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Oldham: Steve Pyke/Getty • Gabriel: Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images • E Street Band: handout • Epstein: Bob Thomas/Getty Images • Stevens: Fadel/AFP/Getty Images

Past and present

Music | Cat Stevens and several sidemen lead a curious Rock Hall of Fame class

Issue: "The wonder of life," Jan. 25, 2014

Rumors of rock and roll’s demise may or may not be greatly exaggerated. But if the 2014 inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are any indication, the genre’s gatekeepers are increasingly reluctant to let go of the past, a sign that perhaps they’re increasingly unsure of rock and roll’s future.

It’s hard, in other words, to explain the induction of the E Street Band, Brian Epstein, and Andrew Loog Oldham as anything other than an attempt to guarantee that Bruce Springsteen (the E Street Band’s boss), the Beatles (whom Epstein managed), and the Rolling Stones (ditto Oldham) remain the face of rock and roll at a time during which Miley Cyrus and the Duck Dynasty Robertsons outsell iconic rockers.

Admittedly, all halls of fame valorize the past. But the Rock Hall’s Class of 2014 bespeaks an almost claustrophobic conservatism. Not socio-politically—apparently, neither Ted Nugent nor the Osmonds were under serious consideration despite having long been eligible (and, given the distinctly un-rock-and-roll nature of numerous previous inductees, eminently deserving). Yet in every other way, the lead vote-getters suggest that diversity may have finally had its day.

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Not that the voters weren’t trying to scratch the diversity itch. Along with Epstein, Oldham, and Springsteen’s sidemen, the coming year’s honorees include Peter Gabriel, Daryl Hall & John Oates, Kiss, Nirvana, Linda Ronstadt, and Cat Stevens. Or, in politically correct taxonomy parlance, there are two blacks (the E Street Band’s Clarence Clemons and David Sancious), one homosexual (Epstein), two women (Ronstadt and the E Street Band’s Patti Scialfa), and one Muslim (Stevens).

Otherwise, though, the roster comprises straight white males, one of whom has even been an uncontentious guest of Neal Cavuto’s on the Fox News Channel (Daryl Hall).

Of course, Peter Gabriel could be a liberal token in that he still performs “Biko,” his 1980 tribute to the South African anti-apartheid martyr Stephen Biko, and therefore pays indirect tribute to Nelson Mandela. It’s certainly hard to imagine Gabriel’s being honored simply for having been the lead singer of Genesis when that group played second progressive-rock fiddle to Yes, Pink Floyd, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. And compared to the 21 hits of Three Dog Night and the 20 hits of the Carpenters (both of which remain uninducted), Gabriel’s five look downright paltry.

But the most curious choice is Cat Stevens—a.k.a. Yusuf Islam. Performers become eligible for the Rock Hall 25 years after the release of their first recording. Therefore Stevens, who released his first single in 1966 and hit Billboard’s top 40 11 times, has been electable since 1991. So why the delay?

Other than the fact that his mellow, folk-pop barely qualifies as “rock and roll” at all, the main reason for the tardiness of Stevens’ selection would seem to be that the Hall was waiting for the passing of another 25-year anniversary: namely, the quarter century since Stevens’ public support for the fatwa demanding the execution of Salman Rushdie for having written The Satanic Verses.

The incident bears a striking resemblance to the recent stir created by Phil Robertson in GQ. Like Robertson, Stevens was responding to reporters’ questions, not seeking a hot mic. Also like Robertson, who based his opposition to homosexuality on the Bible, Stevens based his opinion on Rushdie’s fate on the Koran.

If good things really do come in threes, perhaps Robertson can expect to be embraced by the Rock Hall in 2038.

Duck the Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas, after all, is only slightly less rock and roll than Cat Stevens’ Greatest Hits.

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