From Eikasia to Noesis

Kyle Schmidlin

Kyle Schmidlin
Austin, Texas, USA
November 13
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OCTOBER 8, 2012 9:38AM

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes a couple good decisions

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It’s taken quite a long time, but it looks like art rock may be having its day at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

One of the loudest criticisms of the Hall coming from the rock crowd has been its exclusion of Rush, a band with some of the biggest sales in all of music that has remained together now for nearly 40 years with only one change to its lineup, on the second album (and we can hardly hold it against them for bringing on Neil Peart).  Their influence has been enormous, their sound is consistent and instantly identifiable, and the music itself is smart, complex, thematic, and at the same time radio-ready.  Now, in their third decade of eligibility, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has nominated them for induction.

Of course, the first reaction is to say, “It’s about time.”  Next is to wonder whether or not such a distinction this late in the game marks a blemish for a band that has for so long defied great odds (unrestrained hate from the music press and numerous personal tragedies) and continually turned out Gold and Platinum records.  Perhaps at this point it is better to reserve them as unsung heroes of the underground, champions of rock for the nerdy, ours to cherish and share amongst ourselves without establishment approval.

But I’m not Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, or Neil Peart, and I won’t guess at what it means for them to be inducted nor try to begrudge them the recognition if, indeed, it does make them feel honored.  The question I want to ask is, “What took so long?”  Art rock as a whole genre has been woefully ignored or trampled upon by the establishment music press since it fell out of fashion in the mid-1970s.  Some of the derision is deserved.  Accusations of pretension toward art rock are easy to make stick.  Making a song last an entire album side and putting in weird-sounding synthesizers and time signatures isn’t enough to make a masterpiece.  But time and again, art-rock bands that have sold millions of records and influenced countless musicians get the old thumb-to-the-nose from both the creative and critical classes of music culture.

Why?  Have the people who laugh and snigger at the very mention of Jethro Tull ever listened to Thick as a Brick, an album that predates this culture’s fascination with irony and delivers a very authentic, and relevant, message (despite its initial conception as a send-up of progressive rock concept albums)?  Why do we revere The Who so religiously, but not the band whose debut album Pete Townshend called “an uncanny masterpiece,” King Crimson?  What about Yes, whose hits proliferate the radio and whose futuristic sound was totally unprecedented in the music world, unlike anything that had been heard before and quite a ways ahead of most of what is produced even today?  Emerson, Lake and Palmer began as one of pop history’s most-hyped bands and left a legacy of big hits like “Lucky Man,” and no one who we’re supposed to take seriously suggests they deserve the kind of immortality supposedly bestowed by the Hall.

With the exception of Pink Floyd and Genesis, and to a lesser extent Frank Zappa, progressive and art rock is as ignored by the Hall of Fame as it is by the other sectors of the music industry.  And it isn’t hard to imagine that Genesis would be nowhere on the roster if it weren’t for the post-progressive Phil Collins-led era.  The contributions to music made by progressive rock bands in the early 1970s cannot be overlooked without committing a serious travesty.  Simply put, that music contains some of the greatest instrumentals (Rick Wakeman’s keyboards from Yes, Martin Barre’s guitar and Ian Anderson’s flute in Jethro Tull, Robert Fripp’s guitar in King Crimson, and many others I could mention if I didn’t fear being accused of simple name-dropping) and most thoughtfully constructed music of all-time, with a diverse range of influences concealed cleverly beneath distorted electric guitars.  Aesthetically, much of it is alright to be enjoyed by your ordinary rock and roller, but those who listen closely might hear a bit of classical music or English folk or an African rhythm they’d have never heard any other place.

To many people, progressive rock isn’t “real” rock.  It certainly doesn’t frequently take the form of fast, three-chord boogie rock.  Often there are lengthy, pensive, instrumental passages, and they might use flutes or harps or other decidedly non-rock instruments.  So I can sympathize to a big degree with people who think Ted Nugent’s or AC/DC’s brand of rock is the bomb and progressive rock is too pompous.  But the Hall of Fame certainly shouldn’t make such a distinction, and hasn’t in other areas (they’re very friendly to pop music, for instance).  What's to stop a Beatles fan from enjoying one of Caravan's pop numbers?  Or anyone who enjoys David Gilmour's ethereal guitar passages from getting just as big a rise from some of Steve Hackett's records?

