The Bay Area is sending three of its best to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Friday, Apr. 7. Joan Baez, Tupac Shakur, and the band Journey will be inducted in a ceremony in Brooklyn. It’s a trio from three very different corners of the rock universe.
Joan Baez: A folk singer with pop star reach
Baez, who lives in Woodside, debuted at the Newport Folk Festival at 18 in 1959, around the time she earned the nickname "The Barefoot Madonna,” because she often performed without shoes. The 60s were a time when folk music was just as big as rock and roll, and far more political. So Baez, her mentor Pete Seeger, and her onetime boyfriend Bob Dylan (whose career she boosted), among others, could score pop hits. This was possible even as they protested the Vietnam War, or, as Baez did, lead hundreds of thousands in singing “We Shall Overcome” at the March on Washington in 1963.
Baez told the San Francisco Chronicle recently she’s issuing one last album, Fare Thee Well, before retiring after 58 years of performing and recording.
Tupac Shakur: A contradictory character
Politics is one point of similarity between Baez and Oakland’s Tupac Shakur. He was the son of Black Panther parents, and wrote smart lyrics about racial injustice and the perils of gangster life. Shakur was convicted on sexual assault charges, and he became a player in an infamous East coast-West coast rivalry that probably got him killed in a drive-by shooting in 1996, when he was just 25 years old.
You can hear some of the contradictions in Shakur’s life and work in a song like “Dear Mama,” added a few years ago to the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress. Shakur wrote it for his mother Afeni Shakur, with lyrics that both extolled her and called her out for being a crackhead.
"For a woman it ain't easy trying to raise a man
You always was committed
A poor single mother on welfare, tell me how ya did it
There's no way I can pay you back
But the plan is to show you that I understand
You are appreciated."
Journey: A controversial choice?
In some ways, San Francisco’s Journey is the most controversial choice for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. People have strong feelings about a band that’s synonymous with bombastic arena rock. There’s an “I Hate Journey” Facebook page, where comments include, “A lot of their music came across as insincere corporate pap.”
Still, the band has remained enormously popular for decades. Before co-founding Journey, lead guitarist Neil Schon was a member of Santana, and during Journey's heyday in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the band wrote and recorded songs with easy-to-like lyrics and great musical hooks, like “Wheel in the Sky,” and “Don’t Stop Believin’,” a song that reached a new generation after it was featured on the TV show Glee in 2009.
Journey’s personnel has changed a lot over the years, with only Schon surviving from the band's first gig in 1973. This is another cause of controversy regarding the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Former lead singer Steve Perry is scheduled to appear at the induction ceremony, but Schon has said Perry won’t sing with the band. That honor will go to Arnel Pineda, who has been touring and recording with Journey since 2007.