Hall of Fame Ethics… Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,That Is

Cat Stevens

Conservative blogress Kathy Shaidle pleaded with voters not to enshrine Yusuf Islam, a.k.a Cat Stevens, into Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and then, when they added him anyway, expressed her disgust. Her objections were not based on music criticism (as would be justified with nominees like Yes), nor on Cat’s honor blocking more worthy nominees (like, say, The Zombies). She objects to Yusuf Islam on political and ethical grounds, complaining that during his activist days and perhaps even now, he qualified as a Muslim radical.

It doesn’t matter. Cat Stevens belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because of his art, not his character. His character is irrelevant to the reach, influence and value of his art, as are his politics. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes no pretense of making difficult measurements of an artist’s character, unlike the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, which has come up on Ethics Alarms frequently. Baseball players are cultural icons and societal heroes, whose symbolic exploits on the field of play evoke and inspire young people as well as the rest of us, embodying positive traits like courage, perseverance, fortitude, sacrifice, team play, loyalty, honor, fairness and honesty. As derided as it is by sportswriters and jaded fans who would like to see both the baseball Hall and its rosters filled with enabled and highly paid cheaters, felons, thugs, miscreants, deadbeat dads, and worse—like those of professional football and basketball—the character clause holds baseball players, at least those who want to be remembered as great ones, to a higher standard. And that higher standard is relevant to the game they play and our appreciation of it.

The character of artists, however, are simply accompanying trivia to the artist’s contributions to society. If there was a character clause in the Crooner’s Hall of Fame, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby might be barred from entry, meaning that it would then be the Imitators of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby Hall of Fame. For entrance to the Classical Composers Hall of Fame, Mozart and Wagner (and a lot more) would need to buy a ticket. Don’t get me started on the Novelist’s Hall of Fame, or the Hall of Fame for American Playwrights. Beautiful, transcendent, moving and immortal works have issued from ugly, warped, cruel and diseased minds, and it has always been thus, in Rock and Roll as well as every other art form. Picking on Cat Stevens, among all the others, smacks of anti-Muslim bigotry to me. Sure, I hated Cat’s politics; I hated John Lennon’s politics too.

It’s the art, and only the art, that matters.


Sources: PJ Media 1, 2

20 thoughts on “Hall of Fame Ethics… Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,That Is

  1. From the RR Hall of Fame web site, their induction criteria is based on those musicians who “…have had a significant impact on the evolution, development and perpetuation of rock and roll.”
    Blocking Yusuf Islam based on “There are enough jerks in the Hall of Fame already. Help keep it free of Muslim radicals,” smacks of bigotry? More like screams.
    Wonder what her take is on who populates the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
    Nothing to see here, move along.

  2. When Cat Stevens appeared at the Rally to Restore Fear/Sanity because he had a song with the word “Train” in the name… that bothered me, because the same man, under the name Yusuf Islam, said that he would only attend a protest against the Satanic Verses if the real Salman Rushdie was there to be beaten instead of an effigy. It was a grotesque statement that I don’t believe he’s ever apologized for.

    It’s been thirty years since this statement, but he didn’t spend any significant portion of that in hiding. I would like to finally hear him either embrace that statement or apologize for it. If Cat Stevens gets into the rock and roll hall of fame, whatever. I literally don’t know anything about music. It’s not really my area of expertise, and I agree this event shouldn’t keep him out. But if this brings up the opportunity to give him the chance to apologize, or even to remind people of this, I think that would be good.

  3. Cat Stevens had two albums in a row that were just brilliant from top to bottom. That’s all that matters. It’s two more than a good many other R&R HOFers… and about five fewer than Warren Zevon, who has never been as much as nominated. But that’s another matter.

  4. Hmm…wonder just how short a speech he will give, if he is in fact voted in. I’m betting anything past :”Thank you. I’m honored.” will cut to commercial in less than a second. Screening rock musicians based on politics or religion, although certainly an amusing idea, should have no place in this selection process. Don’t get me wrong, if I ever meet Cat Stevens, I intend to beat the shit out of the little fascist prick. But not because of his music.

    • I thought I didn’t care about this enough to comment, but that was just plain funny. Beware, you may lose your job tomorrow if it gets out.

  5. I don’t buy the “Art For Art’s Sake” argument. On February 21, 1989, Yusuf Islam addressed students at Kingston University in London about his conversion to Islam and was asked about the controversy in the Muslim world and the fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie’s execution. He replied, “He must be killed. The Qur’an makes it clear – if someone defames the prophet, then he must die.”
    The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame needs to develop some standards regardless of an artist’s talent.

    • If, like Jack said, there was a Classical Hall of Fame, would you advocated Richard “Fuck the Jews” Wagner be banned, not just for being a vicious anti-Semite even by the standards of his day, but for being a notorious prick in general, despite him being perhaps the most influential composer of the latter half of the 19th century (and casting a great shadow on the 20th as well)? Or would you advocate an “assholes are only admitted entrance once they die” sort of thing?

  6. Pingback: BASEBALL HALL OF FAME BY TEAM 2014 News

  7. I don’t have a problem with Cat Stevens in the Hall since I agree with you on what the criteria should be. My problem is with the Hall of Fame itself because it apparently thinks non-music aspects are important in selecting inductees since the Hall’s profile of Stevens states:

    “Who can measure the courage it took him in the late ’70s, after seven years of multi-platinum success in the U.S. (and over a decade in the UK) to convert to Islam, amidst the wave of turmoil and confusion that was engulfing the world?.”

    So, it was important enough to the Hall to cite his courage in his conversion but not important enough to mention Salman Rushdie, and Cat’s anti-semitic and homophobic statements. Contrast this with the Hall’s profile of Nirvana (a band of which I was a big fan though not for the reasons cited below):

    “turned singer-guitarist-songwriter Kurt Cobain into the voice and conscience of an alternative-rock nation sick of hair metal and the conservative grip of the Reagan-Bush ‘80s”

    I thought Rock n Roll was about not wanting to work for The Man but today’s Hall of Fame is The Man.

  8. It’s the art, and only the art, that matters.
    Yes…but I have mixed feelings on this.
    On one hand, Cat Stevens is OK because only his music matters.
    On the other hand, we have Roman Polanski, who is a child raper and we should therefore not support his art, which is film.

  9. Imho, there is a big difference between anti-Muslim bigotry versus being shocked and loathing Cat Steven’s remarks about supporting the fatwa against Rushdie. In 2004, he was denied entry into the USA and the Department Homeland Security deported him back to the UK. I’d like to see him declared persona non grata to prevent him from receiving any awards in the USA.

  10. I agree with the concensus that morality/ethics can’t factor into this Hall of Fame, but should factor into athletic Halls of Fame. But sadly, musicians are much bigger influencers of culture and behavior than athletes, from where I sit.
    Kids might worship both, but it’s only the music-makers who are widely treated as sources of wisdom and guidance, even when what they’re saying is rock-stupid.

    Popular music (and rock in particular) is such a cesspit of awful and insincere human beings that if you disqualified bad citizens, you might as well not have a Hall of Fame at all. That’s the only real defense of the different standards.
    In sports at least there are rules to the game, besides “be talented.” Ethics are woven into the practice of the talent being evaluated. Being a rockstar requires only the wisdom and integrity minimal to staying more or less functional and conscious, and sometimes not even that.

  11. He doesn’t belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because he isn’t a rock and roll musician. He wrote pap crap garbage that sounds like a sound track to an sesame street episode. Someone above wrote that they would kick his ass if they met him because of his politics, I agree but I would do it because he inflicted the world with the song Moon Shadow. That alone deserves a good beating.

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