Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Saturday at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

I was back in Ohio last weekend to see my girlfriend (who lives in Kent) and she suggested that we spend part of my visit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located on the shore of Lake Erie near downtown Cleveland.  We drove up on a gray, snowy Saturday morning, a cold wind whipping off the lake and making the Hall the only destination we'd want to visit in Cleveland proper that day.

From the outside, the Hall reminded me of the pyramid entrance to the Louvre in Paris, which makes sense as I.M. Pei designed both.  I've been to the Experience Music Project in Seattle, so I had an idea of how a museum might present the history of rock.  Many exhibits showed off guitars donated by legendary musicians, and I enjoyed playing "I recognize that one!" based on my limited knowledge of guitars from my friend James.  Our visit to the Hall began on the lower level, with a display of Elvis Presley costumes and memorabilia.  There was a temporary exhibit of Elvis photos by Alfred Wertheimer, a few of which I saw in the Brooklyn Museum's "I Shot Rock and Roll" show in January. Other displays on this floor featured the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and rock musicians and bands from Ohio.  Another exhibit showed costumes and instruments from bands such as U2, The Band, and The Who.  I may or may not have bowed in an "I'm not worthy!" fashion in front of The Who's display, which included Roger Daltrey's fringed suit from The Rolling Stones' Rock & Roll Circus and one of John Entwistle's bass guitars.  Another display had Michael Jackson's zombie costume from the "Thriller" video.  The Hall has a strict "no photos" policy, so the images of these artifacts will have to live on in my memory alone.

Another part of the Hall presented the history of sound recording, starting with Thomas Edison's wax cylinders and early phonographs through wire recorders, tape decks, and finally the iPod.  Guitar innovator and legend Les Paul had his own display as well, with examples of his initial attempts at electric guitars.  The centerpiece of the Hall was the inductee gallery.  Video screens at the entrance showed highlights from induction ceremonies in years past.  The gallery itself is a large theater where three giant screens played songs and videos from each inductee.  A circular walkway leading up to the next level featured an honor wall with names and signatures of each inductee in alphabetical order.  The hour-long inductee video looked like it would be fun to watch in its entirety if you wanted to take a break from walking around, but we only watched about a minute of it.  At the end of the walkway, outside of the theater, were several touchscreen computer terminals with access to nearly every song ever recorded by each inductee.  I enjoyed looking at all of the inductees' names on the wall, and I think eventually the best presentation of the inductees might be a combination of the wall, the video, and the computer terminals.  Let visitors choose which artists they want to learn more about by touching the name on the wall and listening to music by that artist.  It's not technically practical right now, but that's the way I imagine the exhibit might work in the future.

At the uppermost level of the museum was the temporary gallery, currently featuring an exhibit on Bruce Springsteen.  I'm not a huge Bruce fan, but I was excited to see the Fender Esquire guitar from the covers of Born to Run and Born in the USA just hanging on the wall.  The gallery also held his outfit from the cover of Born in the USA and notebooks with lyrics and song notes.  This part of the museum would be worth the price of admission for any and all Springsteen fans.  It's only there through the end of the year, so if you're looking for an excuse to go to Cleveland, go forth and rock.

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