Marvel

Entertainment Group from 1989 to

1997, he oversaw the company's

entry into theme parks and

developed Marvel-themed

restaurants under a joint

venture with Planet Hollywood,"

a course of action that helped

push the company into



Stewart's apparent willingness

to learn from history seems

promising, as do his penchant

for speaking largely in

executive clichés ("It's

not broken," he says of the

hall, "but we have to recharge

the batteries") and his nuanced

grasp of reality ("I guess you

could say I'm a fanatic").

But what, other than some

sort of cultural necrophilia,

explains one of the museum's

highly touted upcoming events, a

fete that promises to be every

bit as depressing as the annual

induction ceremony, only more

so? To wit: "The Rock and Roll

Hall of Fame and Museum and The

North American Folk Music and

Dance Alliance will celebrate

the life and music of folk

singer/songwriter Phil Ochs with

a daylong symposium and evening

concert in Cleveland, Ohio, on

15 May 1999. Phil Ochs … was a

complex man: at once a patriotic

American whose music criticizing

the establishment made him a

standout in the mid-'60s

folk-protest boom and a renowned

folkie who shook up that genre

when he plugged in and rocked

out. Most of Phil's songs were

very political, some humorous

and some very serious. He wrote

about the topics of the day –

civil rights, Vietnam, hungry

miners—and despite knowing

that no amount of protest could

change all of the absurdities in

life, he insisted that the

reward of struggle is not what

you win but the struggle



Somehow, contemplating the life

and—worse still, the music

of Phil Ochs, who very

politically, very seriously, and

very ridiculously lined one of

his albums with quotations from

Mao's Little Red Book and

ultimately ended his "struggle"

with the "absurdities in life"

by swinging neck first from a

rope back when Sir Paul was

cranking out tunes like

"Junior's Farm," doesn't seem to

be the sort of gig that's going

to cause a traffic jam up

Cleveland way. And the evening

concert—featuring performers

such as folk mummy Tom Paxton –

promises to be the aural

equivalent of a date with Jack


But perhaps this is all as it

should be, especially regarding

something as self-evidently

absurd as an official Rock and

Roll Hall of Fame (the real Rock

and Roll Hall of Fame, it goes

without saying, resides in the

heart and soul of every

malcontented youth on the

planet). Museums, after all, are

for barely remembered things

(and, if all goes according to

plan, some of Dusty

Springfield's wigs). It stands

to reason, then, that the Rock

and Roll Hall of Fame's

induction ceremonies and other

events should be more like wakes

than weddings. And the

museum itself should soon enough

shuffle off its mortal coil.

Long live rock? In Cleveland,

it's already dead.

Nick Gillespie is editor-in-chief of reason. This story originally appeared in Suck, and can be viewed in that format here.