Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rock Hall, Revisited

Happy 65th Birthday, Sir.
Photo: Janet Macoska, Cleveland (1976)

Took the boy to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum today. Always been a big supporter of the Rock Hall, glad it's here where rock and roll, well, you know. Has always been really popular. Moondog Coronation Ball, Alan Freed. Brooklyn High. You know.

My wife and I checked out the hall shortly after it opened in September 1995. As the years have progressed, aspects of the hall remained firmly in the mid-90s. The 500 Most Influential Songs exhibit featured only a half-dozen tunes from that decade, and none since. The opening film, Mystery Train is an excellent short film, which shares, without narration, the different forms of early 20th century, American roots music which came together to inspire rock and roll by mid-century. But it was followed by another film (which felt much longer) called Welcome to Rock and Roll which attempted to describe the lasting legacy of rock, but was really an irritating collection of white, male artists (many now dead) lecturing us about why rock music is so important.

The upper floors change all the time, and is where most temporary exhibits are displayed, but the vast, main floor stayed in this time warp. No longer. Along with his new drum set, we gifted the boy tickets to the Hall (the boy is six, in reality he gets in free, we gave him the idea of going to the Rock Hall) and I was delighted to discover upon exiting Mystery Train that the second film had been eliminated! The other theater wasn't even there.

The Early Influences exhibit used to be a gallery of photos and a lot of reading about the pioneers of popular music. It now features touch screens to choose music by these artists, and for a time I thought I was never going to get the boy away from them. He wanted to hear everything from Woody Guthrie, and was seriously bopping to Willie Dixon's I Ain't Superstitious. I did my best to explain when he asked what Waist Deep in the Big Muddy is about, but the reasons for our involvement in Vietnam (and our enchantment with The Smothers Brothers) was a little complicated when there were so many pleasing diversions to be attended to right then.

A small boy is not so interested in artifacts; costumes and hand-written lyrics. When DMC's glasses were pointed out to him, he stated flatly, "I know, I saw them in a video." That's good enough, breathing the same air as Run's Adidas (His! Ah! Didas!) does not impress. The boy was much more enamored of the interactive exhibits, the escalators, and anything that had to do with technology that he could grasp and appreciated.

For example, guitars do not interest him. John Lennon's mellotron would be interesting, only you can't tell by looking at it how it works (it is actually quite fascinating) he was more into bass drum heads with the band's name painted onto them, and the exhibit featuring the advancement of sound reproduction from the wax cylinder to the iPod. He could also listen to Funkytown a thousand times straight, but didn't we all?

Concluding our tour in the Hall of Fame, watching short films of all of the artist, the boy observed, "They all smoke."

Yes, son. They do. That's rock and roll. And if you so much as touch a cigarette, I will kill you.

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