By Jessica Wheeler, AliveTampaBay Columnist
On April 1, Steve Miller will take the stage at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. Almost a year ago, Miller was embroiled in a controversy over comments he made at the ceremony for his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. With this year’s induction ceremony just around the corner, let’s take a look back at the controversy and examine Miller’s remarks.
The background: Steve Miller was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016, as part of a class that also included Chicago, Deep Purple, Cheap Trick, and NWA. During his acceptance speech, Miller took the hall to task, albeit somewhat gently: “I encourage you to keep expanding your vision, to be more inclusive of women,” he said, a prescient comment in a year with no female inductees. He also urged the organization behind the Hall of Fame to do more to support music education. But backstage in front of the press, Miller elaborated on his comments and displayed a decidedly more frustrated attitude, calling the induction process “unpleasant” and alleging that the hall didn’t respect the artists they purported to honor.
The day after the induction, Miller continued to deride the hall. “My suggestion,” he told Rolling Stone, “is to take the existing Rock Hall founders and nominating committee, give them all a plaque in the museum and then replace every one of them and start over.” Weeks later, on the Howard Stern Show, he pledged to investigate the organization behind the hall, to determine “where they’re spending the money.”
It’s easy to see why someone would criticize the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s true that some years there are no women inducted; it’s even true that the hall has had more than one consecutive year without a woman being inducted. The women who are inducted are often inducted much later than men with comparable careers. For example, the hall requires 25 years to pass from the time of the artist’s debut album until they are eligible for induction. By 1977, the debut albums from Blondie, the Talking Heads, the Ramones, and Patti Smith had all been released, meaning that they all became eligible for induction into the hall at almost the same time. All four acts were seminal punk and new wave artists who performed regularly at the legendary CBGB club in New York City, helping to launch a brand new genre of music. The Ramones and the Talking Heads were inducted in 2002, while Blondie wasn’t inducted until 2006 and Smith in 2007. Similarly, Aerosmith released their debut in 1973 and Heart released theirs in 1976, meaning that their inductions could have been as little as three years apart. Both are hard rock bands with hits spanning multiple decades, both worthy of induction. Instead, Aerosmith was inducted in 2001, while Heart was inducted 12 years later in 2013. With only one woman inductee in this year’s class (Joan Baez) it seems that Miller’s comments were on the mark.
Miller’s comments about replacing the nominating committee, however, may be displaced anger. The committee releases its full list of nominees each year, before sending a ballot out to “an international voting body of more than 800 artists, historians and members of the music industry,” according to their website. “Factors such as an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique are taken into consideration.” A glimpse at the list of nominees for 2017 reveals much diversity, with artists like Depeche Mode, Janet Jackson, Bad Brains, Chaka Khan, Chic, the Cars, Joe Tex, the Zombies and the MC5 representing multiple genders, ethnicities, and genres of music. However, the results of the voting revealed that this year’s inductees will be Joan Baez, Tupac Shakur, Pearl Jam, Electric Light Orchestra, Journey, and Yes, a decidedly less diverse class of artists overall. Perhaps the problem is with the voters, not the board. In any case, the hall will need to make changes in order to stay relevant and provide the world with what it promises to be: “the world’s foremost museum devoted to the celebration and preservation of rock & roll music.”
After all, in the words of Steve Miller, “You tell me what the hell is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and what does it do besides talk about itself and sell postcards?”