The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's kick-off was grand, but whether it please, pleases you depends on how you feel about the very idea of a rock museum

By David Browne
September 15, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

The difference between what the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is, and what it should also be but isn’t, was literally spelled out at the beginning of the Sept. 2 concert that celebrated the building’s opening. John Mellencamp and band were playing ”R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” — earnest, good-time music that all but guarantees Mellencamp’s future induction. Suddenly, a small plane whirred overhead, trailing a streamer that advertised Lenny Kravitz’s upcoming album. The move was a vulgar, obnoxious marketing ploy, but it was also spunky and defiant — two lovable attributes of rock & roll that, unfortunately, aren’t a terribly big part of the museum itself.

If there were any doubts left that rock has become feel-good, mainstream Americana, Cleveland’s celebration of the much-debated museum’s opening quashed them. Public buses carried ”Rock On!” signs, and Clevelanders waved American flags at the museum’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. A downtown parade featured, among others, giant Elvis and Madonna puppets, a marching band playing ”I Got You (I Feel Good),” a papier-maches ”Yellow Submarine,” a brigade of Volkswagen bugs (the Beatles, get it?), and little kids dressed as 45s or, in the case of one 13-year-old, representing the Velvet Underground (black garb, pasty makeup). ”There are some nice surreal touches,” remarked Greg Zawie, a 26-year-old insurance agent observing the parade. ”It’s very unusual.”

Surreal and unusual couldn’t even begin to describe both the parade and the museum itself. Located on Lake Erie, the six-story building, designed by I.M. Pei, is a gleaming, striking mesh of glass tent and white-tiled blocks. It feels like both a greenhouse and a mall, the latter encouraged by an HMV outlet located right in the lobby. (It’s a particularly expensive HMV, too: A CD of the new Alanis Morissette album costs $17.99.) The main exhibition floor is a rambling array of vintage costumes and instruments, photo exhibits, glass-encased memorabilia, and interactive screens that let you hear the ”500 Songs That Shaped Rock & Roll” (including everything from Beatles tunes to, strangely, M.C. Hammer’s ”U Can’t Touch This”) or major artists and their influences (punch up Metallica and you can hear a snippet of obscure ’70s rockers Diamond Head).

The museum can be overwhelming at times — you’re often surrounded by TV monitors blaring footage and music that sometimes cancel each other out. But anyone who has been inspired by rock, or found a voice through it, should enjoy the memorabilia: Jim Morrison’s Mother’s Day cards (”I will try to show my love always — James,” reads one, foreshadowing the oedipal angst of ”The End”), Bruce Springsteen’s junior-college lit-magazine poetry, George Clinton’s hilarious ”Atomic Dog” slippers, parts from Otis Redding’s crashed plane, Alice Cooper’s guillotine, a pair of Run-D.M.C. Adidas sneakers, Soundgarden’s handwritten 1987 contract with Sub Pop records, and, most eerily, a Bob Marley dreadlock. The museum’s top floor is a dark, silent den whose walls are engraved with signatures of Hall of Fame inductees — a flashier Vietnam Veterans Memorial. As with much of the museum, the tone is stiflingly reverent, as if one is in the presence of not mere talented humans but deities.

Advertisement

Comments



EDIT POST