As much as I love Jimi Hendrix, it occurs to me that, after spending five years largely dedicated to crafting words describing him alone, it might be nice for my sanity to visit some other musical topics from time to time. And so, welcome to my blog – where I intend to occasionally post thoughts and impressions from a lifetime of writing about and playing music, offered here in communiques that I hope you’ll find worthy of your time.
Of course, having just passed five years writing an exhaustive analysis of the most influential electric guitarist of any era, the concept of “influence” looms large in my mind now. Which swings things around to the latest class of potential inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, an assortment of musicians and performers announced on October 5, 2018.
No, I’m not going to revisit the tired old argument about what the definition of “rock & roll” is and how well or poorly the Hall of Fame recognizes it. But I can’t help but get back to that lone word: “influence.”
To me, a hall of fame – particularly one dedicated to music – should be all about recognizing those who fundamentally changed the sounds that came after them. Financial success? Nice for those reaping the earnings, but certainly not a prerequisite for an influential impact.
Accordingly, the real heavyweights in the talent pool for 2019 are not the artists the public will likely clamor to see inducted. The MC5, Kraftwerk, and Roxy Music were never bands that filled stadiums (though Roxy surely had chart success later in their career once some of the early lineup’s fundamental weird edges were filed off). Yet all three of those bands directly influenced and helped shape musical movements that took form in the wake of their sonic passing.
The MC5 provided the spark that lit the flames of punk rock that roared into life in the mid-1970s. Kraftwerk still influences electronic bands and savvy producers with the icy elegance of their groundbreaking creations. And Roxy’s albums ranged freely, offering listeners hints of everything from the primal days of early rock and roll to sounds of eerie sophistication. And thousands of future band members and musicians were listening closely.
Clearly, how warmly the world at large financially embraces a given artist’s catalog has little correlation with cultural impact.