When I was in Cleveland for Thanksgiving, I made sure to visit the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. I was there last summer and somehow missed it! Don’t ask me how that happened.
For a museum featuring rock culture, it has a somewhat surprising beautiful & geometric design. I think the architecture is somewhat comparable to The Louvre. But that museum is in Paris, and as I cannot speak French and don’t tolerate snootiness well, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame is more my style.
The tickets are on the pricier side at $22, but well worth it. We began the tour on the bottom floor, initially unaware that this is where the permanent exhibit is housed. The exhibit is set up as a rough timeline, and begins by establishing the roots of rock ‘n’ roll with a complex and sonically pleasing homage to the African-American singers, musicians, artists, and performers who built the foundation of what was later to morph into hip-shaking, guitar-shredding rock. Lest anyone forget that most “new” forms of music have traditionally been challenged by the more conservative members of society, the Hall of Fame included a somewhat shocking series of quotes revealing just how much people hated rock music when it first emerged and later ballooned into popularity.
“Rock and roll is a means of pulling the white man down to the level of the Negro. It is a plot to undermine the morals of the youth of our nation.” -Secretary of the North Alabama White Citizens Council, 1956
So just remember next time you want to harp on some genre of music and try to prove why it’s “bad” and “amoral” and “harming our youth,” that some downright terrible things have been said about all forms of music at some point in time, even classical.
A large portion of the permanent exhibit focused on the so-called greats, such as the King, the Beatles, and, of course, the Rolling Stones. (More on the Stones later). I didn’t take a humongous amount of pictures, simply because I was enjoying sifting through everything and filling in gaps in my knowledge. One of the things the Museum did really, really well was give you the impression that you could get close to the artifacts on display. I often feel uncomfortable in museums because I get the feeling that 1). I’m not really welcome there and 2). The objects on display are more precious and valuable than I can ever hope to be, but the Hall of Fame wasn’t encumbered by obvious lasers or eye-level security bars or guards yelling at you for taking photos.
I think part of this has to do with the fact that it’s a museum of pop culture, and thus the threshold is seemingly lower than in other, more esoteric museums. Another bonus: the footage featured at the museum–a lot of it from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s is the best-quality I have ever seen of most bands.
Because of my affinity for the printed word, and also the magazine itself, I really enjoyed the Rolling Stone exhibit (featuring an early letter from Mick Jagger himself.) Rolling Stone has been a constant finger on the pulse of America for the last 46 years; tame enough to appeal to many, but edgy enough to stir things up every once in a while (as it continues to do these days.)
On the 3rd? 4th? 5th? floor of the Museum (it’s hard to keep track of levels in a translucent pyramid), there is a video theater featuring clips from bands who have been inaugurated into the Hall of Fame. It’s much more selective than I realized; they only let about 6 people in each year, and there are just under 300 inductees to the Hall of Fame overall. Which is kind of nuts, when you think about how many famous bands/performers there are who’ve made significant contributions to the genre.
At the apex of the pyramid was a special exhibit on The Rolling Stones, which I had no complaints about. The premise behind the exhibit was explained in the very first informational poster, featuring a quote by Keith Richards:
I’ve pretty much always preferred The Rolling Stones to The Beatles, and I’m willing to admit that even though it may make me some enemies on the Internet. Not that I don’t enjoy The Beatles; quite the contrary–I love driving down the highway singing “She’s got a ticket to ride” with my windows rolled down. It’s more that The Rolling Stones have a more complex sound, and are more daring and subversive in many ways, and seem more cognizant of their bluesy-folk roots. Their name, after all, is taken from a Muddy Waters song.
We stayed right up until the Museum closed, eager to drink everything in. The gift shop was horrendously overpriced, as they’re wont to be, but I’d had the experience, gotten drunk on the rich musical history of rock ‘n’ roll, rediscovered some old favorites and found some new, and reminded myself why I hate Patti Smith. All in all, pretty amazing, and definitely worth a visit next time you’re driving through Ohio.