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Talk To Me: Corey Glover of Living Colour, and his still-open proposal to Jon Landau and the RRHofF

photo courtesy of Corey Glover

An exclusive interview with Letters To You

January 15, 2024

(Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday and U.S. Federal Holiday)

Two weeks ago, on New Year's Day, ABC broadcast an edited version of last November's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. (The edited version is now available to stream on Hulu, too, while the full-length version remains archived at Disney+, where it first was streamed as it happened last fall.) As we at Letters To You reported last November, Jake Clemons and Tom Morello - both African-Americans, one present E Street Band member and one past - made significant appearances at the ceremony, with Morello actually getting inducted as a member of Rage Against The Machine (while sitting at a table with fellow Hall Nominating Committee member and Hall of Famer Stevie Van Zandt.)

It was a historic induction ceremony, as it was not only the first Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony to be streamed live in its entirety, but also the first to be held since Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation co-founder/board-member and legendary Rolling Stone publisher/editor Jann Wenner was removed from the Foundation's board after making racist and sexist comments in last September's New York Times interview. The ceremony played out very much as a conscious, public response to the Wenner scandal, with a heightened focus on the contributions of African-American and female inductees, along with an appreciation of diversity embedded throughout the evening.

In addition to the E Street Band members' involvement in the ceremony, Bruce Springsteen's longtime manager, production collaborator, and friend Jon Landau found himself in the media spotlight thrown on the aftermath of the Wenner controversy last fall. Landau, also a close friend of Wenner's, a former (and brilliant) writer/critic for Rolling Stone and other publications, a longtime Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation board-member, and a Hall of Fame inductee himself, cast the only vote other than Wenner's in opposition to removing Wenner from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation's board. Landau issued this public statement explaining his vote: “Jann’s statements were indefensible and counter to all the Hall stands for. It became clear that the vote to remove him from the board would be justifiably and correctly overwhelming. My vote was intended as a gesture in acknowledgment of all that he had done to create the Hall in the first place.”

Enter Corey Glover, lead singer of the groundbreaking New York-based hard-rock band Living Colour, all of the members of which are African-American. The entire band, including Glover, already had been among the first musicians to respond to Wenner's comments, with a very powerful and eloquent collective statement. Glover then issued his own individual response to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation board's vote to remove Wenner, as well as Jon Landau's public statement about it, which read, "Mr. Landau and [current Board] members... the gesture of removing Jann Wenner is appreciated and appropriate. While you and your colleagues state that in no uncertain terms, diversity is of your utmost concern, we would prefer to see those words put into action. Saying something without doing anything is an empty gesture. I'd like to suggest a public forum to discuss these ideas. Understanding the issue and doing something about it is a necessity. Perhaps a round table on the grounds of the RRHOF or the National Museum of African American History and Culture might be appropriate? I would further propose that changes of fundamental policies within the infrastructure of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame be implemented. As Keith Richards once said, talk is cheap."

We recently connected with Corey Glover to dive more deeply into his public statement, as well as the changes he'd like to see implemented in the wake of Jann Wenner's ouster. Glover began by telling us what had inspired him to make his own individual follow-up statement, after first issuing the full-band statement with his colleagues in Living Colour. "It was after the vote to oust Jann," said Glover, "Jon Landau's bit about... We all knew he was gonna be gone, and Landau just wanted to acknowledge all the stuff Jann had done. I found that ironic, because the Hall wouldn't exist if people Jann denigrated - really - had not done what they had done. He wouldn't have had a job; he wouldn't have been sitting in his dorm room making a magazine. And for a while, we've been under the assumption that things were going to change...things regarding people's attitudes towards the music that they enjoyed, the art they regard as genius... that was going to change. With the advent of social media and the democratization of music, there was going to be something different. And it really isn't. For the most part, hard rock music is relegated to being secondary or tertiary to certain things. But the idea there was going to be some equity reserved in the sphere of music in general... it's not there. And it needs to be discussed. It's strange enough that the blues idiom has turned into a multi-billion dollar industry. And in almost the blink of an eye, it has relegated itself to... this rebel music is now relegated to commercials. This anti-establishment idea has now become something that nobody really pays attention to. When there's so much more to it, there's so much more subtlety, and there's so much more nuance, and there's so much more to say about it than Bono. Bono is not the person you go to find out where it's going and where it's been. He's the recipient of its gifts; he didn't refine them... and Jann Wenner's supposition that he was more articulate... only to find out that the transcript of what he said had to be sent back to be refined... but you couldn't give that same kind of grace to Nina Simone, you couldn't give that kind of breath to Joni Mitchell... or Stevie Wonder?

