Rocktober Special: Jeff Ament’s T-Shirt, Part 2

Last year, the rock and roll combination known as Pearl Jam was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and as part of the ceremony, Pearl Jam’s bass player, Jeff Ament, wore a shirt, protesting that a bunch of the people on it were not in the HOF 1. Not necessarily being one to publicly gainsay Jeff Ament, but definitely being the sort of person that has an excess of opinions, this obviously created an opportunity to weigh in on at least one person’s candidates for “unjustly left out of the proceedings.”

So here you have it: part 2 of the special Rocktober analysis of Jeff Ament’s t-shirt. There’s a whole lot of them. I will try to be brief.

The Replacements

My feelings on the Replacements are well documented here and everywhere else I’ve ever talked about music. The handle I use to write this very blog comes from the lyrics to one of their songs. They were a platonic, beautiful disaster of a band, who wrote some of the very best rock songs ever written, and also some of the very worst. While there are bands that can be lauded for their consistency and the effort they put in, it’s also true that sometimes the best version of a band that can exist is the messiest and the most frustrating – there are few things as worthwhile as the diamonds that are in the coal mine. Although in the Replacements’ case it’s more like the coal in the diamond mine – they really were good more than they were bad, at least on record.

THE VERDICT: Yes

The Pixies

The big question with The Pixies is how much of their post-reunion career should be considered. Taken as a totality, they’re yet another band with a very powerful initial set of material that they have no spent the last fifteen or so years just ruining. Their post-reunion recordings have been terrible parodies of their original selves. But then, they’d hardly be the only band in the hall of fame to have a bunch of terrible records they made past their artistic prime, so I suppose if we allow for the four perfect albums they made in the late eighties and early nineties 2, then they’re basically a shoo-in.

THE VERDICT: Yes

The Black Crowes

I guess this idea clearly comes from the same brain as the Lenny Kravitz idea, but jesus, it’s still a terrible idea.

THE VERDICT: Lord no.

Black Flag

Black Flag were, within the realms that they existed, tremendously influential innovators – they brought a lot of what hardcore would be to what was then just regular-core punk rock, they exemplified the kind of back-breaking, bone-grinding work ethic that most other bands never come anywhere near, they demonstrated a tremendous devotion to doing things on their own terms, and an even more tremendous devotion to being in the band they created. They had three great singers (out of four), the last of whom was the incomparable Henry Rollins 3. They had a couple of the best rhythm sections in punk rock 4 , and once they’d exhausted hardcore, they went on to be a hugely instrumental influence on the set of heavy metal subgenres that developed out of their mid-eighties material (sludge metal, stoner metal, ultimately doom metal and drone metal). This is all against the backdrop, of course, of their guitar player being an unbelievable, towering wizard of an instrumentalist, and also a terrible, exploitative businessman, a vindictive son of a bitch, and possibly a complete psychopath. Comme ci, comme ca.

THE VERDICT: Yes, but I would hope Greg Ginn wouldn’t show up.

Big Star

Even if their output wasn’t top-shelf, Big Star would probably have earned their place for basically being the textbook example of a “cult band” – a band that never had hits and never did much by way of sales, but that ended up meaning a whole lot to an overwhelmingly large percentage of the people that did hear them. And their records are uniformly amazing.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Billy Idol

He can start a club with Lenny Kravitz and the members of the Black Crowes, right? I mean, he’s better than those two, but I still would love to know what the argument here is.

THE VERDICT: Of course not

Bjork

Every time a bunch of people come up in a list like this, I run up against the practicality of the fact that, while I don’t think Bjork has any place in the rock and roll anything. But of course, the rock and roll hall of fame has well-established that you don’t have to play rock and roll music, or any of its myriad derivatives, to get in there. So that leaves us with the following facts: Bjork is a genius, all of her music is incredible, she has been incalculably influential, she’s sold a whole bunch of records, and she’s been going at it for a very, very long time.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Bon Jovi

I addressed this previously, and feel like giving it even more words is not really going to edify anything. Bon Jovi is awful.

THE VERDICT: No

Smashing Pumpkins

It pains me to say it, but the Smashing Pumpkins almost certainly have no place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I love them – I really do – but the things they did that were cool were basically lifted wholesale from other bands 5, and while it’s fun to listen to, it does sort of mean that the artistic contributions they made themselves are basically negligible.

