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A Rock and Roll Referendum

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 15, 2005 5:26PM

As a Chicago legend received the credit that eluded so many of his forefathers, a former contender for Greatest Band in the World is in danger of becoming the Most Important Band in the World.

Last night, Eric Clapton inducted Buddy Guy into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In doing so, he stated that for him, Guy symbolizes “what Elvis probably is for other people" (though we can’t help 2005_03_15_road.jpg but think he meant to say “was” rather than “is”). It was a moment illustrative of the struggle that many blues (and rock) artists go through in their careers: as innovators they stand idly by while followers receive the fame and recognition they lack. Buddy Guy achieved his greatest fame late in life due in large part to playing a series of Royal Albert Hall shows with Clapton. Unlike his predecessors, Guy won't have the phrase “poor and penniless” included in his obituary. It also doesn't hurt that gray hairs and a gravelly voice add legitimacy to a blues singer and only work against you in the young man’s game of rock and roll.

Much like the man who turns 30 cannot kid himself that he’s still “in his twenties,” the rock band that is inducted into the Hall of Fame while still releasing records knows it must change or die. Greg Kot said as much last month in an article about “U2’s midlife crisis” that focused on the band’s attempts to remain commercially viable while retaining their artistic cred. Their most recent album was hailed as yet another “return to form.” But why is this a good thing? The music world needs U2 to give us men, not Boys.

Elvis Costello, David Bowie and Prince (all recent inductees) are not making the same kind of music they made in the years when they were on their way up but have retained the core of what made them viable artists. Costello? Still grumpy. Prince? Still funky. Bowie? Still weird. Are U2 still political? Yes, obviously. But the proclamations aren’t made onstage anymore, they’re made during press conferences. If you are a rock star who’s being asked a serious question about whether you’d consider being president of the World Bank then something is seriously wrong. With a greater awareness of world politics than ever before, the under-30 set needs a U2 for 2007 rather than a U2 from 1981.

Two side notes:

While Buddy Guy can usually be found sitting rather than playing at his Legends club in the South Loop, his brother Phil (with whom Chicagoist had when the inductees were announced) performs there on St. Partick's Day at 9:30 PM.

U2 was inducted in its first year of eligibility—a rare feat and one not likely to be duplicated next year by Husker Du, the Go-Gos, Depeche Mode, Billy Idol, Joan Jett, or Ozzy Osbourne, all of whom are eligible for nominations next year. But we’re holding out hope for The Time. Get that mirror ready, Jerome.