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Dolly Parton

Dolly Rejects The Hall

Dolly Parton (Shutterstock)
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It’s about credibility. No one has a good word to say about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame other than those in it and those who select the inductees. Everybody else abandoned ship long ago. First, it was the exclusions. Run by biased elitists who think anyone who lives in California is brain dead, we had the nerdy leather jacket know better than others telling us what to think, and that paradigm went out the window with the advent of the internet, about the same time the inductions went completely off the rails, after the obvious people were voted in.

And then came the non-rock inductees. This is where the Rock Hall sacrificed its own credibility. Look at it like a museum. It’s not like museums of antiquity feel they must include modern stuff to appeal to younger generations, rather they have a defined time span, as do most significant modern museums.

Let’s take the Musée d’Orsay, probably the most popular museum in Paris. It’s for impressionistic art, that’s it. It was a period, it’s over and done, but turns out the public is fascinated with the era. As will be people in the future when they look back on classic rock. The Rock Hall inducted the influencers, those from the fifties and early sixties, the progenitors, because nothing comes out of thin air. One can argue quite strongly that rock has died. But if a new rock act has significant impact, it’s fine to induct it, it’s about the genre, the influences a state of mind.

And this has nothing to do with pop. Or country. Sure, there are great artists in those worlds, but they are not rock and roll. Rock was about rebellion, whether internal or external. You could be the Stones singing “Street Fighting Man,” you could be James Taylor singing about inner turmoil, and then you had acts like AC/DC and Deep Purple where the sound, the bombast, was the essence of what they were selling. They assault you, eliminate all your problems and take you on a trip.

But the Rock Hall has to keep inducting people. Why? I’ve got no idea, they don’t always induct players into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Oh, I know, because there is a belief that in order to financially sustain, you must have young hip artists. Why is that so? When old Ferraris are worth more than new ones? There’s a belief that if you lose touch with the audience, like “Rolling Stone” magazine, or MTV, you’ll die. But just like the record labels wield their catalogs to extract the best terms from streaming companies, it’s the music itself that sells the entire enterprise.

Furthermore, the kumbaya inclusion is a modern construct. When rock was flourishing everybody wasn’t on the same page, you were either with us or against us, listening to FM or AM, there was a clear division, by including non-rock artists you alienate the core. Talk to Iron Maiden or any other legacy rock act which had huge success in a narrower vertical, they’re true to their fans, because their fans are keeping their band alive. Come on, a visit to the Rock Hall used to be a dream, like going to Graceland, but not anymore. Been to Graceland? One of the great things about it is it’s a period piece. Three Sony Trinitrons, for the three networks. So if you’re a young ‘un, you can see the way it used to be. They don’t have to modernize Graceland, it stands on its own!

So, trying to get everybody to believe, everybody to be interested, which is a fool’s errand in the internet era, we haven’t all been on the same page since the MTV monoculture of the eighties, the Rock Hall is casting a wide net, it nominates Dolly Parton, who is anything but rock, those who previously cared shrug their shoulders, the nominating committee lost its mind years ago, and then Dolly says NO!

That’s what’s gone from today’s society. Everybody will take the buck, they say yes to every opportunity, whereas credibility involves a judgment, you’re concerned with your identity, you don’t want to compromise it, just because someone else jumps off a bridge, that does not mean you will. The greatest artists are sui generis, one of a kind, there’s only one Queen, no one has ever sounded similar since. And it turns out once the young audience was exposed to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in a comedy movie it became a staple that will live forever. There’s nothing else in the rock canon that sounds like it, nothing! Same deal with Steely Dan, who famously blew off the road to focus on their recordings, and then went back on the road when everybody else was trying to sell CDs to younger buyers. They flipped the script. Because rock and rollers, the greats, are unpredictable, they don’t repeat themselves, that’s why we’re always interested in what they say next.

So, we live in an interesting era. Where non-talents are billionaires, where the focus in the music business is on the second half of the term, the “business.” How do I sell? How do I become bigger? Who will give me money?

And everybody wants it right away. So, the Kardashians skipped college to make money… There’s gonna be a point where no one cares anymore, when they get older, then what are they going to do? Life is long, and so are careers. And the reason Dolly Parton’s has sustained is because she’s uber-talented and always been herself, always. You know what you get. The plastic surgery, the wigs, she’s her own creation, that’s her magic. She doesn’t need the imprimatur of the Rock Hall to burnish her image. That’s the funny thing, the real winners don’t need the awards, it’s only those who want to leverage them to get more gigs who care. Hell, most people can’t even remember who wins. And some of the most successful movies never did, never mind the inane Grammys. We always hated the Grammys, they were out of touch, but at the tail end of the monoculture we were all on the same page and today if you like all these artists…I haven’t found anybody who has. Variety shows died on television eons ago, but suddenly we’re gonna watch this train-wreck? No.