THE VERDICT: Sadly no 

Blue Öyster Cult

Eh. I also like the Blue Öyster Cult, but other than their contribution to the field of unnecessary umlauts, and a couple of admittedly-great tunes, they were sort of prog-rock lite, and therefore not terribly necessary.

THE VERDICT: No

Public Image Ltd

Man, I have about six thousand different opinions of PiL, based largely on what day it is. The things that are constant is this: their first album is really good, and their second album is legitimately one of the best albums ever made. Flowers of Romance and Album are where things get a little wobbly. I oscillate between thinking that the former is an inspired piece of outsider-ish experimentalism as an attempt to salvage a once-vital band, and that it’s an amateurish garbage fire from a churl who didn’t know when to leave well enough alone, and that the latter is a sturdy art-pop record with guitars and that it’s the final sign that John Lydon had given up the creative ghost entirely to just coast on his own name. Second Edition notwithstanding, I just don’t think the rest of it holds up, but this is probably the closest edge case in the bunch.

THE VERDICT: No, but only barely.

The Melvins

They mostly invented a new way to be a heavy metal band, and they did so without falling into any of the traps of being a heavy metal band 6. They’ve sounded basically the same for literally my entire life, while never managing to actually sound like they were repeating themselves. They’ve made too many records, of course, and the records generally have too many songs on them, but in their catalog is a strong couple dozen truly-amazing pieces of work, and a lot of very-good secondary material. So I’m pretty comfortable saying their place should be assured.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Fugazi

See everything I said above about The Minutement? All of that is true of Fugazi, with the added bonus that Fugazi is, somehow, even better. They are, as far as such a thing has ever existed, the platonic ideal of a rock band, and they never made a bad record. They barely even made bad songs. They were exactly what they meant to be the whole time, were ferociously capable, and did the whole thing by their own rules and on their own terms. While it’s perverse to say that they belong in a shrine to the commercial aspects of rock music, it is also true that if there is anything at all to the “hall of fame” aspect of the organization, then their place is undeniable.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Dio

Yet again: capable rock band, did a fine job, great singer. Dio is in much the same situation as The Misfits. I like Dio, and I think that Ronnie James Dio’s gifts to rock music should be appreciated, but I don’t really know if the Hall of Fame is the place for it.

THE VERDICT: No

Elliott Smith

I mean, imagine if Cat Stevens (who is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame already) were exactly the same, only like 1,000% better in pretty much every appreciable way. Luckily, you don’t have to imagine it, because the world has already given us Elliott Smith. Great songs, great records, great singing, great playing, just great all around.

THE VERDICT: Absolutely

Psychedelic Furs

This is another band that folks of a certain age 7 are really into, that really left an impression on a very specific group of people, and that, while I sort of understand what they’re on about, are really, really context-dependent. And I think we all know my feelings on context-dependency when it comes to Halls of Fame.

THE VERDICT: Not really

X

As someone who listens to an enormous amount of music that happens at the intersection of punk rock and country, I would be lying openly if I were unprepared to acknowledge the huge contribution of X to this field. Their first few records are pretty incredible, and they definitely created something that wasn’t quite there before.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Free

Often it’s a nonsense thing to call a band “ahead of its time”. What that tends to mean is that a band’s influence was felt beyond their popularity. The latter is true of Free, but it is also true that they really were ahead of their time: they forged their way through a sound that, shortly after they stopped using it, became frigging huge. They only had one major hit (the unimpeachable “All Right Now”), but that doesn’t lessen the hugely-underrated quality of the rest of their records. Calling them merely the top-dollar best band Paul Rogers was ever in is not saying nearly enough about how much better Free were than any given band that sounds like Free.

THE VERDICT: Yes

New Order

It is completely inexplicable that not only is New Order not in the RRHOF, but they’ve never even been nominated 8.  I mean, I wouldn’t put them in before Joy Division 9, but I’d put them in before a ton of other bands. But they’ve never even been nominated. What a sick, sd world it is.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Tom Waits

Y’know, I don’t know if I’d call Tom Waits as being included for a number of reasons, but it turns out that it doesn’t matter. Contrary to Jeff Ament’s shirt’s proclamations, Tom Waits was inducted into the HOF in 2011.