"What I'd like to see done... this is not a cosmetic 'We put another black person on the board.' That would be a start, but that's not enough. I think that there needs to be a fundamental attitude change. It's to really acknowledge that fact that you're not really dealing in the real world. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame does not deal in the real world. 'Cause the real world does not look like the board of however many white folks figuring out whether Snoop Dogg needs to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I know some members on the Nominating Committee and it's like, 'Your name comes up, but it doesn't generate any heat.' And, at the end of the day, the process is a handful of people decide who's who. And that's the kind of thing that needs to change. It's not a democratic process, how these people are chosen."

So far, the facts that we've been able to uncover - using the most recent data available to us at the time of publication - strongly support Glover's points about "the infrastructure" of the Hall, as well as "how these people are chosen." On the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation’s most recently filed (in 2023) IRS Form 990 - Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax, thirty Board members were listed. Four were Board officers: President/CEO, Chairman, Secretary/Treasurer, and Executive Vice-President. All four Board officers listed were white men. The remaining twenty-six positions were identified simply as Directors. Eighteen of the names listed in those positions also were those of white men. (We also know that two of those white men no longer hold those positions: Jann Wenner, after his removal last September, and legendary Sire Records founder/CEO Seymour Stein, who died last April.)

Only five listed Directors were women, all of them white. There were only two African-American Directors listed: Sony Music CEO Jon Platt and musician Pharrell Williams. (NOTE: Since the filing of the form, African-American musician/actor LL Cool J has joined the Board, as well, probably to fill Seymour Stein's vacated Director seat.) And the late, great musician Robbie Robertson, apparently the Board's sole Indigenous member, also served as a Director until his death last August.

The list of Board members on the 2023 form also was overwhelmingly skewed towards older CEO/business/finance-types in its membership. Only three musicians were identified in the document as Board members, and one of them - Robbie Robertson - is now deceased.

Things look a bit better on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's Nominating Committee, but not by much. The most recent (2023) version of the Committee contained twenty-eight members, sixteen of whom were white men. Only eight of the members were women, all of them white, and only four of the members were African-American. Less than half of all 2023 Nominating Committee members were music writers, critics, or journalists of some type, and less than a quarter of all 2023 Nominating Committee members were musicians. In his early-November 2023 New York Times interview, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame chair John Sykes said, "We have six more members now on the [Nominating Committee,] and we’ve been focusing on putting more women and people of color on the committee, because that’s how it starts." At this point it's still unclear if Sykes was referring to the 2023 version of the Committee or a newer version of the Committee that will address the 2024 inductee nominations, but in either case the addition of only six more Nominating Committee memberships - no matter who gets chosen to fill those positions - is unlikely to have a significant impact in and of itself on changing the older-white-male domination of the Nominating Committee that's in place already.

Longtime listeners of E Street Radio also may recall a revealing live-on-air moment from 2016, which provided a much earlier indication that all was not well with the structure and process of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Nominating Committee. During the October 19, 2016 broadcast of Live From E Street Nation, co-hosts Jim Rotolo and Dave Marsh (who was a longtime Nominating Committee member and still was on the Committee at that time) were discussing the just-announced list of nominees for the 2017 Induction Ceremony. "Yeah," said Marsh, "I saw a list [on] that was not the list I remember from the meeting I attended... That's not the list we walked out with... We came out... with, instead of a fifteen-person list, a twelve-person list, on purpose... It's very odd, and what I think is maybe they had... There's never been a leak. This is a leak, but it's an inaccurate leak." Marsh then checked his email on-air to confirm, found that the list posted on was indeed the officially announced list of nominees, and quickly made the following on-air resignation statement afterwards: "Well, okay... I'm off the Nominating Committee, guys, it looks like to me. I mean, I'm happy about some of this stuff, but this is... nineteen names. I didn't vote for a nineteen-name list. I don't know what's going on, but I don't have to now. I won't say anything further about what happened in that meeting, but I will tell you this... This wasn't it... The Board decided to expand the list of nominees; well then let the Board be the Nominating Committee. I'm really angry about this, and I have a right to be. Don't waste my time. I got two hands that still function; I can jerk myself off if I have to... They added names, almost doubling the list... Look, how many names are on the ballot goes to the issue of what percentage of what the [Nominating] Committee chose [actually gets voted in to be inducted.] What they did that really spits in our face, in my opinion, is they dilute everybody's chances of getting in by making it a bigger list than ever, and there's no advance notice of it. Why would they do that to people who volunteer, some of whom travel from as far away as Europe? Why would they do that, unless they want to just get rid of us? So fine; get rid of me."

