That little Hall of Fame kerfuffle

Until April of this year, Axl Rose had largely stayed out of the mainstream public’s eye. Yes, he had been playing some shows, but he hadn’t done anything that the newshounds could jump all over. Then came the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame … The storm clouds broke open with the publication of Axl’s Open Letter to the RRHOF, Guns n’ Roses Fans and Whom It May Concern. As Axl no doubt anticipated and had to prepare himself for, the media was more than happy to splash it all over the place, complete with with the most unflattering photos possible.

Headlines were sure to include negative language such as “dis” and “snub” and often made snide or mocking comments about the letter itself. I have to admit that, when I heard the news on the radio, I rolled my eyes and called Axl a baby, just as I had been conditioned to do. Later, when I actually read the letter for myself, I found that, while long and, in some places kind of cryptic, it was not a nonsensical diatribe as the press would lead us to believe. On the contrary, it is apparent that Axl put a lot of thought into both his decision and the composition of his letter to explain this decision.

Beginning with the composition, it should be evident that Axl is no dummy. His grammar is nigh impeccable and his vocabulary indicates an astute mind. There are times in the letter when he seems to be making lists straight from a thesaurus, but I’ve found this to be a particular quirk of his writing style (which can then be taken as proof that this letter is indeed by Axl himself). Whenever he resorts to this convention, it is in an attempt to cover all the bases so that no one can misconstrue his intent. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people end up getting lost through these sections (the author of this Fox news article couldn’t hang with it) and then just resort to mockery (although, Axl, a few extra commas and dashes may have helped the slower people make sense of what you said; if you ever need an editor or a proofreader, I’m your girl).

The tone of the letter is respectful and earnest overall. In the second half of the letter, as he addresses some of the complications which influenced his decision, Axl does begin to sound weary with a touch of snark. But he doesn’t give in to a full-fledged flaming; he reins it back in to conclude the letter with courtesy and on a positive note.

Of course, just as Axl predicted, people went nuts and immediately began tearing him apart. There are few people who can elicit such venomous reactions (especially from “fans”) as Axl Rose, which, he has admitted before is hard for him to take (That Metal Show interview, November 2011). Now, I realize that this won’t sit well with the majority of these “fans,” but seriously — the guy is human just like you and being famous doesn’t make him immune to the vitriol. The unbridled hatred and violence directed towards him just boggles my mind!

Now, there are  a lot of different ways that Axl could have handled his announcement. He could have sent an autographed photo of himself flipping off the RRHOF; he could have not said anything at all and left everyone wondering; or he could have unleashed a vicious attack, throwing people under the bus left and right. Instead, Axl — read that again: Axl Rose — issued a thoughtful letter to explain his decision; he took the high road for the decision he felt he had to make. It’s unfortunate that people couldn’t respond with the same level of respect and thoughtfulness, regardless of personal feelings about the decision itself.

And as to that choice to decline his induction and not attend the show, I now think Axl was actually fully justified. When the news came out, everyone immediately said, “Oh, it’s because of Slash. He can’t just suck it up for one night?!” In reality, having to put up with Slash was only one of many factors. It didn’t take much research to find that Axl has been a little skeptical of the RRHOF for many years. His first encounter with the Hall was in 1994 when he was called upon to induct Elton John. In his speech, Axl acknowledged, “I’ve never really understood what the RRHOF was about, but tonight I’m getting an education.” Later, in 2008, a fan on a message board asked Axl, “With regard to ownership of the name, how will this affect Guns’ induction into the RRHOF? The new band can’t exactly go and accept the award.” Axl responded

Never thought about that , with the RRHOF. The whole “mature enough” bit was cute. Not to offend anyone but personally I don’t have an interest and other than inducting Elton don’t quite get what it is exactly and who decides what. It seems to mean more to some than others and more so amongst fans. It’s nice to get recognition and have some form of acceptance but in regards to joining others the price is too high and just not worth it. It’s a ways away and seems a bit presumptuous to be contemplating being inducted now.

The people who want to boil it down to just being about Slash are obviously oversimplifying things. In the first three paragraphs in the letter to the RRHOF, Axl discusses his efforts to make more sense of the Hall. He expounds on this a bit more in his follow-up letter to Cleveland and the fans* when he says,

I still don’t exactly know or understand what the Hall is or how or why it makes money, where the money goes, who chooses the voters and why anyone or this board decides who, out of all the artists in the world that have contributed to this genre, officially “rock” enough to be in the Hall?

This isn’t an attack. These are genuine issues I don’t have enough verified information on to have more than rough ideas. Certainly not enough information to make any judgments about.