THE VERDICT: Moot. He’s already in there.

Emerson Lake & Palmer

A titan of prog-rock. As preposterous as Yes, as ambitious as Genesis, and as bombastic as King Crimson. They, along with Wendy Carlos did a lot to get rock dudes into classical music, and they were a reliable touring and sales draw. I’m not sure that they’ve still got a bunch of acolytes out there but hell, why not?

THE VERDICT: Probably

The Jam

The Jam’s best songs are some of the best songs. They more than any rock band that precedes them except The Who did more to fuse together catchy tunefulness and extremely loud instrument-bashing. They devolved (and Paul Weller continues to chase whatever the bottom of this hole is) into a band with a look and very little else, but the period from 1976 to 1980 was as good as you could reasonably expect a band to be.

THE VERDICT: Sure

The Smiths

I hate The Smiths. I hate their stupid moaning singer, I hate his late-stage turn into reactionary politics, I hate their wasteful deployment of a genuinely-great guitar player. I hate that people that hate this band don’t even hate them for the correct reason 10. Due to a number of ongoing biographical influences in my life, I have tried and tried and tried with The Smiths, and I like about three of their songs, although sometimes that number is as low as one. That said, they launched about a million people into making their own records, they continue to have a rabid, devoted fanbase to this day, and their deeply awful, stupid garbage music has meant a great deal to a whole lot of intelligent, discerning people, many of whose opinions I respect. I think they absolutely have earned a spot in the Hall of Fame, but it’s a stupid, terrible spot that I never want to visit.

THE VERDICT: Yes.

The Descendents

I mean, I’ve so far argued for the inclusion of bands for inventing rock-dervied subgenres like hardcore and sludge metal, so it seems like exactly the wrong time to clamp down on the Descendents, who were by no means bad, despite the fact that they invented pop-punk. This is because if there is vanishingly little good hardcore, there is even less good pop-punk, and it is largely a shameful thing to have helped invent. Bill Stevenson (see Black Flag) remains an all-time great drummer though.

THE VERDICT: Not really

Kraftwerk

Of all the motorik bands, Kraftwerk had the most outside appeal. Hip-hop would be unquesitonably different without their records, even if you only count the times they were directly sampled, and a lot of electronic-inflected rock music wouldn’t really exist in the same form without them. Plus their thing is well-known and identifiable enough to be a one-word punchline on The Simpsons, and how can you get more recognizable than that?

THE VERDICT: Of course

Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth are the most well-known noise rock band to ever exist. They did this, primarily, by not actually being a noise rock band full time. Despite this, they made a streak of untouchably-great weirdo experimental rock records (Bad Moon Rising/EVOL/Sister) that they followed up by a trio of almost-as-great much more traditionally (but still noise-inflected) rock records (Daydream Nation/Goo/Dirty), before spending the remained of their time as a band exploring the various unplumbed corners of their own sound. During that time they also recorded eye-opening collaborations with Jim O’Rourke, Merzbow, Ikue Mori, Mats Gustafsson, and Yamatsuka Eye, all of whom are genuine actual titans of noise music. They were, in a way that is obvious if you’ve spent any time reading these here pieces, a huge part of my own musical development, and in a couple of generations’ worth of people learning to value noise and texture over craft and mechanical execution. The fact that they wrote great songs and were rocking besides, and were tireless champions of the things they liked 11, meant that they constructed an entirely new paradigm for rock bands to exist within, aesthetically. And, of course, they sounded like no other band that came before them, and only made one actually bad record.

THE VERDICT: Unquestionably.

Todd Rundgren

I’m not sure if Jeff Ament is calling for Rundgren’s inclusion as a producer, in which case a fairly strong argument can be made, or as a performer, in which case I would have to ask if Jeff Ament has rocks in his head.

THE VERDICT: As a producer, yes. As a performer, no, never.

Ted Nugent

Fuck Ted Nugent.

