Sunday, October 05, 2003

It's only a blog, but I like it.

One more blog about Cleveland's own Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, this time not involving my own nostalgia. Just a series of notes, really, without slipping into half-baked speculation about pop culture. The world has enough of that, but not enough accurate description of what people see, first hand.

The museum goes out of its way to justify its placement in Cleveland, most especially by devoting space to Alan Freed, who did indeed hit his stride as a rock 'n' roll promoter while in Cleveland. But I'm not fooled. Cleveland has the museum because the city fathers were willing to pay for it. The impression I get of Mr. Freed was that he had had no special love for rock, but just played what he thought kids wanted to hear. And when he achieved some success, he moved his operations to New York.

For something that started out as youth culture, the museum certainly attracts a lot of old people. Not just the demographic you'd expect, say 40 to 60, but a goodly number of out-and-out elderly, 70 if they were a day. Though the museum wasn't particularly crowded the day I visited, more than once I rounded a corner and encountered someone with a walker or a wheelchair. But then again, the genre got started about 50 years ago, and as the recent death of Sam Phillips demonstrates, the leading edge of rock and roll -- those who didn't die young, like Elvis -- are slipping away.

The video I watched the longest was in fact one featuring Sam Phillips, recorded in the mid-90s. It looked like he was enjoying the interview, with a Southerner's penchant for storytelling. Most of the museum's video clips were of course music, and I spent time watching a number of performers. Jimi Hendrix rates his own small auditorium in which a tape of his performance loops. A really big video wall, made of dozens of monitors, devotes itself to a rapid succession of iconic images: Elvis with Ed Sullivan, the Beatles mugging for the camera, that sort of thing.

Even more rapid were the music videos of a display called "Video Killed the Radio Star," named after the first video MTV ever played. There, a continuous loop spend about two or three seconds with each of two dozen or so early MTV videos. It would have been just noise and light to anyone unfamiliar with the videos; and maybe it was anyway. It was something of an insult. My attention span could have taken 10 seconds of each, at least.

Mostly, though, like any good museum, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is about artifacts. It's amazing in that regard: photos, drawings, posters, letters (such as from Charles Manson to Rolling Stone), advertisements, album covers, original Sun Records records, contracts, playlists, instruments, costumes (my own favorite: Devo, ca. 1980), radios, mixing boards, books, rock-based toys and games, and even report cards (Jon Bon Jovi was a lousy student). I half expected to see David Bowie's garden hose and Lou Reed's shaving kit. As a reliquary, this museum's tops.


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