The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is revving up for next week's induction ceremony with a crapload of events. This past weekend there was an oldies-heavy concert at the Q featuring KC and the Sunshine Band, the Monkees' Micky Dolenz, and the guys in Creedence Clearwater Revival who are still alive and not named John Fogerty. This Tuesday there's a huge gospel concert at the State Theatre with Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin, and other genre giants who we admittedly never listen to.
Two days before the big bash, which takes place April 14 at Public Hall, the Rock Hall will open a new exhibit devoted to the Grateful Dead and host a free concert at the Q with George Clinton's P-Funk crew and Kid Cudi. But the most exciting thing going on before Flea and (maybe) Axl come to town is Saturday's Girl Talk concert at Public Hall.
Born Gregg Gillis in Pittsburgh 30 years ago, Girl Talk, who studied biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University, makes music that the typical Rock Hall attendee would find deplorable. In fact, they'd probably say something like, "You call that music? That's not music. This is music" right before they cue up Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower" for the eight-gazillionth time.
But Gillis' mashup masterpieces — in which he cuts, pastes, splices, dices, speeds up, slows down, and however else you can digitally manipulate a song — unspool like the history of rock & roll itself. And that's something even your Elvis-worshipping mom can get behind.
Just look at the list of artists Girl Talk has sampled on his five borderline-legal albums over the past decade: Boston, Roy Orbison, Chicago, James Taylor, Aerosmith, Elton John, Kansas, Fleetwood Mac, Al Green, Queen, Genesis, James Gang, Boz Scaggs, the Beach Boys, David Bowie, Electric Light Orchestra, the Jackson 5, Cream, U2, and Van Halen. Looks a lot like the Rock Hall's jukebox, doesn't it?
Yet Girl Talk makes something brand new from all of his mashing. His latest album, All Day (which broke the internet on the day it came out in late 2010 — seriously, look it up), kicks off with the familiar opening riff of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs." Then 2Pac's "How Do U Want It" slips in there. And so do Jay-Z, Eminem, Jane's Addiction, the Ramones, and the Doors before it all ends. Within the span of five and a half minutes, Gillis samples exactly two dozen songs.
All Day's lead track is titled "Oh No." But like all Girl Talk cuts, nobody really calls them by their names. Fans mostly refer to the cuts as "that one that samples George Michael" or "the one that starts with Procol Harum's 'A Whiter Shade of Pale.'"
That infuriates most folks over the age of 50, who probably won't be at his show on Saturday. The last time Girl Talk played Cleveland (in January 2011 at House of Blues), the average age of concertgoers was about 22. We don't expect that number to go up much, just as we don't expect to see Gillis ever inducted into the Hall of Fame. Which is a shame, since they're both in the business of preserving music history.