Sunday, April 30, 2017

R&RHOF On HBO | Lefsetz Letter

We’re only just passing through.

Or, as Paul Simon once sang, “every generation throws a hero up the pop charts.”

Not that Mr. Simon was in attendance. I remember when the R&RHOF began, before the building was erected in Cleveland, when all those original acts were crowding for inclusion, the dinners alternated from NYC to L.A., and all those execs arranging their evenings…

Are either dead or out of a job, they just don’t go anymore.

So you see an empty cavern of a building, the Barclays Center, not the low-ceilinged juke joint where the music got started, but an emporium made for money, to jack up the grosses, and the women down front rattle their jewelry and the people up in the rafters are unseeable and you wonder what you’re doing watching this show.

But it’s HBO.

HBO was the Asylum Records of television. Everything on it was good, or at least for a while anyway. Just like David Geffen’s new label back in the seventies. But now Geffen’s in the South Seas with Oprah and the Boss, Tom Hanks too, wasn’t Obama on board? And instead of us all being in it together we’re stratified and separate and the only thing linking us together is this music.

Which sounds surprisingly ersatz.

That’s right, ELO, or what is known as Jeff Lynne and a bunch of underpaid nobodies, were positively creepy.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE “Eldorado,” to this day. But seeing this aged talent with his dyed hair singing “Mr. Blue Sky” made me feel like that had been a hit half an eon ago and deserved to be forgotten, that it wasn’t that good to begin with, better not to unearth old gems.

And come on, who doesn’t wince when Jann Wenner takes the stage? The man who just sold half of his crown jewel, the pamphlet known as “Rolling Stone,” to stay afloat?

But then Joan Baez gets inducted and they show footage of her singing with Bobby Z and you start to tingle and wonder what the hell is going on here.

That’s right, music sucks on television. It was cool, way back when, in the era of Ed Sullivan, even “In Concert,” because it was so rare, just the chance to see these personages was a thrill. But now with the internet and everybody available seeing your heroes on TV just disappoints. Whatever it is they’re selling just doesn’t come across.

And then it does.

The coolest cat of the evening was Snoop Dogg, who came across as eloquent and sincere. Illustrating that progress happens and if you’re married to the past you’re soon to be left behind. Then again, the era Snoop was talking about, the mid-nineties, was twenty-odd years ago and something’s gonna come along and replace rap too. Yup, it’s gonna happen. Rock and roll is not forever and neither is hip-hop, but music is.

Highlight of the evening?


Not because they were so good or so together, even enjoyable, but because they sounded so DIFFERENT! A Martian could land on earth and not believe he’d already seen it, he’d stick around trying to digest it. “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” sucked but when they were playing “Roundabout” you remembered what a breakthrough the song was, what pushing the envelope was all about.

That’s what our rock stars did before, that’s what we’re waiting for them to do now.

And come on, if you saw these people on stage, they couldn’t do anything else. It’s just that in their era, musicians were kings, now they’re dopes, fodder for idiots, as opposed to the tech and finance titans, the ones with the real money. The joke is on those dying to get rich where there is no cash. Believe me, it’s not in music. But when you saw Geddy Lee playing bass with his heroes on the aforementioned opening cut to “Fragile” you saw a joy that one cannot get from mazuma, that’s the power of music, to light you up from the inside.

And can we exorcise Lenny Kravitz from performing anything until he has another hit?

And I burst out laughing when Alicia Keys said she’d never met Tupac. Then why is this second-rate talent on stage, taking up our time?

But Steve Perry was gracious and the new/old Journey sang “Don’t Stop Believin'” and suddenly you didn’t, stop, that is.

We’ve moved beyond AM & FM. Moved beyond network television. Moved beyond HBO. Moved beyond wankers like Wenner telling us what to like.

But that does not mean we are not human, we do not have desires, that we don’t want to partake.

This overlong show just illustrated there was something in the past, the question became what is coming in the future?

I don’t know, but I do know it won’t look like anything on stage. The same way “We Are Family” sounds nothing like “Sweet Little Sixteen.” It will be birthed by people like Nile Rodgers, following their muse as opposed to the money. It will be art for art’s sake, oh well, the gangsta executives will make sure they get paid, and a bit will trickle down to the performers.

We’ve got YouTube stars and Snapchat and Instagram heroes. Yet we expect musicians to occupy the same place in the firmament. But to think that is wrong. We’ve got all the time in the world for a great ditty, that’s the power of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but just because music ruled the baby boomers’ world, triumphed on MTV during the heyday of Generation X, that does not mean it’s still the same, not at all.

So what I’m saying is I refuse to be nostalgic and say it was all great, give everybody a break and a pass and a leg up, saying they deserve attention.

No, watching this show I know there are some geniuses, like David Letterman, but not Eddie Vedder. It’s not that Vedder’s a hack, he’s just unaware of the limits, never mind being too far inside the box to see its walls. When Letterman showed a pic of his kid smoking you laughed, basked in the irreverence of someone who knows institutions are not to be trusted.

HBO has become an institution.

The R&RHOF has become an institution.

Rock and roll has become an institution.

And institutions are all about self-preservation, they abhor change.

But it’s your job to tear them down.

You’re part of a vast army pushing the culture forward. Like I said, it doesn’t have to be music, but it can be.

And music, when done right, is only secondary to sex.

But just because Robbie Robertson wrote “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” that does not mean he gets to be in the room. Hell, I don’t get to be in the room. We’ve all got to give up and make way for what’s new, we’ve got to stop celebrating what once was and open our eyes and ears to those pushing limits we can’t even see.

Like Tupac.

Like Dylan.

Like our heroes of yore.

There will be heroes tomorrow. I’m not even sure of their values. How important cash will be, conception is always key, but I do know when I experience their wares I’ll be wowed, titillated and testifying.

I’m waiting…


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