Monday, January 15, 2007

Hall of Fame (pt. 2)

It came out last week that Van Halen was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Before I get to the issue of Van Halen getting into this place, I just want to address the idea of a Hall of Fame for rock and roll. Who the hell is defining “rock and roll” here? Jan Werner and all of his buddies at Rolling Stone? Rock critics? It seems that they have a pretty liberal interpretation of the concept of “rock and roll” in this place. I am not decrying anyone being included in this place, because seriously, who cares? It is a museum of music which, along with the Experience Music museum in Seattle, should be regarded as a place to commemorate this fairly popular aspect of contemporary culture. It just seems like we are seeing a very narrow, elitist approach to who gets into this “hall,” much like what the Baseball Writers of America Association does with their Hall of Fame.

As far as Van Halen goes, it is a little unfathomable to me that they could have been excluded for as long as they were, but the sad fact about this band is that their immature and unprofessional approach to the business of music has cost them dearly. Their repeated feuds with ex-vocalists has reduced them to a joke in the eyes of most casual observers. This is a band that burned as hot as any in their prime. From 1978-1982 that band was untouchable. No, they weren’t socially conscious, they didn’t have an agenda other than to have a good time; but to label them as lightweight or inconsequential is a mistake. They connected with millions of fans, many of them freakishly passionate, because their music was passionate and unique. It was a complex blend of blues, classic rock, and vaudeville which sometimes nudged the listener in the ribs with sly humor and other times hit them over the head with some amazing musical interplay.

The music industry hated Van Halen; dismissed them as a bar band with a great guitar player and a buffoon as a lead singer. They got it partly right, but that was the point. They didn’t have the pretensions of some musicians (watch Spinal Tap for what I’m talking about here), their fans loved them because they seemed just like us. Themo made the comment the other day that I liked David Lee Roth’s book because I wanted to be him, or do the things that he did. That’s not really it, I like the book because it shows me that what I was hearing and seeing as a fourteen year old boy in northern California was real. There was schtick to what Roth and the rest of Van Halen were selling, but they weren’t playing at it like KISS, Journey, or the other faceless acts of the early eighties. Their music wasn’t crafted and saccharine, packaged to sell to the masses; it was who they were, what they experienced.

I’m not going to get into the vocalist changes or which era of the band produced better music, because it is all subject to taste, but in the end what I really want is for the band to show up (and I mean all of them: Dave, Ed, Alex, Mike, and Sam), accept the recognition with grace and dignity, and then go quietly off into that good night. I don’t need to be reminded about how Roth has turned into a parody of himself, unable to perform without the witticisms of 25 years ago; or about how EVH cannot play at a level anywhere near professional, let alone the elite level of musicianship he used to have; or the junior high drama of their catfights or infights or whatever the hell their social inadequacies are put out there for the world to see. If I sound bitter or disillusioned about this band, it is because that is what they have done to their fanbase with all of their crap. Over the last 8-11 years they have destroyed the goodwill that they had built up so completely that I just want them to do one thing from here on out: I want them to make me not embarrassed to have been a Van Halen fan.

Thanks for reading.

No comments: