Music

Was Pearl Jam’s Soft Protest At The Rock Hall Induction Ceremony A Sign That Punk Has Finally Grown Up?

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To celebrate the airing of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction this Saturday, 4/29, we’re running a series of essays and feature analyzing and highlighting the implications of who was inducted in 2017.

Before the Ramones picked up guitars, they were already clad in leather. Punk was the first genre of music that was birthed out of a fashion sense, with the aesthetics of “punk” far preceding its first bands. The style was meant to subvert the popular styles of the era, and the music did the same. Punk as an art form was created as an active response to the incredibly virtuosic music that had taken over the mainstream in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Where bands like the Beatles wrote songs that almost anyone could pick up a guitar and play, the intricate guitar solos of Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead created a huge gap between musicians and their audience. Punk came about as a concerted effort to bring the music back to the people.

So what happens when punk bands are put on the same stage as those virtuosic bands that they set out to undermine in the first place, as has been the case in recent years at the the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony?

In the case of the 2017 induction, Pearl Jam was inducted alongside Yes, one of the pioneers of that aforementioned virtuosic sound with songs like “Roundabout” (have you heard that bass line?!). Whether or not you consider Pearl Jam to be a punk band, even Mike McCready’s best guitar solos are incomparable with the instrumental insanity on a song like “Roundabout,” which is an almost nine-minute epic full of guitar harmonics and stargazing synths. Yet, these two bands were inducted together in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2017.

Maintaining the elements of punk fashion, Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament took the stage sporting a black shirt with a printed-on tie. However, in a form of a soft protest against the perceived elitism of the Rock Hall, a closer look reveals that the shirt also contained a long list of bands and solo artists that he believes to have been slighted for a position in the Rock Hall. The names include names like New York Dolls (who are often credited as being the first proto-punk band in New York), MC5, King Crimson, Thin Lizzy, Bad Company, Ted Nugent (?), and many of Ament’s contemporaries in the Seattle grunge scene. Interestingly, the shirt also names Chad Channing, the onetime Nirvana drummer that was not acknowledged at the band’s induction in 2014, despite Dave Grohl’s acceptance speech noting Channing’s role in the creation of the iconic drum roll from “In Bloom.” Check out a close-up of all the names on the shirt below.

Of course, Ament’s soft protest is one of many varying ways that punk bands have treated appearances at the Rock Hall induction ceremony, perhaps it perhaps falls right in the middle of the spectrum of protest. On one end, we have Green Day’s relatively straightforward — albeit foul-mouthed — 2015 induction airing on more conservative side of things, while on the other, more radical end, we have the Sex Pistols’ non-appearance for their induction in 2006. This spectrum of approaches begs the question: how is a band supposed to make music to rage against the machine (no pun — OK, pun definitely intended) while still craving the approval of said machine?

25 years after their first bratty, lo-fi release, Green Day went through all the Rock Hall proceedings like the industry professionals they have become. To the delight of the crowd, they performed classics like “When I Come Around” and “Basket Case” at the ceremony and each member of the trio gave thought-out, poignant thank you speeches.

In the case of the Pistols, on the other hand, the only acknowledgement the Rock Hall received from the band was a faxed, handwritten note from Johnny Rotten that called the ceremony and the Rock Hall as a whole a “piss stain.” He criticized the high price of admission for the ceremony as well as the Hall for “selling us a load of old famous.” Of course, the Pistols didn’t show up to the ceremony, leaving Rock Hall founder and Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner to get up onstage alone and honor the band that got their name in the first for refusing to adhere to formal industry standards, especially with corporate magazines. Check out Wenner’s speech at the 2006 ceremony inducting the Pistols, and reading Rotten’s letter out loud to a room of laughs, below.

So if we were to set up the treatment of the Rock Hall induction ceremony as something of a spectrum, with Green Day on the conservative end and the Sex Pistols on the radical, Ament’s decision to protest the Hall somewhat passively while actively participating in the ceremony puts him somewhere right smack in the middle. This is a win-win — not only Ament, but also Peal Jam fans — who were able to hear his message was heard loud and clear, while Pearl Jam still received the honor they deserve without any formal hiccups.

Coming from the band that took on Ticketmaster in the mid-’90s, Ament’s decision to do call out the Rock Hall is nothing new for Pearl Jam fans. However, this is also the same band that recently teamed up with their old Ticketmaster rivals in an attempt to keep Seattle’s Key Arena out of the hands of AEG.

Pearl Jam has been a force keeping punk-infused rock music in the public eye for twenty-five years, but does their recent deal with Ticketmaster and Ament’s subtle call-out mean that punk has finally grown up?

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony will air officially on HBO tomorrow night, 4/29.

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