The Black Keys owe Steve Miller an Apology
Steve Miller gave three speeches at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction recently, one during the show, one after, and one to Rolling Stone Magazine. It was his second speech, the one after his official speech, that mostly threw people into a tizzy including Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.
Mr. Auerbach (as usual accompanied by his drummer Patrick Carney) gave the induction speech for Mr. Miller (one of the highest-selling artists of all-time with his Steve Miller Band). It was a decent speech but certainly gave no impression (at all) that Dan Auerbach had more than a passing knowledge of Steve Miller's work and did not make me feel like he was a fan per se (he even teased that anyone could look at a Wiki and get the same information).
But now, after meeting Steve Miller, and hearing his post-speech rants, Mr. Auerbach got buyers remorse about giving the speech inducting Mr. Miller (I guess he was unaware that Miller was dragged kicking and screaming to the HOF in the first place).
So, what happened?
Miller's 3 Speeches
In my humble opinion, Mr. Miller's official induction speech was very good. He humbly gave credit to Les Paul, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry, Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, his entire band, his staff, and several others.
He gave special credit and notice to Wynton Marsalis and to a group that has allowed him to help bring more music education into schools.
He told his musical story and tried to connect his accomplishments through the giants that had raised him up. And, instead of just resting on his laurels, he suggested that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should strive to be more inclusive, more transparent and that it should specifically try to include more women.
In his "second speech,"he said what I have heard a thousand times, the Rock Hall doesn't provide tickets to the artists and all the people the artists want to bring etc. Very old business. Was he testy and rude, yes. But artists are often that way.
In his "third speech," he was much less polite to the Rock Hall, as I mentioned we probably should not hire him to negotiate with Iran. But what he said was in no way crazy.
Miller said the Rock Hall should be more inclusive and transparent (true), and suggested that an investigative reporter should work on the shadiness around their practices. While this sounds a bit "Woodward and Bernstein" the Rock Hall is very opaque and their practices and decision-making are often bizarre (to say the least).
He said record companies don't care at all about artists anymore (if they ever did). He said he won't make new records because he doesn't have any incentive to help them get richer. Virtually every band (and artist) I know feels very skeptical and sad about the music business as it is right now. Is Miller a bit paranoid, maybe, but that isn't crazy in the post-streaming music economy - not crazy at all. Miller is certainly correct to say the industry is "dead" (we can debate out the details, but they are very much heading down the path bookstores and record stores traveled)
He said record companies steal from artists. Is this shocking to anyone? Even if artists do not always understand the economics of contracts or of producing albums this is not news or shocking (have you been watching Vinyl?). I personally feel that streaming services are not stealing from artists myself (I believe the consumer is the reason artists cannot make much money) but I can certainly understand why artists feel like they can't make money in the current recording environment.
Finally, he had the temerity to suggest that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should be more sensitive to the artists that they are inducting. That they should allow them to bring who they want to the ceremony (something at least 30 artists have complained about that I know of), that they should let you play as long as you want (why not, you can cut it for tv later), and that artists should not be expected to deal with so much Rock Hall bureaucracy (again, not crazy).
He also mentioned he was looking forward to spending some time teaching kids music.
Auerbach + Counter-Productivity
HERE is the exact text of what Mr. Auerbach had to say after the fact.
Important things first. The comment that bothered me the most was this one:
"He called the whole thing "a boys' club." The Steve Miller band has had 35 members and no women. It was just very disappointing."
Is Mr. Auerbach's argument that more women should not be included into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Hypocrisy is often used exactly like this, to distract from a valid message in order to attack the messenger.
I am not saying Steve Miller should not also be more inclusive, I am saying BOTH can be true and Mr. Auerbach should embrace the MESSAGE asking for the inclusion of more women EVEN IF he applies that call back to Mr. Miller and his band.
He also said:
"There's a time and a place to stand up and be angry. But when people are honoring you for how great you are, that's not the fucking time or place."
I beg to disagree, times like this are EXACTLY the time to make political statements, when you have the attention of a large audience and when your statements can have the widest reach and most possible impact. If you are truly celebrating someone as a great person, and part of them is their politics, why would you want them to be anything but who they are?
