EMBRACE THE SUCK: KISS AND THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME
by Robert W. Getz
There are two constants in social media that you may depend upon each year whenever the latest class of inductees into The Rock and Rock Hall of Fame are announced. 1) There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth about any rap artist nominees because ‘rap is crap, man! That ain’t music!’ etc., etc. And 2) None of these clowns deserve to get in if KISS (the Greatest Non-Rapping Rock and Roll Band in the World, according to them) are left begging at the door.
My wife and I recently had a chance to visit the V & A’s traveling “David Bowie Is” exhibition and were astonished by the sheer variety of items on display and the fecundity of imagination that inspired the curators to put it together. Handwritten lyrics, stylish and creative costumes, multi-media presentations that covered the influences of an artist whose broad interests range from Georgie Fame to William S. Burroughs, all thrown together in a way that helped to explain the cultural significance of David Bowie’s life and career.
Now, try to imagine the opposite of this.
Try to imagine a rock band whose artistic ambitions were so small, their interest in risk-taking so infinitesimal, that one wouldn’t need a museum to explain them. Instead there would be a small room about the size of a closet with a table and chair, and on the table there would be a small wind-up figure that vomited blood once every hour.
That’s all you’d need to know before sauntering off to the gift shop. That, ladies and gentlemen, is KISS, the world’s most awful rock ‘n’ roll band, the band that is nothing BUT gift shop, so fantastically, laughably bad, so far beyond Spinal Tap bad, that if they didn’t exist we’d have had to invent them.
And now at long last, after the feverish complaints of what one imagines were tens of their fans, KISS are being inducted into The Rock and Rock Hall of Fame.
That’s right. They’re in before Lou Reed (the VU notwithstanding). Think about that for a moment. Lou freakin’ Reed. Lou Sweet Jane Reed. They’re in before Link Wray, arguably one of the most influential rock ‘n’ roll guitarists that ever lived. They’re in before the New York Dolls, the band they desperately wanted to be but could only produce a macho cartoon version of. Well, sure, some deserving artists are going to fall through the cracks, you say. But at least this year, the group that gave the world immortal works like “Crazy Crazy Nights” and “Dance All Over Your Face” (I wish I were making this up) will be feted in the manner they deserve after having been ignored for so long, because everyone knows how enormously influential dressing up like tiny woodland creatures from outer space has been.
So why should we care? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is just another Hard Rock Cafe, a tourist trap for the rubes who’ve driven 300 miles to see a pair of Elton John’s sunglasses and buy a tee-shirt. And ever since Jann Wenner took over the reins from the late Ahmet Ertegun it’s become a self-congratulatory party for Rolling Stone magazine, a music publication that seems to revel in being 20 years behind the times and using the least syllables and largest print possible. Anyone looking for something that reflects the artistic democracy represented by rock ‘n’ roll music in either the Hall of Fame or Rolling Stone will find the taste of 60 year old white guys staring back at them. And that’s leaving aside the absurd U.S.-centric focus of the place, as if musical excellence were limited to the boundaries of North America. If this weren’t the case, T. Rex, The Jam, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, and The Smiths would already be in it. And you’ll look in vain for Dexys: as far as they can tell, Kevin Rowland’s band is a one-hit punchline from 1982.
So why lose any sleep over a bunch of thuddingly dull con artists being officially embalmed in the hallowed halls of a museum that represents an almost passionate belief in the power of mediocrity? Well, there is one reason. Having KISS inducted into its ranks means that whatever thin membrane of taste or intelligence that may have remained stretched precariously and protectively across the ideal of what accomplishment or value might mean within the context of rock ‘n’ roll music, that thin tissue has been pulled to its limit and finally been shredded into confetti. It means that if you ever thought there was anything worth preserving about the idea of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you can take the shutter down now, pull up stakes and light out for the territory. If you ever thought rock ‘n’ roll music belonged to someone besides the carnival barkers, the shysters, the phonies, the grifters, the moneymen and the crooks, it’s time to call it a day. Your time is done. The last bastion has been breached. By at long last elevating KISS into its pantheon of heroes, a group whose bobblehead dolls and action figures show more human emotion than their originals, a group who have an official Monster Mini-Golf course you can play in Las Vegas, a group that has lurched from gimmick to gimmick with the desperation of someone falling off a ledge, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has finally delivered the perfect mirror image of itself, its new kings a sad collection of ghosts and goblins come home to roost at last in this new land of the dead, emblems of the new Zombie Mash-Up Xerox Culture that is happy to sit back, relax, and rearrange all that has come before and call it unique. After all, they have long ago finished being born; it is time to attend to the other. Let them mummify us as we surely now deserve to be and let the archeologists of the future scratch their heads, ponder our strange hieroglyphics and puzzle out why we worshipped the hollow and silly, the fake and inane.
In one large room of the Bowie exhibition there are a great number of books hanging from the ceiling, each one an influence on the music being celebrated. It’s a reminder of how intertwined the arts can be and how culture, high and low, doesn’t develop in a vacuum.
Just think of the room and money that will be saved when it comes time to do the same for KISS