At The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!

              rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame-2013-15-1024     Q!  Still On the Block Droppin Science

 Rockin into History

The Rock and roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony was a remarkable evening by any accounting.  It was an evening of moving speeches, joyful reveries and reflections on the lives and works of the goddesses and Gods of American popular music; music that won hearts and influenced musicians around the world.  The argument about what represents art, and what’s mere commercial trash, is a long and tortuous one and I harbor no conceit that I can resolve it here; although I do believe that it is possible to distinguish between the two.  The problem is that few among us possess the combination of intelligence, taste, objectivity, technical knowledge and open mindedness to pull it off.  And even fewer are capable of recognizing when one succeeds or fails at it.

Hence engaging in such speculations are risky business; therefore I shall seek refuge in Duke Ellington’s axiom: “There are only two kinds of music: good and bad.”  I always took Duke to mean that each genre of music should be evaluated by its own standards, and by that measure there is greatness in every type of music.  Since this was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction fete, the artists who performed were the crème de la crème of the Rock/Rhythm & Blues/Rap world.  And they really rocked the house!

There were several intoxicating highs and magic moments throughout the evening, as living legends were showered with extravagant panegyrics, then told their stories and thanked their fans for the love and support even as they were thanked for the memories.  All of the inductees had provided the background sounds to which their fans choreographed the drama of their lives.  Priceless memories of halcyon days and bright moments are enshrined in their melodies and verse; a song poetry that engages life’s triumphs and tribulations, the literature of the masses.

There were so many great songs sung on this occasion, and so many stellar performances, the choice of any act for special praise is almost as much a matter of personal taste as artistic merit. That said, my favorite performances were Jennifer Hudson’s tribute to the great disco diva Donna Summers; the tribute to Bluesman Albert King by the virtuoso blues guitarists John Mayer and Gary Clark Jr.; the reunion jam by hard rocker inductees Heart; Public Enemy, who were also enshrined in the Hall, brought the noise and reminded us when Hip Hop was attempting to address serious issues.

Usher’s evocation of Michael Jackson’s performance of Rock With Me was superb, and inductee Randy Newman’s performance of his marvelous song poetry while holding down the piano chair in the band, was beyond category.   Although songwriter Carol King can’t really sing – not when compared to real singers such as Jennifer Hudson – like her fellow tunesmith Bob Dillon, the power of their songs carry the performance.  And in any case she is Carol King, a living legend in the business of music, so her appearance of itself was a highlight of the evening.

Jennifer Hudson! 
28th Annual Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony - Show
Rockin the House

Heart!

28th Annual Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony - Show

They broke the Gender barrier in Hard Rock
 John Mayer and Gary Clark Jr. Stomping the Blues
28th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony - Show
Albert Kings Legacy Lives on

 Added to the great musical performances were some moving oratory; both in the nominating speeches and the responses of the Inductees.  Among the standouts from a torrent of eloquent tributes was the pioneering lady guitarist from Heart, whose induction speech recalled the limited employment possibilities for women when she began her career.  She summed it up by saying “women weren’t expected to rock,” and celebrated the vast distance women had traveled over the last half century.

A silver haired Randy Newman’s speech was riddled with self-deprecating humor while tossing a few barbs at the arbiters of popular music that decide who is worthy of induction in the Hall of Fame by suggesting that he had begun to believe that he would have to die to get in.   Cheech and Chong were outrageously funny in their induction speech for the legendary Producer Lou Adler, pointing out that he produced the greatest rock and roll stoner movie of all time, “Up In Smoke,” and promoted the path breaking June 1967 Monterey Music Festival that presented white acts like Janice Joplin and the Grateful Dead, to black acts such as Rhythm and Blues star Otis Redding, and Jimi Hendrix, the father of electric rock guitar.

