Rock Hall Nominating Committee Member Dave Marsh Opens Up About the Induction Process
Notorious KISS antagonist and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominating Committee member Dave Marsh, recently gave an interview to L.A. Radio Sessions, in which he revealed many of his frustrations with the induction process. A portion of the interview was posted on YouTube. Here is our transcript, lightly edited for clarity:
LA Radio Sessions: Let’s talk a little about the procedure, because people forget from year to year. I hear all these wide accusations that it’s all a Rolling Stone magazine Hall of Fame and this and that.
Dave Marsh: I’ve been on the Nominating Committee for more than 20 years and Jann wouldn’t have me in the magazine if I had a gun to his head. And I probably wouldn’t be in the magazine if you had a gun to my head! There are a couple of people from Rolling Stone, as there should be, in every version of the Committee, which did change shape and get a little smaller this year.
LA Radio Sessions: Can we talk about that at all?
Dave Marsh: There was a perception that it was too big and we were spending a lot of time just naming names and then voting on them and not having enough of a discussion. And the whole process… it’s actually... this is one of those moments where it’s unfair to a given individual who everybody, or almost everybody, slams all the time, because it was his perception. But that’s not anybody’s business outside of the Committee, so I can’t talk about it. I think that’s a broad enough hint. [Ed. Note: he is surely talking about Jann Wenner]
Whether you want to go out to dinner with somebody or not is irrelevant if they perceive something and help you make it better. And this is a slightly different approach and I think it’s a much better ballot than the last couple of years. Last year had a very good result off a relatively weak ballot, I think. This year, it’s much more difficult for the voters to make a mistake. And before we go any farther, let me say this, ok? This is… this is a hard thing to say, because I have a real commitment to this institution. And I think it was a wise and important thing to create it. But. The fact of the matter is, it is the only hall of fame in the world that convenes a group of experts to make its ballot and then gives the voting over to people who know less than a smidgen as much as the people who are in that room. It’s an insipid process. It really is.
That’s not the first time a Nominating Committee member has criticized the choices of the Voters, the majority of whom are Hall of Famers. Marsh seems to think that this year’s ballot is deep enough that no matter who the voters choose, it will be a solid induction class.
Dave Marsh: The first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame classes, the first couple years, there were 10, 15 people that got in… What were you going to do, say “yes” to Chuck Berry and “no” to Buddy Holly? But it’s not like there isn’t still the wealth of… some of the people are more obscure and some of the people are more controversial... and keeping the tent as big as it needs to be is a continuing problem. But in the end, doing it five people a year is just completely frustrating. And it takes something that could be really, really great. And because they pay for the event with the TV show, I guess, I’ve never been able to figure it out on any other basis, that tail wags that dog every year.
This is a startlingly frank admission from a member of the Nominating Committee, acknowledging the influence the Rock Hall’s television partners (currently HBO) have over the process.
Dave Marsh: It’s kind of heartbreaking because… one of the things that happens is simple. People die. Darlene [Love] could have died without getting in the Hall of Fame. This has been such a holocaustal year for great musicians dying, that’s really foremost in my mind. Everybody is getting older. It’s not just those early British invasion bands who have turned 70, hell, the early British invasion bands are worrying about 80! It’s a few years off, but it’s going to happen. If you were born in ‘38 or ‘39 it’s gonna happen. Sam Moore will be 80 this year. So you’re going to start losing people that you shouldn’t lose without honoring them while they’re alive. And the longer you wait, the fewer people who actually remember how great something was.
And I’ll just use, because they’re on the ballot, and because it’s been an ongoing conversation, and because it’s the strangest area where the Hall of Fame’s inductees are weak… is hard rock bands. And the notion that Deep Purple [Ed. Note: keyboardist Jon Lord died in 2012], who are a great band by any definition of rock and roll. They made record after record. I know I took them for granted for way too long. And there’s a bunch of people like that, whether it’s somebody whose style is pretty much forgotten and discarded, like Marc Bolan, who is not on the ballot, and to the best of my knowledge has never been on the ballot, but who was the spirit of rock and roll. I would say in historical terms, one of the luckiest things that ever happened to David Bowie was Marc Bolan’s car crash. I don’t mean that to say anything mean about David exactly, but Marc was just something extraordinarily special. And when you’ve got a process that won’t even let you get around to that fact, because there are other even bigger problems that have to be addressed... It’s frustrating. Not because anybody wants it to be frustrating.
Then you got the whole problem… this is something for which radio needs to be taken to task, and particularly the genuinely evil Lee Abrams period. This continuing confusion about what the relationship between white rock and black rock ought to be, or is. And make no mistake, you have to talk about it like that, they have the same root. And they travelled at some points, and the paths have diverged quite extremely, and then again they always come back together. The musicians always know what the connection is. You never have any trouble explaining that to a musician, or at least not a musician who is worth talking to. So these are the all the limits within which that ballot got created.
I say this partly because I’m tired of pretending a whole bunch of things… it’s the Cream magazine person in me that wants to say, hey, there’s right, there’s wrong. Yes, we will never agree with anything the way we all agreed on Elvis. Yes, the same thing should be true of James Brown, and it never will be. And that we need to reckon with. We also need to reckon with the fact that people think they know the history of rock and roll, and I will tell you right now, 750 people are going to get this ballot, there are not 750 people in the world, on the surface of the earth, who can adequately comprehend what has happened since 1955. It’s just simply, you know… God knows, if you stick me in with a bunch of electronic acts, or those brit-pop things from the Duran Duran period, or there’s all kinds of nooks and crannies or sometimes rivers, that missed me.
LA Radio Sessions: Right, of course. Missed all of us.
Dave Marsh: I remember talking to Jon Landau, who is one of the original rock critics who is still alive that I’m closest to, and him saying to me at a certain point, “You know, it’s all going to be different now.” And we were up to about 1966 or 1967. And I thought about it as a person who didn’t much care for what came out of San Francisco, give or take Sly and Creedence. And yeah, it’s going to be different, we’re not going to agree the way we used to. And that’s what he was thinking about too. So when we talk, yes I’m on the Nominating Committee, no, I’m not a person who agrees with everything the Nominating Committee does, or with all the ways in which it’s compelled to do its job, but at the same time, I’m very proud to be part of it. And the institution, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is not a bad idea, it’s a very good one. Because somebody needs to do this. And we need always to be criticizing ourselves and each other and having people outside the process doing the same thing.
The only thing I can add to that is that I believe this to such a point that after about six months I realized that I should have been been supporting KISS getting into the Hall of Fame all along, for the simple reason that now all those idiots have to shut the f**k up about it. [laughter] I went, “Oh, really? This all dies down? I should have voted for them!”
It’s always fascinating when Nominating Committee members speak on the record about the induction process. It is nice to hear that they can be as frustrated with the system as their critics, but it also seems clear that any major changes will have to come from the top.