Joel Peresman, president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, could theoretically plop down on the couch and watch the 2015 induction ceremony via HBO on May 30...the first moment surrounding this year's class that affords him a chance to relax.
But he probably won't. Other things to deal with, you know.
Barring so-called axes-of-evil, few organizations inspire as much controversy as the Rock Hall, an institution founded during 1983 as a place to honor great musicians. Who gets in and what gets in gives fans newfound interest in social causes: Too few women, too few black musicians, too much black music (from hip-hop haters), too few concept records about dystopian space societies (or whatever social issue might strike progressive rockers). The recent addition of fan voting has quieted a few passionate fan bases—Rush accepted politely during 2013 and KISS more begrudgingly so during 2014—but when one unplugs, another amplifies.
Peresman attended the actual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on April 18 but he could be forgiven for watching it again. Despite performances from Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, Green Day and a tribute to Metal Machine Music mastermind Lou Reed, it was perhaps the quietest moment of his year.
If nothing else, he's certainly more willing to talk about the concert than the rest of the hubbub that comes with his title.
"Ooh, that's always the tough one," Peresman responds, not when asked about exclusions or demographics, but of his favorite performances from the night. "You start from the beginning with Joan Jett doing 'Crimson and Clover' with Dave Grohl and Miley Cyrus was just great. You know, I thought Zac Brown and Tom Morello doing 'Born in Chicago' (from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band)...they killed it. Green Day never fails to disappoint. And half of the moments...of having Paul and Ringo onstage and having other artists so reverent being onstage with them...it was just terrific."
The terrific moments—all-star collaborations and musical cameos—make up the better part of the HBO presentation, cutting down on the lengthy speeches and pauses (mocked in part by Bill Withers and Ringo Starr, the last two honorees to appear) and condensing the lengthy evening to just less than three hours.
The removal of the fat leaves some fine meat: Stevie Wonder and John Legend, sharing a stage to tribute Withers. John Mayer, Gary Clark Jr., Doyle Bramhall II and Jimmy Vaughan, trading guitar solos in honor of Stevie Ray Vaughan. The colossal conclusion, where a litany of musicians joined Starr and Paul McCartney onstage for a raucous "I Wanna Be Your Man."
This year's event returned to Cleveland's Public Auditorium, a historic venue located near the Hall's home on the Lake Erie shore, the first venue from which HBO filmed the ceremony (during 2012) and the first venue to host the public for the induction (during 2009). HBO recently renewed its contract with the Hall for another three-year stint broadcasting the induction process, which is scheduled to return to Cleveland during 2018.
A minimal percentile of Peresman's year deals with enjoying jams from A-list superbands however. The rest, aside from friendly bits promoting the Hall and the museum itself, comes down to overseeing and carrying out the yearly voting process...and more often than not, dealing with the fallout from the results.
Few others, with Rolling Stone founder and Hall chairman Jann Wenner being the exception, take more flack for the committee's decisions. More than 800 voting members make the final call on a list of 15 nominees assembled by 41 "VIPs"...but the voting records of those involved are quiet enough to make Cooperstown seem like a bingo hall. If a longtime listener decides, for instance, that Starr's election as a solo artist is despicable then they have no choice but to air those grievances out to Peresman, Wenner or few others, as the Hall takes special pride in its opaque nature. One can only suspect, based on a recent Billboard article, that those voting expect some sort of professional backlash within the music industry if a ballot gets out.
Peresman, more confident than he was selecting a favorite act from this year's ceremony, parries any jab lodged against his organization. Women being part of only 39 of the Hall's 312 inductees ("There are women on the nominating and men on the nominating committee that bring up female artists from time to time...there's no way to really quantify that)...the more obscure inductees, such as this year's The 5 Royales ("A lot of times I'm like you guys...I'll say 'I've never heard of this act'...you have too have smart people around that can dig and find these people")...and the inclusion of outside genres ("Rock 'n' roll is such a broad thing that means so many things to so many different people").
A year without controversy is bad for business, after all...both in financially and in terms of educating the general public.
"Most publicity is good publicity. It draws a lot of focus to the show. It draws focus to the Hall of Fame. Which from my standpoint is great," Peresman says. "Undergoing whatever issues are going on between the politics of bands and who's playing and who's doing this, is the underlying factor of here are the bands that are being inducted and here's why."
One criticism that Peresman will buy, with a spoiler alert for those planning on tuning in on Saturday: Joan Jett and The Blackhearts don't perform, somewhat ironically, "I Love Rock 'n' Roll."
"Yeah! I don't know what the final story was," he yelps, newly animated, as if Music Times has broken a scab months in the making. "Maybe the show was just overexposed or what, but we really wanted her to do it. And she didn't want to do it. You can't wrestle people to the ground and make them do something they don't wanna do for whatever reason. She just didn't do it."
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will premiere on May 30 at 8 PM on HBO.