I’m in Sayreville, New Jersey, tonight at the wonderful Starland Ballroom. The woods behind the venue might make you wonder if there aren’t some wise guys’ bodies buried back there.
While on tour, I get a lot of mail and do a lot of interviews. It’s from these two sources that I found out that Bad Brains have been nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
This particular institution was started in 1983 by Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records. Ertegun is a man you cannot heap enough superlatives on. He was the realest of the real-deal music industry men. As an example of the weight of the man, when Led Zeppelin members Plant, Page and Jones reunited for a show at the O2 Arena in London in 2007, it was as part of an Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert.
I wonder if Mr. Ertegun’s vision of the Hall would still line up with what it is now. I read that there have been some personnel changes in the group that decides who gets nominated and inducted. Admittedly, they have a fairly thankless task. The genre has been around so long, they would have needed to induct hundreds of people and bands in year one just to be on somewhat level ground moving forward. But for me at least, as with most awards, one from this outfit is absolutely meaningless.
Many years ago, I would look at the nominees with the slightest bit of interest, until it occurred to me that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is just a building dedicated to the opinions of a few people, and that any writ of rock supremacy is as worthwhile as anyone else’s. As soon as you give something a logo, it suddenly takes on an air of credibility. That credibility should be challenged with great vigor, lest someone take any of this crap too seriously.
Here’s a perfect reason to take this hall with more than a grain of salt: Although it is Ohio, the state that gave us Pere Ubu, The Cramps and Devo, to my knowledge, none of these truly amazing, groundbreaking bands has ever been so much as nominated.
I have no malice toward the nomination of Bad Brains. They are easily among the top three live bands I have ever seen. In the late 1970s, when I started checking out their early shows, they were not to be believed. What they were doing was so beyond anything you had ever seen or heard, you left their shows barely able to find your way home — all you wanted to do was tell people that you had just seen the most amazing band in the world.
The first time I saw Bad Brains was in June of 1979, opening for The Damned. They had no records out at the time. They went on right after doors opened in front of a fraction of the people who would be packing the place an hour later for the headliner. They were so ferocious, most of those who were there hung in the back. Myself, Ian MacKaye and some others went right up to the front and had obliterated pretty much every idea of what live music could be. The Damned, who were amazing, were mere rock by comparison.
After that, we saw Bad Brains every chance we could. We were very lucky to live in the same city as they did. To this day, those are some of the best shows I have ever seen.
On the other hand, bands like Pere Ubu, The Cramps, Devo and a whole lot of other amazing Ohio bands, like Rocket From the Tombs, The Pagans and The Electric Eels, came out of a vacuum so intense, all of them are miracles of creativity and originality. I can’t explain to you how completely change-your-life great The Cramps were. They were more than music. Visually, musically, performance-wise, they were the complete package.
None of this is a “thing” until the undertaking of awarding an act or an artist starts a hierarchy. By which criteria does one judge? Record sales? There are crap bands that have sold more of one record than the entire John Coltrane catalog, so it’s obvious that tonnage doesn’t matter. What the RRHOF is basically saying, when it doesn’t nominate Roky Erickson, an American songwriter worth his weight in gold, is that it is disconnected, tone-deaf and grossly corporate. With each omission, it proves its ever-growing irrelevance.
The Award for Not Caring About the Award for 2006 goes to The Sex Pistols, who refused the RRHOF nomination by way of a letter from Johnny Lydon that would peel the paint off your car. He was right about all of it.
Ten years later, in 2016, the Award for Not Caring About the Award most certainly goes to the great Bob Dylan. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and for several days did not acknowledge it. A member of the Swedish Academy found Dylan’s silence to be “impolite and arrogant.” Fuck you. Fuck your award. Fuck your idea of its importance and yours.
Dylan’s noncommunicative status, for whatever reason, was 100 percent purebred badass. It’s not as if he asked to get the prize or the $900,000 check that comes with it. I think Dylan’s delayed response is one of the coolest moves in the history of rock & roll. It reminds me of Dylan in Don’t Look Back, the documentary that covers his 1965 tour of England. He was at a young, surly, behind-the-sunglasses insolent high point. He had the smarts, the songs, the delivery, and he knew it. He didn’t need your award then, either.
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I am always impressed when someone can take or leave something of great magnitude. The sheer magnificence of the attitude at work is what it’s all about. Long live rock.
More from the mind of Henry Rollins:
White America Couldn't Handle What Black America Deals With Every Day
Bowie's Blackstar Is on the Level of Low and Heroes
No Matter Who Wins, America Is Only Going to Get Angrier