If ever there were a polarizing institution in the world of music, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would be at the top of the list. Though considered by many to be an esteemed institution, it has been derided in recent years for its vague criteria for inclusion and its seemingly arbitrary induction choices. According to hall’s official website, a band is eligible for induction 25 years after their first official release and must have demonstrated “unquestionable musical excellence.” In addition, factors such as an artist’s musical influence, length of career, and innovation in style and technique are all taken into consideration. The subjective nature of all of these categories makes the process for induction one of mystery, and their choice in artists over the years does not help their case. How, for instance, an artist like LL Cool J made it in before a band like Deep Purple is an enigma to many.
Just a few weeks ago, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 29th annual induction ceremony was held at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn and open to the public for the very first time in New York. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend, and despite the hall’s controversies, it was an interesting experience to be present for a big moment in a few band’s histories. The selected inductees for 2014 were Peter Gabriel, Linda Ronstadt, Cat Stevens, The E Street Band, Hall & Oates, Kiss and Nirvana.
Within this lineup alone, there were discrepancies in what lineups of each band would be inducted. Only Kiss’s original lineup was included, but the current E Street Band was welcomed along with their original keyboardist and drummer who hadn’t been in the band in decades. For Nirvana, only the ‘classic’ lineup of the band was added, failing to include the drummer who played on their debut album and wrote multiple drum parts for ‘Nevermind,’ which broke them into the mainstream.
Oddly enough, Kiss, who always made a big deal about themselves, shirked off the induction as being too little, too late. They refused to perform and Paul Stanley blatantly insulted the hall’s induction process in their acceptance speech. On the other hand, Nirvana, despite being on a major label, steered clear of the path of becoming ‘rock stars’ during their career, but accepted their induction with open arms. They performed at the ceremony for the first time in the 20 years since Kurt Cobain’s death, which was the highlight of the night. Kurt Cobain was an outspoken feminist and the band chose to honor his music by performing with a rotating-lineup of front-women: Joan Jett, Kim Gordon, St. Vincent, and Lorde.
Its shaky ideals may spoil the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s legitimacy as an institution, but that is not to say it can’t serve any purpose. For a band like Kiss, the induction was a tiny blip on the radar of their career. It brought their original lineup together for a brief moment, and that meant a lot for their fans regardless of what it meant to the band. For Nirvana, it gave a band that fell apart under grave circumstances a reason to celebrate for the first time in a long time. 20 years after their abrupt disbanding, they were able to pay tribute to what they achieved and give the music a brief, but new, life.