Born to be wild, the spirit of rock can't rip in museum

September 06, 1995|By MIKE LITTWIN

Like Joan Jett, I love rock and roll.

But, here's where Joan and I may part ways -- I hate the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Not because it's in Cleveland. After all, something's got to be in Cleveland.

And, no, it's not the building. If I. M. Pei -- one of the great names in the modern culture, trailing only Yo Yo Ma -- wants to create a monument that looks like a cross between our own National Aquarium and the new Louvre, hey, he can do whatever he wants. He's I. M. Pei.

My problem is that rock and roll doesn't belong in a museum. I don't care what the building looks like.

This is the worst thing to happen, in the rock world, since they put "Sympathy for the Devil" in elevators.

When Danny & the Juniors said rock and roll was here to stay, they didn't mean it was here to stay behind glass, like it was the Rosetta Stone or something.

Once they put rock music in the same kind of place they put dinosaurs, well, you can draw your own conclusions. Suddenly, Casey Kasem's rock era is indistinguishable from the Paleolithic era.

What I'm trying to say is, you don't institutionalize rock music any more than you hold an anarchists' convention.

On the other hand, it was, I guess, inevitable.

As we rush toward the millennium, there is this movement to enshrine everyone, before it's too late. You see the evidence of this everywhere, but especially on TV awards shows honoring, for example, daytime TV.

And, let's face it, all halls of fame -- even, yes, the sainted National Baseball Hall of Fame -- are, in a word, cheesy.

Some examples:

There's a Cookbook Hall of Fame.

There's a Miniature Golf Hall of Fame.

There's a Choral Directors Hall of Fame.

There's a Rough Riders Hall of Fame, which isn't to be confused with the National Cowboys' Hall of Fame.

Which isn't to be confused with the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame.

We could go on. Mr. Potato Head Hall of Fame? Inventors invented their own hall of fame. Orators can't shut up about theirs.

Somewhere there's got to be a TV hall of fame, right? You get the feeling that TV was invented with a hall of fame in mind.

In fact, there could be several TV halls of fame. One for sitcoms. One for miniseries. One for police drama showing a detective's rear end. One for Roseanne's ex-husbands.

I can see the voting now: "Bewitched vs. Jeannie," Sipowicz vs. Joe Coffey, Lucy vs. Mary Tyler Moore. The loser's got some 'splainin' to do.

But if TV and rock are both entertainments, they're different, too.

TV is supposed to be safe.

Rock is supposed to be dangerous.

Rock spawns fads like moshing. Rock is supposed to be, and always has been, denounced by people running for president.

In its highest form, rock should make adults worry for the future of their kids. It's supposed to produce frenzy and maybe, at least in your Walkman, revolution.

Now, of course, rock music is a staple not just on elevators, but also in commercials. Like a rock.

Once upon a time, they tried to sell sneakers with "Revolution," before too many people suggested that the Nike folks were dealing with something that was nearly sacred. Now, the Stones are selling computers. No wonder they think it's OK to have a Rock Hall of Fame.

And then there's the idea of having to choose as a voter between, say, Clapton and Jimmy Page. They solved that problem by voting virtually anybody into the hall of fame who ever tuned up an amp in a garage.

The honor means . . . nothing.

It means less than an Academy Award, which should mean nothing, but is taken to mean, instead, that for consecutive years nobody in the world was a better actor than Tom Hanks.

The cool thing about the Rock Hall of Fame was the concert. I know all the critics panned it. That's what critics do. The sound system was a disaster. I'm sure many of the acts overreached.

But that isn't the point.

The point is that Springsteen and Chuck Berry were doing "Johnny B. Goode" together and the fans, even after paying 80 bucks a pop, were rocking the house down. Now rocking down a museum until it just explodes, that's rock and roll.

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