In light of the Jann Wenner controversy this past week, it must be said: As Rolling Stone magazine has done already, the Rock Hall — as an institution, and the second-most conspicuous monument to Wenner's ambition and "vision" — needs to issue a statement to clarify its current position, distance itself, and re-establish some semblance of trust with its employees, donors, members, and ceremony ticket buyers. It's time for the Hall to meet the moment, especially with the looming inductions at Brooklyn's Barclays Center this November.To quote George Costanza, it may be time for the Rock Hall to reject its first impulses, and "do the opposite." Apologies and humility, as with Hall co-founder Wenner, seem as scarce as the women and people of color in its inductee ranks. The arrogance displayed by Wenner when his ignorance was exposed by writer David Marchese in last week's New York Times interview was stunning. Arrogance is a trait that's palpable, too, in the Hall's public relations approach, which seems to toggle between diversion and denial. The "ignore it and it will go away" gambit works sometimes, but neither the Hall, nor Wenner can wish this one away. It's the equivalent of a cash deposit bag exploding a dye pack on a fleeing bank robber.
On September 16, amid a reported atmosphere of "urgency and rage," a vote was held by the Rock Hall foundation, and a statement was released saying that Wenner had been ejected from its board. (Also that day, the New York Times reported that president and CEO of the foundation, Joel Peresman, contacted by phone, "declined to comment further.") In an e-mail from foundation member Troy Carter to Wenner that leaked, words were not minced:
The Rock Hall, now estranged from Wenner, yet associated with him forever, is in rough waters. At a time when they'd rather be touting their upcoming, $135 million museum expansion, as well as the the Brooklyn inductions six weeks from now, they're forced to navigate a spiraling public relations crisis. Past controversies have dogged the Hall, of course (everyone should know the name Dorothy Carvello), but the Wenner expulsion arrives on the heels of yet another embarrassing situation: Just last year, they had to suspend Craig Inciardi, a long-tenured museum curator and director of acquisitions, after he was criminally charged, with others, for trying to sell handwritten notes and lyrics Don Henley claims were stolen from him. The trial is reportedly slated for this fall.
The 2023 induction ceremony is coming up fast, and the entire vibe and success of this annual gala truly depend on which key actions the Hall takes next. If Hall leadership wants to win back hearts and minds, it should trade stonewalling for pragmatism. It should release a public statement of contrition and renewed purpose to communicate its priorities and propel itself beyond the Wenner narrative. Further, several rounds of hat-in-hand diplomacy with 2023's inductees will be required to convince them to a) still believe in this thing, and b) show up. Mission-critical artist negotiations occur in advance of every ceremony, but Wenner has certainly made that task a lot tougher this time around.