I did some looking into it and, to be honest, I came away with the same questions Axl has — and he had the benefit of actually talking to people there who obviously didn’t clear anything up. Using a list of nominating committee members, I did a little more investigating. Initially, I was trying to find anyone who may have had a connection — good or bad — to Axl at another time. Instead, what I found was much more interesting. Let me be clear that, while this information isn’t secretive, the Hall isn’t exactly going out of its way to make it public knowledge.

  • Co-founders of the Hall, Jann Wenner and Ahmet Ertegun, were also co-founder of Rolling Stone and founder of Atlantic records, respectively.
  • Of the 35 members on the nominating committee, thirteen have a direct connection to Rolling Stone, three to VH1, and five others have worked for each other in some capacity.
  • Several members appear to vacate and fill each other’s positions at a variety of publications and record companies
  • 5 members also serve on the Board for the RRHOF Foundation — the money end of this whole entity
  • The Board is comprised of past & present CEOs of MTV, VH1, Sony, Warner, and Clear Channel (once again, the “musical chairs” model of the Nominating Committee is in full force here); several investment and hedge fund managers; and a handful of lawyers.
  • Seemingly, everybody on the Board is in everybody else’s business — the real estate attorney represents at least three other members of the Board; investors manage the funds of the record companies represented on the Board; CEOs of talent agencies represent several inductees and probably more than a few hopefuls.
  • The net worth of the majority of the Board members is several times that of Axl’s — we’re talking multi-millionaires and billionaires here — and they still receive exorbitant salaries for their service, whatever that is.
  • Between the Nominating Committee and the Board there are more than a few links to Bruce Springsteen (why?).

I’m not suggesting some kind of conspiracy theory, but this is definitely one big happy inbred family.

Out of that long list of names, I could find only two that wouldn’t sit well with Axl: Irving Azoff and Brian Dunn. Irving Azoff had been an exec at Geffen (GNR’s original label). In March 2008, Axl hired Azoff as manager for the new GNR. However, in May 2010, Azoff initiated a lawsuit against Axl for allegedly cutting him off from funds. Axl counter-sued, citing mismanagement and sabotage of the release of “Chinese Democracy” and mishandling of concert dates to corner him into a reunion tour with the original members. Oh yeah, did I mention that Azoff is also the CEO of Ticketmaster? Brian Dunn was the CEO of Best Buy (until scandal forced his recent resignation) which was the sole — and feeble — distributor of “Chinese Democracy.” I can’t imagine that Axl is too thrilled with that guy, either.

Other interesting things to note are:

  • Anyone who wants to attend the ceremony with a seat on the floor has to pay anywhere from $575-1180 for individual seats or up to $25,000 for a table of ten — and apparently the inductees have to pay for their seats, too.
  • Inductees are provided airfare and accommodations, but in addition to having to pay to attend and accept their award, they are also expected to perform gratis. Those performances are aired on HBO and then recorded on DVD and sold in the Hall of Fame’s gift shop.
    What an honor!
  • The Foundation provides very little funding to the Museum itself, so one has to wonder… where is all the money going?

All this strangeness and I haven’t even touched on the debatable legitimacy of the nominating criteria and process, nor on the inclusion or exclusion of certain musicians. But Jann Wenner (he’s the co-founder and chair of the RRHOF, remember) was awarded the 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award. How’s that for a nice self-congratulatory pat on the back?

Knowing all that, it’s understandable why Axl would be a little leery of being inducted.

Now on to that messy business with Slash et al. The original lineup fans can’t get their heads around why Axl couldn’t just suck it up “for one night” for the fans. In reality, the ramifications of even this mini-reunion — most of which we, as the general public, would have no idea about — would have stretched far beyond one night (possibly legally, financially, of course emotionally, career-wise and also vis-a-vis his new lineup). People continually say that Axl is disrespectful of the fans and yet, the fans continually demand that Axl put himself in awkward or complicated situations for their own pleasure. Where’s the respect there? I’m sure that reuniting with Slash played into Axl’s overall decision, but it also seems apparent that he was weighing many other factors. He was fully and painfully aware of the kind of response his decision would generate, but still felt that it was in his best interests to go ahead with it. People call him cowardly, but sticking to your guns (ha!) takes guts. The relief that Axl felt when he discovered that a large number of people supported him in his decision (Eddie Trunk and Piers Morgan were two vocal supporters) is plain in his Cleveland letter. One thing I’ve learned about Axl by watching interviews and reading things he has written, is that he means what he says; he doesn’t say things just to make nice. So when Axl says that he never wanted to disappoint anyone and thanks the Hall for the nomination, I believe he really means it. So, for all of you who disagree with his decision and for all who are upset with him about it: at the very least you should be able to appreciate his honesty.

* My apologies to Axl for not publishing his Cleveland letter in its entirety as he requested. It is worth reading and I hope you will follow the link.