Thankfully, this year, not only has Rush finally gotten their due, but so has Procol Harum.  It’s a little strange seeing Procol Harum beating Jethro Tull to the nomination, since Jethro Tull had so many more hit singles in the early 70s that still get heavy radio play today (“Teacher,” “Aqualung,” “Cross-Eyed Mary,” and “Bungle in the Jungle,” to name just a few), but then Jethro Tull never had anything quite like “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”  And Deep Purple, whose early career had them squarely in the midst of the burgeoning art-rock movement (well before King Crimson or Genesis) and whose Mark II incarnation contributed many of the most seminal tracks of classic rock, are also finally up for nomination.

Here’s hoping that Rush, Deep Purple, and Procol Harum all make it in this year, and that their inductions pave the way for King Crimson, Yes, and Jethro Tull to be rewarded for their millions of records sold, enormous influence, long list of big singles, sounds that haven’t aged, innovation, and diversity.  These bands and countless others are ignored so that the industry can bring us Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, New Kids on the Block, Madonna, and Marilyn Manson.  This country is famous for its anti-intellectualism, and hopefully by these marginally thoughtful selections the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is coming around to bucking that trend.

Any fool can put on a leather jacket, smoke a cigarette, and act like he’s tough.  I’m sick of seeing it rewarded.  Putting a harpsichord passage from Ravel’s “Bolero” in the middle of a song with a 7/4 guitar riff takes real moxie.  And that’s the real measure of good rock and roll.

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I think Rush deserves to be enshrined in Cleveland (if anyone deserves to in Cleveland). I actually think that one of the problems with the Hall is that sooner or later everyone seems to get in, sometimes twice. Anyway, I have been there and it's worth seeing.

The article is well written and Kyle, I hope for more R&R posts.
I think what the R&R Hall of Fame needs to acknowledge is that the genre is so different from others in that it set a stage that could be taken and expanded, as prog rock bands have done; Rock and Roll came out of the blues and R&B and turned and twisted into the Beatles and punk and psychedelia and new wave and rap and grunge, etc., etc. - isn't prog rock (I hate that term but can't think of a better one!) just as important and, thus, deserves the same recognition? Just because it "had its day" and maybe didn't translate well to the majority of the future masses doesn't mean it's not valid NOR does it mean that it's not GREAT! Jethro Tull is one of my lifelong favorite groups, and that band and others doing their own thing with rock n' roll need respect!
What song are you thinking of that has a harpsichord playing an excerpt from Ravel's "Bolero" in the middle of a 7/4 guitar solo? That rings no bells for me whatsoever although it sounds like something Frank Zappa would have done, particularly since there's no harpsichord part in "Bolero."

As for Procol Harum - a band with one major hit & a couple of minor hits that in recent years has been the opening act for Jethro Tull many times - being nominated for induction while Tull still sits on the sidelines......well, some things in life are just plain weird. Not that it matters much since the RRHOF is a big corporate self-congratulating monument to Jann Wenner anyway and these bands should all take their cue from The Sex Pistols (how's that for irony?) regarding what the RRHOF thinks, or doesn't think, of them.
While I'm not a major Rush fan, I respect their musicianship and agree it's long overdue that they should be in the hall. I'd extend a similar, though weaker, rationale to Deep Purple. Procul Harem are better than some acts already in but I'd place them well behind Yes, Tull, Crimson and the Moody Blues.
David: I was referring to a hypothetical song. Perhaps the phrasing should not have been "harpsichord passage from" but "passage from, played on harpsichord" or better yet, Moog synthesizer.
cannot understand how some one hit wonders are elected and some groups who have given so much to R&R,are continually's so watered down now,that i believe it's an honor not being in the same company as some of these artists.
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Neil Young was arrested for murder in 1969
after confessing “Down by the river, I shot my baby.”
The case never went to trial because the only
solid evidence the prosecution had
was the lyric sheet from the album.