THE VERDICT: No

The Cure

The Cure were nominated in 2012. I have no idea what kept them out that year, because The Cure were great, and were willing to make records that ranged from extremely likable to deeply weird, and covered all sorts of ground in between, while still always sounding like The Cure. They wrote some of the best songs, they were hugely influential, and they existed as a vital unit (albeit with some turnover) for a very long time. They should probably be in before the overwhelming majority of bands on this list.

THE VERDICT: Yes

The MC5

Still a “no”, with the single-song “Kick Out the Jams” caveat. Also, when presented with this argument, a very vehement companion argued that Wayne Kramer’s contribution to rock music was a willingness to be an outspoken, tireless activist for causes that were important to him, which was also influential on a bunch of people who also were inclined to do so. But also, his band kind of sucked except for some spotty exceptions here and there.

THE VERDICT: Yes to the activist hall of fame, no to the rock and roll hall of fame.

Captain Beefheart

Captain Beefheart was relentlessly experimental, to the point of seemingly-literal madness. He did a bunch of things that are legendarily crazy to get his bands to make the sounds that existed in his head, and he genuinely (at least for a couple of records there) made records that defied giving the listener much to grab onto, and with pretty much zero outside reference points. If they weren’t influential sonically – i.e. there aren’t many band that sound much like Captain Beefheart – then the influence there was that you can use the rock music idiom to make literally whatever sounds you wanted, and you could call it music. He expressed thoughts and ideas in ways that are, upon listening to them, completely otherworldly. He found ways to get people to play “freer” than just about any jazz musician, while still constructing disruptive anti-grooves like someone who wanted to turn music itself inside-out. What I’m saying is: if we had more Captain Beefhearts, we’d have a better world, musically-speaking.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Warren Zevon

It sounds like damning with faint praise, but I like Warren Zevon fine, even though I don’t have much to say about him, and he’s famous enough and respected enough and influential enough that he probably has a spot waiting for him, but it’s more for reasons of “I can’t really see why not” than anything I can actively think of.

THE VERDICT: Sure

Link Wray

He was an awfully good guitar player, and “Rumble” is great, but I don’t know that there’s enough there to justify an actual induction.

THE VERDICT: No

Weather Report

Oh, here’s a weather report for you: it’s raining cats and go fuck yourself out there.

THE VERDICT: Good lord no.

Devo

Without Devo, there would not be hundreds of wiry, nerdy, complete odd-ball rock bands in the world, without each of whom the world would be somewhat lesser. It’s hard to describe the power that Devo’s existence gives people of a certain bent and inclination without it sounding overblown or like a joke, but then, Devo’s entire existence was perched right on the edge of being a joke itself. It sure wasn’t, though, and they absolutely deserve credit for forging their way through the world in exactly the form they felt they should take.

THE VERDICT: Yes

The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips can have a spot in the rock and roll hall of fame just as soon as someone explains to me a quality of their musical existence that is a reason to think anything of them at all that actually has anything to do with their music. This question (“what, musically, would give me a reason to listen to the Flaming Lips?”) is one I have asked many, many, many times in the last, oh, twenty or so years, and I’m still waiting on the answer. They are dumb and terrible, with easy-to-remember album “hooks”. That Yoshimi album was ok, I guess. That’s about it.

THE VERDICT: No

Nick Drake

Nick Drake was nothing short of revolutionary in his contributions to taking volume out of rock music without taking out the emotional content. He was a folk musician 12 first and foremost, despite his high-tension, high-desperation songs. For essentially proving that you didn’t have to yell in order to rock, Nick Drake deserves a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Harry Nilsson

John Lennon loved him, that’s for sure. So do a bunch of dudes who are John Lennon’s age, and a bunch of dudes who are of the generation after. I guess you had to be there.

THE VERDICT: Nah.

Neu!

This is the other of the major group of motorik bands (see above) – they, in fact, are composed of a couple of guys who had been in Kraftwerk. They only made three records 13, but they’re mind-blowing 14. They’re notable for being probably the most rockin’ of the motorik bands, and for having an unbelievable drummer in the form of the great Michael Rother. They came in, they did what they did, they got out, they didn’t waste their time or do anything not worth hearing. If it wasn’t as wildly influential as Kraftwerk or Can, well, I suppose that’s the world’s fault and not theirs. They did everything they could.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Chad Channing

Last year, there was some minor controversy with the selection of Pearl Jam’s drummers that was nominated for inclusion, and presumably this was on Jeff Ament’s mind when he commissioned this t-shirt, because Chad Channing’s contribution to rock music is mostly that he was the drummer on Bleach, Nirvana’s first album. So I mean, his heart’s in the right place I suppose.

