On the way to Madison, we planned a stopover in Cleveland, in part to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in downtown Cleveland.

Our hotel was right in downtown Cleveland and was a refurbished old department store.

They were setting up for a wedding taking place in the hotel on the day that we checked in.

Once established, we made our way toward the R&R Hall of Fame complex, which was just a few blocks away. As we were walking toward it, I was wearing a newly purchased Velvet Underground t-shirt, picked up the night before at the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh (more about that visit on a later post), and we encountered another couple, in which the guy was wearing a t-shirt with a classic 1960s Who image; he and I sort of instantly bonded over our obviously shared appreciation of seminal 1960s rock bands. To put things another way, I was eager to see what the Rock Hall had to offer.

We arrive, walking past the Cleveland City Hall and the Claes Oldenberg “Free Stamp” sculpture. Nice!

We also went past this really interesting piece of street art – a sort of cubist image, painted on the side of a building (artist – unknown, at least to me).

And also, in proximity to the stamp and heralding the nearness of the Rock Hall – this large-scale Fender electric guitar statue

It makes me glad to own a Fender acoustic guitar, knowing that the Fender brand is so well-regarded. We then approached the Hall, in all of its architecturally modern, pyramid-y glory!

Another view, more in close-up

So, my initial thought: I had seen several images of this facility prior to our arrival here, so I had had an idea of what to expect. It’s been around since 1995 and I have always been interested, each year, in seeing which artists get inducted into the Hall of Fame. The concept of the Hall of Fame, prior to Cleveland being chosen the host city, dates back to 1983. The building was certainly a very modern looking structure. The large size seemed to hold the promise that the largeness of rock music and the culture around it could possibly be conveyed. But we were about to find out.

We entered, and there were more guitar sculptures which were among the few things that could be photographed. For the most part, photography is not allowed here; so, I cannot offer a lot of photographic information about what we got to see. But, here are a handful of lobby photos.

Interesting, when you think of it, that the R&R Hall would have chosen the electric guitar as a primary symbol of what rock and roll is all about. And what it is all about, at least in the R&R Hall of Fame’s view of things, is what you would be presented with upon entering. That, and, of course, a lot of commerce.

So, we paid our admission fee, got our wristbands placed on our wrists and made our way in.

The first section dealt with the roots of rock – essentially Gospel, Blues, Country/Folk/Bluegrass and R&B. You could put on a headset and press buttons so as to hear examples of prominent artists from the various genres. I chose blues and the experience made me want to spend some quality time listening  to various legendary blues artists, like Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon, when I got home. So that was good. There are then displays of various artifacts from these different genres – Muddy Waters’ and Bo Diddley’s guitars, for example.

In fact, it quickly became clear that what the R&R Hall would offer for viewing was particular sorts of artifacts – clothing, musical instruments, photos, album covers, and other miscellaneous possessions of the celebrated artists (e.g., Jimi Hendrix’s sofa, John Lennon’s Mellotron, which he used to create the eerie keyboard sound for the song “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the Who’s mod clothing, Patti Smith’s jacket, Joey Ramone’s leather jacket, an Adidas sneaker from Run-DMC, etc). The Hall is also organized around key cities in the music’s development/key eras, and artifacts from these cities/eras – Memphis, Detroit, London, Liverpool, San Francisco, Los Angeles, NY and London punk scenes, Seattle (grunge), Soul, Heavy Metal, and 50s rock. Also, a separate area on the music of the Midwest.  Some attention given to various “one hit wonders” (along with headsets for listening; Jolie seemed to like this). Lots there, but also perhaps a lot not there, I thought. In other words, what I was seeing was a bit of an incomplete history, though the history that was shown in the museum exhibits was certainly compelling. I also found that, after a while, looking at yet another set of clothing or instruments got to be a bit repetitious. But, at the same time, I do understand that these would be the sorts of things shown. And also, given that we only really had a few hours to spend in the entire place, we kind of walked quickly through the exhibits, while still trying to see as much of what was there. For this reason, we skipped the film areas, as it seemed as though they were presenting what was already familiar. Nonetheless, we did enjoy and appreciate what we did see, as it did lend itself to viewing rock music history via the displayed artifacts.

A few other things that stood out for me: obviously, seeing instruments used by great musicians like John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Pete Townsend and Bob Dylan to create musical masterpieces was akin to seeing religious relics. I also enjoyed seeing the representation of Alan Freed‘s radio studio (there is also a Sirious/XM station inside the Museum, though no one seemed to be working in it. There was a display on the evolution of technology that spanned from the era of Thomas Edison to the era of the Ipod, with transistor radios and 7os stereos, which I really enjoyed seeing. They also had, high up in the atrium, some of the props from Pink Floyd’s Wall tour.

The Hall was also featuring a special exhibit called “Women Who Rock” and it had a floor of its own.

It was essentially a series on featured artists, including such notables as Janis Joplin, Cher, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Heart, Patti Smith, Madonna, and others. I was surprised, and happy, to see a relatively underground group like Bikini Kill get some attention (as did Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon). Yet, while there what really stood out for me was the attention given to some of the bigger names, such as Cher and Tina Turner, whose great song “River Deep, Mountain High,” with Ike Turner, was on display on a monitor; such a great, soulful song!

So, we spent a bit of time in the various areas looking things over and taking it all in. It was fun. It was a bit of sensory overload. And it was also, quite frankly, the basis for a possible cultural and aesthetic debate, namely, about who deserves to be enshrined in such a place. Personally, I could come up with a few dozen acts who I think belong in the R&R Hall of Fame and perhaps a few questionable picks. Of course, that is the fun of being a music fan and of generating an opinion of what is great.

While on the upper floors, we decided to take a short break, purchasing some cold waters and going outside, to a balcony seating areas that offered some amazing views of Lake Erie.

Here is a view of the Hall in the foreground and Progressive Field,  the Indians’ baseball stadium visible in the background.

It was nice to be able to sit outside for a bit and to take a breather. Here we are together.

Here, from the escalator, is a shot of the atrium with a view of the inside seats/tables.

Toward the end of the visit, we got to see the “Inductee Gallery.” I was expecting it to be like the Baseball or Basketball Halls of Fame, where I’ve also visited, in which each inductee has an individual plaque, but instead, it was just a list of names on a wall.

It was now just about time to leave; we had dinner reservations for later that evening and needed to get back to the hotel to get ready. But before we left, I asked Jolie to momentarily ignore the “no photos” rule and to take a picture of me with a photo image of one of my musical heroes, the Clash’s Joe Strummer. It seemed like the punk rock thing to do. RIP, Joe, you are still greatly missed.

I also took this shot, again, in defiance of the no photo rules, of the old awning from CBGBs.

CBGBs is of course now closed and a victim of gentrification. The last time I was there, where the club used to be, it is now a high-end John Varvatos clothing boutique, selling $200.oo shirts. So, like with the dinosaur bones and other prehistoric artifacts on display at the American Museum of Natural History, I am glad that something as meaningful as a CBGBs awning has a home where it can be on public display.

Who belongs in the R&R Hall of Fame and who doesn’t? It’s a fun debate, and depends on one’s taste and preferences. I’d like to see more experimental artists, bands like Throbbing Gristle, My Bloody Valentine, Captain Beefheart, the Residents, and the Clean get in. They probably won’t, as they are too obscure, but maybe one day I’ll be surprised.  In any case, some of their stuff, as artifacts, ought to go up on display there, perhaps starting with Captain Beefheart’s guitar slide or one of Throbbing Gristle’s noise generating tape machines.

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