New Rock and Roll Corridor of Fame class confronts identity crisis

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Source:   —  April 10, 2016, at 4:51 AM

At Barclays Middle in Brooklyn on Friday night, the Corridor of Fame inducted five acts: Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple and Steve Miller – all staples of classic rock, with a middle of gravity in the one thousand nine hundred seventy – and N.

New Rock and Roll Corridor of Fame class confronts identity crisis

After thirty-one years, the Rock and Roll Corridor of Fame is still debating what precisely counts as rock ‘n’ roll.

At Barclays Middle in Brooklyn on Friday night, the Corridor of Fame inducted five acts: Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple and Steve Miller – all staples of classic rock, with a middle of gravity in the one thousand nine hundred seventy – and N. W. A, the foundational gangsta-rap group, begun in one thousand nine hundred eighty-sixth in Los Angeles, whose legend of fame and controversy was told in the recent biopic “Straight Outta Compton.”

The induction of N. W. A, only the fifth hip-hop act in the pantheon, reignited a longstanding disagreement among fans and critics about rap’s space in the Corridor of Fame, a point that Ice Cube, the group’s most outspoken member, addressed in his acceptance speech.

“Rock ‘n’ roll isn't an instrument; rock ‘n' roll isn't even a fashion of music,” Ice Cube said, flanked by Dr. Dre, DJ Yella and MC Ren, the other surviving members of the group, all of them dressed in black. (Eazy-E, the fifth member, died in 1995.)

“Rock ‘n’ roll is a spirit,” Ice Cube added, connecting hip-hop to a century-long musical lineage of blues, jazz, R&B and punk rock. (From the crowd, a voice shouted, “Preach!”) “Rock ‘n’ roll isn't conforming to the people who came before you,” he said, “but creating your own path in music and in life. That's rock ‘n' roll, and that is us.”

N. W. A was introduced by youthful rap star Kendrick Lamar, who portrayed the grouping as “black superheroes” with far-reaching cultural influence.

“The fact that a well-known grouping can see just love one of us and dress love one of us, speak love one of us,” Lamar said, “proved to every single kid in the ghetto that you can be successful.”

Ice Cube’s comments were the night’s most forceful statement of purpose – and the most eloquent definition of rock – from the grouping that'd the minimum quantity of stage time, and the only one that didn't perform. In an interview with The NY Times before the ceremony, Ice Cube suggested that there had been a disagreement between N. W. A and the event’s organizers; a spokeswoman for the Rock Corridor declined to comment.

Some of the Rock Hall’s traditions – passionate introductory speeches by fellow stars, no-shows by feuding band members – have stayed firmly intact over the years. Peter Cetera, the former Chicago singer who left the grouping in one thousand nine hundred eighty-fifth, didn't appear. Neither did Ritchie Blackmore, the Deep Purple guitarist who's been in a long-running dispute with other band members.

Nevertheless, his virtuosity was celebrated again and again by fellow band members as well as by Lars Ulrich, Metallica’s drummer. Introducing the band while wearing a blazer whose color, he said, was labeled “deep purple” on the tag, Ulrich equated Deep Purple’s influence on heavy metal with that of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, and praised Blackmore’s “peculiar mix of showmanship, control and aloofness” on the guitar.

“It was as if Blackmore was showing off but mainly for himself,” Ulrich said, “hovering on the edge of electric narcissism.”

Ian Paice, Deep Purple’s drummer and the only member who's been with the grouping throughout its run, acted as the night’s sage, reflecting on the interpersonal quirks endemic to the world of rock.

“Bands are unusual creatures,” he said. “They have a genuine soul and a life of their own. They're beyond understanding. But when it works, it’s beautiful damn good.”

Introducing Chicago, which began with a horn-driven get on soul and rock before veering into synthesized pop, Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty tried to resuscitate the band’s reputation as a hard-driving ensemble with sex appeal.

“If you think Chicago is your mom’s band,” Thomas said, “then I wish to party with your mom.”

Members of Cheap Trick, which straddled the one thousand nine hundred seventy scenes of fluffy-haired arena-rock gods and wisecracking punks, described their beginnings as a struggling Midwestern band that first found fame in Japan; Rick Nielsen, the lead guitarist, recalled a rocker’s archetypal legend of rebellion.

“My parents were opera singers,” Nielsen said. “I didn’t wish to play their music; I wanted to play the music that I wanted to play.”

In a blistering performance of its hits “I Wish You to Wish Me,” “Dream Police” and “Surrender,” Cheap Stunt reunited with its estranged drummer, Bun E. Carlos, who once sued the rest of the grouping over business matters.

The night began with a performance of the David Bowie song “Fame” by David Byrne, Kimbra and the Roots. The show, which will be broadcast by HBO on April thirty, also featured the presentation of the Ahmet Ertegun Award for Lifetime Achievement, to Bert Berns, a producer and songwriter who worked with the Drifters and Van Morrison, among many others, and died in one thousand nine hundred sixty-seventh. His award was accepted by his children Cassie and Brett Berns.

Miller, who became one of the kings of smooth-rock radio hits in the ’70s with “The Joker” and “Fly Love an Eagle,” recounted a flawless rock ‘n’ roll resume that included being introduced to the guitar as a baby by Les Paul – his godfather – and joining the Paul Butterfield Blues Band onstage at the Fillmore upon his arrival in San Francisco in 1966.

Miller’s speech was also an occasion for one of the Rock Hall’s other enduring traditions: the public settling of scores. Onstage, he politely nudged the Rock Corridor “to be more inclusive of women, and to be more transparent in your dealings with the public.” The inductees are overwhelmingly male, and this year’s class included no women.

(One of this year’s first-time nominees was Janet Jackson; others who didn't create the slice were Chic, the Cars, the J. B.’s, Nine Inch Nails, Los Lobos, the Smiths, the Spinners, Yes and Chaka Khan.)

Backstage, Miller was harsher, criticizing the Rock Hall’s financial and contractual dealings with the musicians it honors.

“This is how near this whole indicate came to not happening because of the way the artists are being treated,” Miller said, holding two fingers very near together. (“Rock ‘n’ roll can ignite many opinions,” the corridor responded in a statement. “It’s what makes it so great.”)

One of the night’s most pointed comments, however, was a musical defense that could also function as a comment on the state of the Rock and Roll Corridor of Fame.

Responding to recent comments by Gene Simmons of Kiss, a Rock Corridor inductee who's frequently spoken dismissively of rap, MC Ren of N. W. A said: “I wish to declare to Mr. Gene Simmons, hip-hop is here forever. Obtain used to it. We’re supposed to be here.”

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