THE VERDICT: Probably not

Sweet

Hey, I like “Fox on the Run” as much as anybody, I get it. I’m not heartless. But no.

THE VERDICT: No

Raymond Pettibon

Raymond Pettibon was another cover art dude. Specifically, he was the guy that did the covers for a bunch of SST albums, and is most closely associated with Black Flag 15, and also the cover to Sonic Youth’s Goo 16 . He seems ambivalent about his time associated with hardcore record covers, but he did a lot to create the look of punk-rock releases in his wake, and there are album art folks in the HOF, so I suppose in he goes.

THE VERDICT: Sure, although I doubt he’d enjoy it very much.

Oasis

Much like the Smashing Pumpkins, this is a band who has made records that I absolutely adore, but I think that putting people in the Hall of Fame for essentially being good at being super-derivative isn’t really a Done Thing, and I see no reason to start now.

THE VERDICT: No

Bad Company

Whatever you’d like to have called “sticking the landing” here, this most certainly is not it. Bad Company were mostly representative of the sorts of things that I can only call “harmful” to the general state of rock music around them, and I can’t imagine that their music, which dates poorly and sounds bad, could yield very many arguments in its favor that don’t have something to do with being there in the original context.

THE VERDICT: No.

And that wraps it up for this particular t-shirt, but not for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame itself – tune in soon for a Considered Analysis of everyone who is actually currently in the R&RHOF, to run in multiple parts in the coming several months or so.


  1.  although it is not true that none of them are in the HOF, which I suppose is the risk you take when you make your own t-shirt. 
  2.  and the fifth, somewhat-less perfect one after that 
  3.   and honestly, how could you not want to hear Henry Rollins’ induction speech? 
  4.  Kira Roessler/Bill Stevenson and Chuck Dukowski/Robo, with a shoutout to “Dale Nixon” (actually just Greg Ginn operating pseudonymously)/Bill Stevenson 
  5.  specifically they glued a lot of the English shoegaze sound onto a carbon copy of the then-current downstate Illinois scene (think The Poster Children), and rode it all the way to selling a bajillion records. 
  6.  i.e. they never fell into the “authenticity” game or anything like that 
  7.  “certain” in this case meaning “basically Jeff Ament’s” 
  8.  some of this is down to the fact that this kind of synth-driven British new wave is only just now seeing its first set of nominations, but The Eurythmics have been nominated, and Depeche Mode has been nominated, and New Order is better than both of those bands put together, which is actually just saying they’re better than The Eurythmics, as Depeche Mode is bringing basically nothing to that particular equation. 
  9.  Joy Division does not appear on Jeff Ament’s shirt 
  10.  I don’t hate Morrissey because he’s sad, I hate him because his preening, performative sadness makes him basically an inverse Bret Michaels – instead of being self-assured in his unspectaculr, boneheaded self, he’s making everyone in his audience assure him. I really have a lot of feelings about Morrissey, and his effect on certain musical concerns that his influence has affected in ways I don’t like. 
  11.  even if this sometimes meant just championing things because what “they liked” was to be seen liking those things 
  12.  for a time he had a band that was cobbled together out of members of The Fairport Convention – including the inimitable Richard Thompson –  and their contemporaries. 
  13.  there are other records, but they’re not composed affairs. Neu 4 was released in the eighties and is composed of outtakes, and Neu 86 was, perhaps unexpectedly, released in 2010, and is actually just a different version of Neu 4. 
  14.  and produced by Conny Plank, the sort of “house producer” of motorik, who probably also deserves a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but, alas, does not appear on the t-shirt in question. 
  15.   he is in fact the brother of aforementioned psycho, owner of SST records, and Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn 
  16.  released, perhaps ironically, several records after they’d already left SST 

One thought on “Rocktober Special: Jeff Ament’s T-Shirt, Part 2

  1. Pingback: A Considered Look at Every Inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part 9 | Ohio Needs a Train

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