A stunningly beautiful Kelly Rowland, groomed and decorated to the height of fashion, offered impassioned praise songs in behalf of Donna Summers’ induction that was one of the evening’s brightest moments.  Spike Lee and the legendary artist/activist Harry Belafonte both gave moving speeches on behalf of “Public Enemy,” the first Rappers to be enshrined in the Hall.  Spikes’ remarks were thoughtful and told us how he selected Chuck D. to write the signature tune for his innovative movie “Do The Right Thing.”  Chuck D. responded with a thoughtful and moving speech, in which he addressed all those who disparage Hip Hop as art even as he expressed deep gratitude to those who chose them for induction.  Clearly he saw it as a vindication for Rap music as a genre.

Public Enemy Brings tha Noise

28th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony - Show

But Are They Real  Revolutionaries?

Despite the usual eloquence and intelligence of Harry Belafonte’s remarks, he quickly transgressed the boundaries of legit compliment and lapsed into hyperbole as he declared the group “revolutionaries.”  I don’t know how much Harry really knows about the group, but I was writing about the Rap scene at the Village Voice when they burst upon the scene in the 90’s and addressed that claim at the time.

Some people had begun to argue that Rappers were the new spokesmen for black people, the 90’s counterparts of 1960’s leaders such as student protests leaders Stokley Carmichael and H. Rap Brown. And they pointed to Chuck D. and his rapid exhortatory style as evidence or their claim.  Some even compared them to Dr. King and Minister Malcolm X.  I thought such talk was dangerous folly at the time and I am even more convinced today.

To begin with the sixties leaders were involved in actual struggle, organizing people to empower themselves against vicious foes who demonstrated on numerous occasions that murder was an acceptable method of suppressing their efforts to induce change through peaceful struggle.  And the SNNC organizers worked for subsistence wages in the most violent areas of the south.  And leaders like Malcolm and King spent many years studying – in theory and practice – preparing for their leadership roles in a movement that changed the most powerful nation in the world – and they were both murdered on the job.

To refer to Public Enemy as “revolutionaries” is to cheapen their sacrifice.  Harry should have known better, as a performing artist himself he should know that most writers of protest songs are working from inspiration and intuition, rather than an in-depth understanding of the problems they sing about.  And they are clueless as to how to go about solving them.

The apex of the evening for me was the induction of Quincy Jones.  In an elaborate introduction by Oprah Winfrey – in which she pointed out that not only had Quincy produced the two biggest selling records in history – Michael Jackson’s Thriller and We Are The World, which featured the biggest acts in the business – Oprah reminded us that Quincy has been nominated for the Grammy 71 times and won it 27 times, the most in the history of the prestigious award.  Then Quincy walked humbly to the stage.

Since he is used to making his statements with music, Quincy’s remarks were simply and to the point.  Yet despite the absence of oratorical flourishes, no statement uttered on this evening prolific with verbal extravagance was more moving or weighted with gravitas.  He began with a tongue in cheek signification about finally being discovered after nearly 70 years in the music business.  Then he became deadly serious as he told us how he grew up in a Chicago neighborhood where Al Capone’s gang operated and constantly finding the bodies of murder victims lying about.

He assured us that he was heading for a similar fate, the grave yard or prison, although he was only eleven!  Then one night while participating in a burglary he stumbled across a piano.  He sat down and pressed the keys and it changed his life.  At that moment he decided that he wanted to learn how to play music.  It was obviously the best decision he ever made because his mastery of music rewarded him with a fairy tale life that took him all over the world and it seemed like he spoke to everybody twice.  It was a gift that never stopped giving.

The highpoint of this extraordinary testament to the magic power of music came when pointed out that his greatest lessons came from masters like Duke, Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and his brilliant contemporary and life-long friend Ray Charles.  Quincy Jones went on to excoriate the music critics and cultural historians for not giving these great master musicians their props, despite the fact that their contribution to 20th century music is second to none.

He looked into the camera and declared to the world that he is certain a hundred years hence historians will correctly view them as America’s version of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, et al.  Then Quincy told the surprised audience, who had come to worship at the altar of “Rock and Roll,” that everything they do comes from gospel, blues, and Jazz which is the basis of the world’s most popular music – whatever name they choose to call it.  To which I uttered a hearty “AMEN!”

 Back In The Day

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The Master at Work!

 Quincy and Michael

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They Made History!

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 20, 2013

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