Cleveland: Where the Heart of Rock N’ Roll Is Still Beatin’
Funny thing happened to me several years ago while I was waiting in line at the Musee’ d’Orsay in Paris. My husband and I were
talking about cool museums and mentioned that we have to get to the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. To our
surprise, the man behind us excitedly said “Keevland” in his Dutch
accent. He went on and on about the greatness of American rock and
roll and that he was hoping to take a trip to Cleveland just to see
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
It’s amazing how appreciation
for American rock and roll has extended to the rest of the world.
And the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the place where fans from as
far as the Netherlands and as close as its origin can come together
to celebrate its evolving history.
In 1983, the Rock Hall of Fame Foundation was
established to honor performers, producers, songwriters, disc
jockeys, and others who have greatly contributed to the shaping of
rock and roll history. However, to truly honor these legends, a
foundation wasn’t enough. There needed to be a physical place, a
rock and roll Mecca if you will, where people could go to recapture
the essence of this music at its best. And so the idea of a Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame and Museum was born.
Not A Mistake On
After deciding to build the museum, the
foundation’s next step was to decide where to put it. In the early
90’s, Cleveland, while not the most obvious candidate, impressively
won a hotly contested bid over New York City and Memphis to host the
museum. One of the deciding factors was the notion that Cleveland
was the birthplace of the term “rock and roll,” which was
popularized in 1951 by a local disk jockey named Alan Freed.
Nevertheless, the ability to raise funds for the $92 million
facility helped Cleveland far outpace its competition and win the
In 1995, the
museum opened with much fanfare. Legendary San Francisco architect,
I.M. Pei, who designed the museum, stated that he wanted the
structure “to echo the energy of rock and roll.” The museum boasts
one of Pei’s trademark glass pyramids, which is similar to the one
he designed for the Louvre in Paris. The museum is striking along
the backdrop of Lake Erie, and is even more spectacular at night
when it is lit up.
Hip and Happening
The museum’s collection is the world’s definitive
source for the preservation, interpretation, and celebration of the
history of rock and roll. The collection charts the evolution of
rock and roll from its roots in the 50’s, through its dramatic
growth in the 60’s, and into today. What’s really cool is how the
exhibits are designed to give visitors a unique, interactive
experience. Exhibited in conjunction with films and interactive
computer kiosks, the artifacts on display colorfully tell the
stories of rock and roll’s great artists. The movie montage on Hall
of Fame inductees is a real treat—it’s a 33-minute, toe-tapping
journey back in time.
For me, the most fun aspect was the
costume display. There was John Lennon’s Sgt. Pepper uniform,
Michael Jackson’s wild outfits and studded glove, and Bruce
Springsteen’s simple jeans and T-shirt. To the delight of my
six-year-old, there was even a Britney Spears leather ensemble. When
getting up close to the costumes, it’s amazing to see just how small
these people are. The “Boss” seems bigger in concert, but his
costumes show he’s just an “average Joe” in size.
the ever-changing spirit of rock and roll, the collection also
features some items on temporary display. Through these changing
exhibitions, the museum can continually offer fresh rock and roll
experiences to visitors.
In September, the museum hosted a
massive exhibit featuring legendary guitarist and singer-songwriter,
Jimi Hendrix. The exhibit featured a variety of artifacts, including
two electric guitars, handwritten lyrics, and stage costumes that he
wore for his historic Rainbow Bridge and Isle of Wright concerts.
It’s interesting to note that the very first artifact acquired by
the museum is the original manuscript of the lyrics he wrote for
Recently, the museum unveiled its most
substantive exhibition to date with a tribute to the life and work
of John Lennon. The majority of the exhibit is made up of relics
from the collection of Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono. Among the items on
display are a leather jacket Lennon wore on the Beatles’ early
Hamburg trips, the “Hair Peace” and “Bed Peace” signs that Ono and
Lennon hung in their hotel room during their 1970 “bed-in,” and
report cards from Lennon’s school days.
From the exhibits, you learn to appreciate the
“behind the scene” efforts it takes to become a rock star. Today’s
hit music appears to be all about agents, publicists,
choreographers, and stylists. There’s something to be said for the
long, exhaustive, and character-building journey of rock and roll’s
early days. I found the raw drafts of lyrics, hasty scribbling, and
tormented notations fascinating. Interestingly, many lyrics were
composed on hotel stationary. It’s clear that no matter where they
go, many artists have a strong urge to write music that speaks to
Musical Déjà vu
By visiting the museum,
you get a clear sense that legendary rock stars make music a part of
their souls. The museum reminds you that there is really nothing
quite like the power of music. It is amazing how a particular song
can become such a part of the fabric of your soul, triggering
special memories each time you hear it. For that experience alone,
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is worth a visit.
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