Some feel that a Baseball Hall of Fame without Pete Rose is unthinkable. Not me. My problem? I cannot for the long life of me comprehend a Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame with the likes of the Mamas and the Papas. I know. How can you not love a group of four singers, none of whom can play an instrument or write a song; none of whom has an ounce of soul or rhythm? Sure, I'll admit to a wet dream or two with Michelle Phillips. Also, the band did suffer through enough drug, relationship and sex problems to be confused with Fleetwood Mac. With all that sex and drugs, they nevertheless failed to produce anything resembling bona fide Rock'n'Roll. Of all the great ways to die in Rock, choking to death on a ham sandwich just isn't gonna cut it. Geez, if there's room for the Mamas and Papas, the Cowsills, the Partridge Family -- not to mention the Monkees and Paul Revere and the Raiders -- all get my vote.

The Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame is a joke. The building is a classic piece of I.M. Pei self-indulgence: Lots of unusable space. When you're in it, everything feels cramped and smaller than life itself; maybe that's my problem with the Mamas and the Papas, too. The building makes you feel that if they fit in, there's hardly much room left for anyone else. It's the sort of architectural mistake that almost allows you to forgive at least some of the mistakes that have dominated the Yale Law School renovation project. Here's the Million-Dollar-Question - you choose your flavor: Name two songs by the Mamas and the Papas other than "California Dreaming"; or, in under 25 words, explain how to get to any office in Entryway M from the faculty lounge. Not so easy, is it? Is that your final answer? Look, I've said it before - I didn't design the darn thing. I am a happy-go-lucky depressive, committed completely to what Joe Queneen aptly refers to as a "career of life-affirming viciousness". So I will give the law school renovation a pass. But hey, what do you think of some of those portraits? I've recommended adding one of Elvis, preferably from his Viva Las Vegas era, right next to President Clinton. I like Clinton. I love that he plays the saxophone -- about as well, I might add, as I play guitar -- but that is the worst portrait among many eminently forgettable ones. I will go to my grave thinking that an Elvis portrait would add just the right weight to the proceedings.

Nice spin job. Are we in Washington or what?

I'll give a pass to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, too - not everyone honored by membership in it is a mistake, after all. They did enshrine Curtis Mayfield, not just once but twice, once as a founding member of the Impressions, once as the great solo artist he was. Curtis Mayfield died a couple of months ago. In 1991, Curtis was about to perform in Brooklyn when he was struck by scaffolding from the sound towers. He woke up paralyzed from the neck down. He never performed again. He died this year. I never met Curtis Mayfield but I loved him; I've copped a million of his licks. I hear his voice in my dreams and in my lectures. You like Jimmie Hendrix's guitar style - or is Steve Cropper more your thang? Listen to Curtis Mayfield. The man helped create the Rhythm & Blues rhythm style that dominated the Cropper-led Stax Memphis rhythm section known as Booker T and the M.Gs. You can hear hundreds of his double-stop, hammer-on rhythm riffs all over Jimmie Hendrix And playing guitar was just a sideline for Curtis. Curtis Mayfield took the basic I/IV/V chord progressions of the Blues and added a majesty of personal and political emotion that helped create Soul music. He had an unmistakable voice in which he sang and wrote.

American Soul music did not begin in Memphis or Philadelphia or Detroit. It began in Chicago with the Impressions. Born as the Roosters in Chatanooga/Tennessee, the Impressions began life in Chicago in 1958 when a teenage Curtis Mayfield wrote songs and drove a band fronted by the great soul singer Jerry Butler. They hit it with "For Your Precious Love" and soon after leaving the band, Butler hit it big again with "He will break your Heart", another tune penned by the still-teenage Mayfield. Then came the 60s, with the rest of the youth-world turning to self-indulgent dreams of anarchistic futures and wet dreams of a sexual revolution, all the while burying their heads in drugs, fantasies and a world without responsibility or memory. Not Curtis Mayfield. He wrote four songs of personal struggle and optimism that politicized, personalized and forever altered the consciousness of American soul music and the American soul: "It's All Right" - "Say, it's all right to have a good time, say it's all right" - a song inspiring optimism of a bright future in spite of the stresses and strains of everyday experience; a song of promise not only for Blacks but all Americans.

It was followed closely by "Keep on Pushing", Curtis' first song directed at American Blacks, victims of centuries of racism; a song of encouragement and empowerment, not hate or resentment. "Amen" was self-explanatory. Then in 1965, Curtis Mayfield wrote and the Impressions released what is perhaps the greatest soul song of all time, "People Get Ready": "People get ready/There's a train a'comin/ You don't need no baggage/You just get on board". "There ain't no hope for the hopeless sinner/Who would hurt all mankind just to save his own." A song of great personal redemption and forgiveness, "People Get Ready" has a simple chordal structure. Yet every outstanding guitarist I have known or played with loves playing this song. Just listen to Jeff Beck accompanying the ever-annoying Rod Stewart on the hair-heads version. Compare Beck's depth and understanding with Stewart's mannered indifference. Curtis followed it up with "This is my country" - and it is. "Should we perish unjust/Or live equal as a nation?". In "Choice of Colors", he then notes that "Some of us would rather fuss and cuss, than to make a better day!" and implores us that "People must prove to the people that a better day is coming for you and me/If there was no day or night/ Which would you prefer to be right?"

In the 70s, Mayfield turned his attention from the political to the personal street struggles of Black youths trying to survive a nightmare of crack, crime and wide-open eyes staring at a future of hopelessness. At this point, still writing unforgettable harmonies nested in driving rhythms, Curtis made perhaps the riskiest career move in Rock history - he wrote the music for the movie "Superfly". In doing so, he produced two of the most important anti-drug songs of contemporary music: "Freddy's Dead" and "Superfly". Like the movie, the songs were widely misunderstood to be glorifying drugs and a drug culture that Mayfield spent his adult life deploring and struggling against. In this regard, Mayfield suffered something of the same fate as Isaac Hayes. Hayes is remembered almost exclusively for the song and Black exploitation flick "Shaft", another misunderstood movie. It is noteworthy, moreover, that Hayes was the in-house song writing genius for many of the Memphis soul songs of the 60s and 70s.

Curtis never achieved comparable success after Superfly, yet his reputation among his peers never waned. Curtis Mayfield died recently. I haven't felt quite right since. Something is missing. Still, when you hear the songs, you hear the voice, see the man and feel the spirit and joy: The triumph over personal struggle; the inspiration to join hands, to get aboard and collectively overcome the worst in our nature. I don't know about you, but I am drawn to three pictures of life in this world, all in tension with one another. There's the Leonard Cohen vision from "The Future" which in part reads "Things are going to slide in all directions/Won't be nothing/ Nothing you can measure anymore/ The blizzard of the world/ has crossed the threshold/and it has overturned/ the order of the soul". Or again, "I've seen the future, baby:/ It is murder".

There's the unforgettable vision of Lou Reed's "Dirty Boulevard" wherein Pedro dreams of killing his old man or maybe just escaping to wherever he can "fly, fly away, from the dirty boulevard". Perhaps this is Lou's most poignant vision for coping strategies on personal despair. And then there's Curtis Mayfield who simply tells us to get on board: "You don't need no ticket/You just thank the Lord". Today I want to believe the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a hallowed, not hollow shrine. I want to believe that the portraits in the Yale Law School are beautifully executed, fitting tributes to wonderful people. Most of all, I want to believe that Curtis was -- no , make that is -- right.