More Rock and Roll Minutiae at:
I am a Rush fan through and through, so I cannot speak for the band and what it means to them, but it means a lot to me personally. Geddy is right in his comments to the media, this is important to us as their fan base. It is a validation to a degree. We have believed in both their lyrics and their amazing musicianship for decades. I'm okay if not everyone sees or hears what I do in their music, but it is hard to understand how anyone involved in the industry cannot acknowledge their profound influence. I think the comment below is right: sometimes it seems like everyone eventually gets in, so the consistent snubbing of Rush seemed particularly baffling and insulting. I, for one, am glad it appears that it will redressed.
Agreed, especially Rush. Not only is Geddy Lee a great performer, he also has a well-honed sense of humour: Witness his participation on SCTV's Bob and Doug McKenzie comedy album "The Great White North".
Rush is lightweight stuff without much staying power. Beyond Tom Sawyer or the other song (I forget the name) on the same album- who can remember their music? Procol Harem? Jeeze gimme a break with the one song... Where's Randy Newman in this conversation?
Oh, and by the way don't mention the word snigger and AC/DC in the same article again. Any band that puts Bag Pipes front and certain in their songs ("Its a Long Way to the Top if you want to Rock n' Roll") is miles ahead of crummy synthesizer rock - Yes for one. Post Bon Scott you can have your way with AC/DC but not prior. And NEVER put the fascist Nugent in the same sentence with Bon Scott and Angus Young's band....
Well I can't stand Rush. It's the vocals. I don't know which of them is singing but I wish he would cut it out. The bass guitar is awesome by comparison.
As for Procol Harum, they are and always have been a very accomplished band with some great songs in their catalog, but why Deep Purple and Jethro Tull are so neglected by this sham Hall of Fame thing I don't know.
I love how people comment on things they're clueless about...funny stuff.
Rush being "lightweights" with no "staying power" is almost laughable if it were'nt so sad.
Maybe if the poster or poser would do some research he would
come to realize the long sucessful career Rush is curently still having.
Correction: This is Rush's 13th year of eligibility, not their third decade.

The RRHOF has inducted far too many one-hit wonders, CRAPPY bands, and virtual unknowns that they now completely lack all shred of credibility. Several articles had been written recently that had pointed this out. I think they (RRHOF) is trying to do damage control, but it is a pathetic attempt. Rush's official response to the nom was diplomatic, but frankly, to be nominated on the same ballot as N.W.A and Public Enemy is quite the slap in the face. They are too classy to respond Eddie Trunk-style.
wright166: Their eligibility began in 1999, so they've been eligible in the 90s, the 00s, and the 10s.
Rush are absolutely among the immortals. The breadth of their influence alone justifies induction in any hall of fame. I really appreciate the words on King Crimson. It's criminal that they've not already been inducted.

As to the clueless comment about Rush not having "staying power..."

24 gold records and 14 platinum (3 multi-platinum) records. Rush's sales statistics place them third behind The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for the most consecutive gold or platinum studio albums by a rock band

Certainly not a valid indicator of artistic merit, but certainly indicative of "staying power" in view of the fact that they're selling out arenas forty years later. AC/DC wish they had Rush's legacy.
Jethro Tull had their day in the sun when they beat out Metallica for the Grammy, and it would be nice to see King Crimson and Protocol Harum (is Dust in yet?), but I get annoyed when Canadians try to tell me that Neal Pert is the best rock drummer of all time when John Henry Bonham crushed the earth with each footstep he made so funkily in heart pounding time.

Plus, I just don't like Canadians...or southerners...or Pink Floyd (I'm kidding about 2 out of 3 of those) Yes should definitely be in there, though. Lots of Prog Rock should. It's so much proto-punk, and it's part of the musical tradition that should get its due.

Plus, without Working Man, I'm 10 minutes down in my 45 minute, $1 (4 plays) Jukebox rotation, and I gotta find a replacement, and that takes like forever.
Kyle: A fine & balanced plea on behalf of a band I never paid much attention to.

The news that Procul Harum has been nominated, though, was music to my ears. Such a wildly under-rated band. Singer Gary Brooker was -- and is -- one of rock's great voices. I've included a link to a 2006 performance that demonstrates my claim. So many survivors of that era have lost their voices, if not their chops. Brooker just keeps shining on, brightly:

Thanks for that link Jeremiah!
Jeremiah, loved that video!!
OH, that Rock and Roll HOF! As if the entire concept isn't contrary to the spirit of the music anyway (assuming we agree on what THAT is, or was). It makes me yawn, except for the yearly hair-tearing over who's in and who's out. More like a debutant ball than a music tribute or cultural signifier. The R&R HOF is so dominated by cliques and personalities and insider favoritism that it is meaningless to me, and I'm surprised so many artists fall for the phoniness and pretense. Let's boycott it -- until they vote in The Monkees, it's all a sham.

Seriously. The lazy, knee-jerk bias against the Monkees expresses in one example all that's wrong with the selection process.