Let’s move on to Clive Davis. So he got his own label, Arista. He had hits. He told the acts what to record and he made the records successful. But despite hitting, almost none of the acts have sustained. The focus was on hit singles, and “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” was a hit single, people remember that, fame is not everything. Whereas on Warner/Reprise, Mo and his minions famously didn’t tell the acts what to do, they trusted the musicians, the execs didn’t know better, believe me, no one is going to be reading Clive Davis’s book years from now, if they’re even now, but Neil Young and Prince and the other artists Mo and company shepherded to success? They’re forever. That’s the essence of music, the je nais se quois, you can’t describe it, you can only feel it, experience it. It’s not paint by numbers, it’s magic. And the great thing is there is no formula, the greats start with a blank page each time, they do it their way and we find it irresistible.

But not everybody. I have records in my collection that will blow your mind if you ever heard them. But they didn’t break through. That’s life, not only in music. But everybody was playing this game, people at home, in bars, in recording studios, how can I cut something irresistible. And not everything broke through.

So now Dolly Parton further embellishes her image. By saying no to the Rock Hall she gains much more than if she was inducted. She’s got tons of awards, who cares, it’s her music, her persona that’s her essence, not her collection of trophies.

And this of course brings us to Ukraine. Most notably Zelenskyy. This guy is not playing by everybody else’s rules. He’s not a kleptocrat. He speaks truth, with emotion. And he’s willing to sacrifice his life in the process, for what’s right. Meanwhile, we’ve got wankers in D.C., politicians who really only worry about the money. Mr. Smith went to Washington a long time ago, and that was just a movie. They appease their donors. They vote with their future in mind. And if they get bounced, they get a cush job with the people who paid for them to be in office. It’s ugly I tell you, you can’t believe in a single one of them, not Trump and not Biden either. But Zelenskyy?

Come on, all the polls tell us Americans are willing to pay more for gasoline to support Ukraine in its war effort. When was the last time an American sacrificed anything for the greater good? That’s the opposite of the ethos of both the Republicans and the rich…I know better, I don’t want to give you my money and I come first, everybody else should pick themselves up by their bootstraps. But in a matter of days, a derided TV comedian emerged as the most sincere, most believable pol on earth. As for so many of the talking heads, they were caught flat-footed.

Yes, Tucker Carlson will never regain his image, as a truth-speaker to his fans. Turns out he was an entertainer, a blowhard just saying stuff to make himself rich. As for Trump? His influence is waning. They both sacrificed their credibility, their heads were so far up their rear ends they couldn’t feel which way the wind blew, never mind the changes in the weather. Yes, the rank and file Republicans are on the side of Zelenskyy, they’re willing to sacrifice.

And so am I.

Every time I write anything criticizing the right I lose subscribers, I’m told to stick to what I know. But I am sticking to what I know, the rock and roll ethos. An attitude, an honesty, that isn’t looking to buy in or sell out but follows its own road and gains adherents based on its credibility.

That’s an e-mail I get all the time. I don’t agree with what you say, but I can tell by reading your words you sure believe it.

That’s the game. Not polls.

That’s one reason everybody wants to be a rock star, because the rules don’t apply to them! Having a drink company or a perfume company means you’re following a well-trodden path and the truth is you still don’t matter, it’s the titans who allow you to play in these worlds who control them. You’re just a flavor of the moment they’re using to sell stuff. They’ll get new people in a few years, when your fame fades. But the music? If done right, it lasts forever.

But we haven’t had that spirit here for a very long time. And that’s the spirit that was being cemented in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. A generation, a sound, that was like no other, that mattered, that conquered the world. You can analogize hip-hop, but its ethos is different, at the beginning, after gaining success, it was about ripping off these corporations who screwed Black people. Yes, Black people wanted the money up front, because they’ve been promised stuff forever that they never got.

But you can’t say the above. It’s too dangerous. But it’s true. It’s only one part of hip-hop’s roots, but it’s far different from rock music mostly made by white males.

Who not only sang about sex, but traveled the world and screwed groupies and did all kinds of stuff that is taboo today.

It’s a bygone era. But they’ve got dinosaurs in museums, why not rock stars? Don’t sanitize them, it was a different time, explore their legacies, it’ll make you think, it’ll help you move forward, make your choices.

But if you go to the smorgasbord hall in Cleveland that feeling has been excised, in trying to be a big tent. ROCK AND ROLL WAS NEVER A BIG TENT! Either you heard the call of the Pied Piper and followed it, or you didn’t. Alice Cooper pissed off the public. But it was all a joke, or maybe some of it wasn’t, he kept you guessing, and then he started to play golf and you had to ask yourself…WHO IS THIS GUY?

And maybe you no longer believe in Mr. Furnier, but if you don’t believe in “I’m Eighteen” and “Under My Wheels” you’re deaf.

So I’m writing all this because Dolly Parton said no. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have laid this down. If she’d gotten inducted, it wouldn’t have been a blip on my radar screen. But saying no, in her own words, it became a worldwide story, it was everywhere, and I thought it was over, but my inbox is still filling up with people talking about it, they’re shocked. Who could believe that Dolly Parton would be the correction factor?


And that’s just the point.

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