The last two days have seen the release of two dubious lists: the juiced-up baseball players named in the Mitchell report this afternoon, and the 2008 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, announced yesterday. I write about baseball a fair bit, and there’s nothing in the Mitchell report that’s all that surprising (Nomar?), so I thought I’d focus instead on the subject I don’t write about nearly enough: fucking rock ‘n roll, baby!
The hall of fame class of ’08 is headlined by Madonna and John Mellencamp. And if you require further proof of the decline of popular music, I don’t know what else to tell you. Perhaps a recap of the last twenty years would be illustrative:
The inaugural class of performers inducted when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was founded in 1986 included Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, James Brown, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Little Richard, and one Elvis Aaron Presley.
As impressive as that roster is, the class of ’87 was even more amazing: Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Marvin Gaye, Roy Orbison, Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Ricky Nelson, Bill Haley — and folks, that ain’t all — they also inducted Hank Williams and T-Bone Walker in the “early influence” category. Through the next decade, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted such legendary musicians as Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, Louis Armstrong, Simon and Garfunkel, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, the Doors, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, the Band, Eric Clapton, Willie Dixon, Etta James, David Bowie, Al Green, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Motherfucking Cash — somebody stop me!
To that proud list, we now must add Madonna and John Mellencamp.
Madonna’s music is like a giant sugar cookie covered in rhinestones — pretty to look at under the right light, but of absolutely no use to anyone. She first came onto the national stage in 1982, when she observed the state of early ‘80s pop music and said, “Not hollow enough!” She also decided that not being able to write songs or sing shouldn’t stop her from looking good while doing it. And if not good, distinctive. Her act these past twenty-five years has consisted of changing clothes and hairstyles between concert tours, which her loyal toadies in the music media admiringly dubbed “reinventing herself,” and gradually bleeding off her music’s miniscule actual content and replacing it with obnoxiously repetitive club beats.
It was in ’79 when a young John Mellencamp (then known as John Cougar) released his first album. The 24 year-old Cougar took a good look at the music being made by Bruce Springsteen and said to himself, “Not shallow enough!” He then set himself to work carving out a niche as the Thundercats to Springsteen’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Mellencamp is the Viceroy butterfly of rock ‘n roll; looks like Springsteen, sounds like Springsteen, but brother, he ain’t no how no Springsteen.
Also to be inducted in 2008 is a certain singer/songwriter by the name of Leonard Cohen. He’s about a hundred thousand times the artist that Madonna and Mellencamp are, but only good enough for third billing in the Rolling Stone headline. Still, he made out better than those poor bastards in the Dave Clark Five — pick through the coverage of the ’08 inductees with a fine enough comb and you might learn that they’re getting inducted, too.
I know that Mellencamp and Madonna are both popular artists who have sold shitloads of records, and it would be unreasonable to expect the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to deny them a place just because their music is so incredibly fucking awful, but it’s still a jolt to be reminded of the precipitous decline of American popular music. From Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, to Madonna and Mellencamp in twenty-two years. That’s depressing.
And the next few years don’t look much better, according to the list at Future Rock Hall. There are a few good guys who’ll be eligible in the next few years — Nick Cave, the Flaming Lips, Stevie Ray Vaughn — but for every one of them, there’s six or seven Bon Jovis. Jesus Christ, Bon Jovi in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame . . . it sends a shiver through me.
Currently eligible artists who didn’t get in this year, but who could have been inducted instead of Madonna and Mellencamp, include: Steve Earle, David Byrne, and Robert Cray. Just so you know.