Road trip: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum photo
From the April 19, 2012 edition

I traveled to Cleveland last weekend for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Before that spectacle (read my recap at the Sensory Overload blog), I spent some of my afternoon strolling through the museum, a shrine to your parents’ favorite music, especially if your father is Jann Wenner. My aim was to separate the wheat from the chaff and determine whether this is a pilgrimage worth making from Columbus.

Let’s get the typical objections out of the way: Rock and roll is too wild and free to be confined to a museum; you won’t learn anything you couldn’t discover by spending a few hours on Wikipedia and YouTube; the canon represented in Cleveland is almost comically narrow and sometimes downright perplexing. (For instance, why is Joy Division worthy of an entire display case in the Legends of Rock and Roll exhibit yet they’ve been snubbed for official induction every year since 2004?)

All of those gripes ring true, but I had a good time at the Rock Hall. I actually wish I had set aside more than a couple of hours to roam, if only because one of the best parts of the museum is the video installations, some of which contain more than an hour of footage. In particular, I would have liked to settle in on the third floor to take in the 81-minute documentary about the inductees over the years.

If you have kids, the Rock Hall is a great place to capture their imagination. It’s pretty easy to picture my 13-year-old self swept away in all the combed and scrubbed nostalgia. It’s an incomplete portrait, sure, but all those memorabilia cases, listening stations and history capsules are a great entry point for the music geeks of tomorrow. The following is a real conversation from Saturday.

Dad: “You know what those are?”

Daughter: “Records!”

For the mature music fan, the appeal is more limited, but you can still get your 22 dollars’ worth.

Among the most appealing aspects of the Hall is the collection of rockers’ personal items. Handwritten lyrics (Ian Curtis’ scrawled “Your Love Will Tear Us Apart” poetry) and sheet music (“Holy Diver” as notated by Ronnie James Dio himself) abound. Being in the presence of John Lennon’s uniform from the “Sgt. Pepper” cover was surprisingly thrilling. While examining one of Jimi Hendrix’s guitars, it’s easy to imagine the instrument in his arms, wailing away at his whim.

I also enjoyed a second-floor exhibit that tracks music technology from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs. A special exhibition of “The Lost Photographs of Cleveland Deejay Tommy Edwards” offered fascinating, intimate portraits of stars like Sam Cooke, Link Wray and Arlene Fontana. Occasionally you’ll stumble across something as bizarre as Alice in Chains’ claymation dolls.

The point is, even if the Rock Hall seems utterly predictable, pointless or misguided, some dedicated hours to wander will yield new discoveries and send your memory surging. The wisdom of traveling from out of state to pay $22 for this seems questionable, but as a day trip destination, it’s definitely worth it.