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The Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame: Glorified Superlative

By Staff | Mar 11, 2008

Every year the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland inducts a group of recording artists and a couple unimportant industry cronies.

In case it’s slipped your mind, an “artist becomes eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. Criteria include the influence and significance of the artists’ contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll.”

Therefore, March 10, at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, 467.03 miles away from Cleveland, The Dave Clark Five, Madonna, John Mellencamp, the Ventures, and Leonard Cohen were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was established in 1983 with its first class of inductees in 1986. While the gesture of honoring artists is nice, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is like the high school coaching hall of fame (sorry Coach Cassels), you might think to yourself, “yeah, I guess so.”

An artist, in my book, is someone who generally eschews recognition. It’s a wonder that so many artists go along with the farce. Is it that they don’t feel relevant any longer and need something to hang on to since the gold records aren’t being sent their way any more? Is the Rock and Roll Hall of fame the last refuge of a burnout?

But what about Leonard Cohen? 

All of the other artists are so insignificant. Meaning that music wouldn’t be a whole hell of a lot different without “Henry VII” by the Dave Clark Five or “Like a Prayer” by Madonna other than we wouldn’t know how fun it was to sing in a thick English accent and what would girls get overly excited about at bars at around 1 a.m.?

Leonard Cohen is a different animal all together. He’s a poet, he’s a writer and he’s a true artist. In 1967 Cohen released Songs of Leonard Cohen, it peaked at No. 83 on the Billboard chart and finally went “gold” in 1989. So, his records never sold that well, and while low sales and the worth of an album aren’t necessarily connected, it is something to keep in mind.

Since the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is generally run by the old-school music industry cronies, such as founder Jann Wenner (who also founded Rolling Stone), it makes sense that since Cohen’s albums weren’t commercial successes that he wasn’t inducted until now. Not to mention the fact that the criteria for being inducted is so vague it seems more like a lottery than a popular election.

It would be easy to just pin the injustice of not recognizing Leonard Cohen on a couple suits. However, you have to remember why music doesn’t sell. Sometimes it’s just not easy on the ears.  

The man’s music is like the first time you get to sip a beer from your cousin’s ex-husband on Thanksgiving when you’re really little. You think to yourself, “I will never drink this stuff.” Then eight years later you find yourself in a lonely bar begging the bartender for just one more after last call.

Leonard Cohen mirrors people’s relationship with alcohol, one in which you are simultaneously in love and repulsed. The song “Susanne” is schnapps but “Avalanche” is kind of like absinthe. You can really hang your hat on some of his songs, but others, like absinthe, take a couple teaspoons of sugar to finish. But both yield the same result; you get drunk. However, one takes a little more effort, a little more time to get used to and enjoy; does that mean you enjoy it more? Perhaps. Regardless, Leonard Cohen is a true artist. Like Raymond Carver, he tells a lot without saying anything all that poetic.

But jeez, is the man depressing. So depressing. As my mother said, “Some of us got over our Leonard Cohen depression, others are now 55 and still in it.”

But Cohen’s music is not as depressing as the fact he’s going to have put up with all the crap the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is.  It’s as if every year they make a group of people the most important artists to ever grace the world. Granted, they are all important but not as significant as their being sold as. Soon they will exhaust all the great artists and find out there isn’t anyone left that stands up against the old ones. It will be Eddie Vedder. Soon we’ll all be talking about how great Eddie Vedder is. Eddie Vedder is not as good as Kurt Cobain was, and Kurt Cobain was not really as good as people think.

 The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame works only in absolutes and absolutes, when it comes to art, just don’t work. People are going to get up on stage and talk about how Madonna redefined sexuality and music and how John Mellencamp was a true American artist capable of capturing within a song everything that is middle class and beautiful. However, all of that is gratuitous ass kissing for the sake of cementing an artist’s place in a counterfeit culture created by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Watch the serpent eat its tail.

Contact Ben at bmoffit@graffitiwv.com