The Friday Morning Listen: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2011, Tom Waits

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by Mark Saleski

OK, so let’s get the list over with quickly. Here are your 2011 nominees for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Alice Cooper, Beastie Boys, Bon Jovi, Chic, Neil Diamond, Donovan, Dr. John, J. Geils Band, LL Cool J, Darlene Love, Laura Nyro, Donna Summer, Joe Tex, Tom Waits, Chuck Willis.

So, I’ve never paid that much attention to the particulars of the hall of fame thing. Just the other day I got around to reading the technicalities: that artists are not eligible until 25 years after the release of their first album. The criterion centers on the hall’s wish to “recognize the contributions of those who have had a significant impact on the evolution, development and perpetuation of rock and roll.” There are also four categories: performers, non-performers, early influences, and side-men (a recent addition, beginning in the year 2000).

What I have paid attention to is the whining, moan, bitching, kvetching, and complaining that is sure to erupt each and every year. Everybody thinks that most of the nominees are not deserving, while presenting their list of much more sensible alternatives.

I dunno. I guess I..uhm…I don’t care? I mean, I do like that there’s this museum that people can go to and see all of this crazy paraphernalia and whatnot. It’s the elevation of artists to a kind of star scroll that bothers me. I’ve said this many times before, but it’s worth repeating here: the idea that music has an intrinsic quality level makes no sense to me. Yes, I think it’s all relative. All of it. Is Tom Waits “better” than Bon Jovi? Let me get back to that in a minute.

Some of my thinking is negated by the fact that “influence” is a big factor in these nominations. This definitely has validity. A person can not particularly care for the Beatles but they’d be just plain wrong to deny their influence. The best part about the “early influence” category is that it will end up introducing people to “unknown” artists. People might not know who Chuck Willis is, but they’ve probably heard “C.C. Rider” before!

Getting back to the whole musical relativism thing, let’s bring Tom Waits and Bon Jovi into the room. Anybody who knows me knows which artist I prefer. I love Waits. I was blown away upon my first listen to “Pasties And A G-String [At The Two O’Clock Club]” all of those years ago. But it doesn’t go beyond that, meaning that I don’t think Waits is better than Bon Jovi. Nor do I think there’s some sort of magic rating system that confers high numbers to one and not the other. As many rabid Tom Waits fans as there are out there, there are many more of Bon Jovi. Are they “wrong”? Sure, Bon Jovi’s music isn’t particularly complex, and the lyrics are a string of clichés, but that doesn’t change the fact that they played tons of shows and rocked millions of people hard. Does that not count for something? No? Because all of those people have “bad taste”? I bet a lot of them don’t like Waits. Are they wrong about that too?

All of these questions miss the crux of what it’s like to be a fan. You listen to music and you make a connection with it. Maybe it makes your life better in some small way. Maybe it makes you remember a better time. No matter what the internal event and subsequent connections are, opinions coming from without cannot change any of that. If that show you saw on the Slippery When Wet tour is one of the best things you’ve every experienced, then you are “right.” Nobody can take that away from you. It’s yours.

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