It was perfectly appropriate for Marlon Brando to support Native Americans with his time and of Michael Moore to talk about what his movie (that just won an Oscar) was about.
And, nothing about how he addressed gender in the speech was inappropriate IMHO it was said respectfully in the last part of a very fine speech.
The Temerity of Steve Miller
The real problem seemed to be that Mr. Miller did not "know" who the Black Keys were or have taken the time to learn about them before attending the ceremony.
"He had no idea who we were. No idea. The first thing he told us was, "I can't wait to get out of here." He knew that we signed up to do this speech for him. And he made no effort to even [laughs uncomfortably] — he didn't even figure out who we were. I don't live in New York City. This is like three days out of my life flying from Nashville and leaving my kids at home."
Okay, that was probably not very classy. But, if I am ever asked to give a speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in support of Joy Division's induction, I really would not care too much if they know who the hell I am. I am not there for me, I am there because I love them. Miles Davis was famously tough to be around, but I still admire the hell out of his music. Peter Hook could hate me, or just not know me, it really doesn't change how much I love his music.
I guess what I am saying is, go as a fan. It seemed pretty apparent to me that you really were not a huge fan of Steve Miller but were asked to induct him. You took some time out of your day, did a little research and wanted some polite consideration. Maybe he isn't the nicest guy in the world, I don't know? Why is it about you? Hell, I am not even a Steve Miller fan, but I respect what he has accomplished enough to let him be who he is. Dude worked with Howlin' Wolf, Check Berry, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters, step back.
Look, I like Kendrick Lamar too, and I have written three pieces supporting Cube's statement, but come on. How in the world were these two speeches in competition? Heck, I like the Black Keys as much or more than I like Steve Miller, so I think I am being somewhat objective here.
And then he said the strangest thing of all:
"Uh, yeah. Pat and I both regret it. [Long pause.] It's unfortunate. Of course, there are problems in the music industry. Of course. But we were there, unpaid, on our own free will, to come celebrate his achievements and spread the joy of rock & roll. To inspire kids to pick up guitars. To play music. And it felt like we were doing the opposite."
Did you listen to Steve Miller's induction speech? If it was about ANYTHING it was about why teaching kids about music and the history of music was important to him. The only work he mentioned was touring and working with kids to teach them about music and music history.
I can only say I am flabbergasted by this response. I obviously don't have any idea what happened backstage, I am not saying Dan Auerbach has to like Steve Miller, I am just saying this was out of line.
As Usual, The Rock Hall Makes It Worse
In fairness, most of what the Rock Hall president Joel Peresman said made sense.
You can read what he said in response HERE
It is very possible, as I have said many times so far, that Mr. Miller may have been a bit of a handful to deal with. I have no idea. But this comment in his rebuttal bothers me:
"If you look over the past few years, we've inducted women basically every year. We've had women nominated or inducted every year for the past number of years. Once the nomination process goes out to the general voters, it's up to them to who they feel should be inducted and why they should be inducted."
Is that really the best you can do? That is really not entirely correct (how about all the years before you became more aware) and for every woman artist that you have inducted you have left a TON of deserving women out. You did nominate Chaka Kahn and Janet Jackson this year (both great picks) but perhaps you could do more?
I guess my problem here is that you say nothing proactive about addressing what is obviously a problem (IMHO) or to address structural bias in the voting procedures. Mr. Miller was also talking about widening your lens to include artists that you are not currently discussing.
When I put out my new list of deserving inductees, I will take this to heart and include several women artists and bands that could and should be included in the nominations lists (Mea Culpa to date I have suggested Sonic Youth but pushed for Joy Division and Kraftwerk).
My point is that you can defend the Status Quo or constantly evolve. I would encourage Mr. Peresman to be reflexive and consider possible ways his institution could evolve. At the very least, Mr. Peresman should resist taking a Pontius Pilate stance, it was a bad look in Rome and it is a bad look in new-Rome.
What did you think of what Steve Miller said? What about Dan Auerbach's response? Let me know what you think, leave a comment!