Corey Glover got to expand even further upon his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame comments after Lenny Kravitz recently weighed in publicly on the Jann Wenner controversy, as well. When asked about it in a late-November Esquire interview, Kravitz, like Living Colour and Corey Glover had done before him, expressed how deeply hurt he was by Wenner's comments. "It’s very disappointing,” said Kravitz, “and sad. I’ve known Jann since 1987. I’ve been to his house. In his life. I was disappointed. I was very disappointed. The statement alone, even if you just heard about the man yesterday, was appalling and embarrassing. And just wrong."

Don't buy Jann Wenner's The Masters... but DEFINITELY find a way to read that Springsteen interview. (Click the arrow to the left to expand.)

But Kravitz then went on to address how a Black rocker like him has gotten dissed not just by the likes of Jann Wenner, but also by significant Black entertainment and cultural institutions. “To this day," said Kravitz, "I have not been invited to a BET thing or a Source Awards thing. And it’s like, here is a Black artist who has reintroduced many Black art forms, who has broken down barriers - just like those that came before me broke down. That is positive. And they don’t have anything to say about it?” After the Esquire interview was posted online, Kravitz tweeted a clarification and expansion upon the points he was trying to make: "It is important to me to set the record straight on recent media reports based on an interview I did. My black musical heritage means a lot to me, and I owe my success to my supporters who have taken this journey with me over the span of my career. The comment I made was not about 'black media' or the 'black community.' I was specifically referring to black award shows in particular. My comment was meant to express a concern about ensuring that black artists are being recognized for their work in what is now being called 'non-traditional' black music, which it is not. Rock and roll is the music we were instrumental in creating and is a part of our history. We must retain our heritage and celebrate that together. BET and countless others have paved the way for this type of recognition. I hope that by sharing my concern a spotlight will be shone on this issue. Love and peace."

Shortly thereafter, on behalf of both himself and his bandmates in Living Colour, Corey Glover posted on social-media about their experiences, in support of Kravitz's points: "Living Colour throughout has made a conscious effort to make ourselves available to places like BET, The Source, etc. Mind you, this was happening simultaneously to us in the rock idiom.

Their response to us usually was that we did not fit in their format. Ironic; that was the same response we got from the rock 'n roll/white entertainment organizations. Celebrating diversity in the entertainment field doesn’t start with the blues and end with hip-hop. There have been expressions in between. George Clinton/Parliament-Funkadelic, Fishbone, Tracy Chapman, Meshell Ndegeocello; even though there has been glancing acceptance of someone like Jimi Hendrix, rock's influence on the diaspora has very rarely been acknowledged. Lenny was right. None of us has been awarded, let alone acknowledged, for our achievements. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Just for the historical record, but not to dispute in any way Glover's essential points here, in addition to the induction of The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1992, George Clinton/Parliament-Funkadelic were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.] Living Colour in the past has worked with such historical luminaries as Little Richard and Mick Jagger. We’ve worked with hip-hop royalty from Queen Latifah, Doug E. Fresh, Chuck D & Flavor Flav to Run-D.M.C. And yet there’s barely a mention of rock's contribution to what is modern black music, let alone in rock 'n roll circles. It’s been our experience that most people of color have no idea how deep and far-reaching the influence of Black people is in modern-day rock ‘n’ roll... let alone its impact on R&B and hip-hop. What we hear is 'That’s white people stuff' when in fact, it is not! It’s hard enough to live in places where you expect white supremacy, but not from your own people."

The experiences related by artists like Lenny Kravitz and Corey Glover make it clear just how entrenched and complex the problems are. But that also makes Glover's call for the beginning of some honest, open dialogue and major structural/procedural changes all the more relevant and pressing. "I know that the way that it works does not work," Glover told us recently. "What's really sort of missing in this equation is a real conversation about it. There's nobody talking about what we need to do to make it better. There's a conversation that needs to be had. There's a conversation, a deeply substantive idea about what needs to happen, what needs to change. And maybe I don't have all the answers. But in the conversation, somebody will."


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