Visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum is a big, sweaty and kinetic experience…much like rock and roll itself.
The museum provides a well-arranged joyride through the roller-coaster history of rock and roll—from its formative years and influences during the very late 40s and early 50s, the excitement of the early 1960s British Invasion, the politicized late 1960s, rock’s 1970s nadir with disco and punk (when, as one museum placard I saw noted, music lost its “vitality”), the grunge of the early 90s to today’s multiculti mix of musical genres and influences.
A stunning glass pyramid design by renowned architect I.M. Pei, whose work also includes the pyramid at the Grand Louvre Museum in Paris, greets visitors as they approach the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum on Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland Ohio. Pei’s design results in light-filled and airy spaces, giving the museum a decidedly modern feeling.
Most visitors start with the basement-level galleries, which house more than half of the museum’s exhibits.
Loud and vibrant music, swirling colors pulsating on video screens and the time-warped travel experience of various rock genres and eras bumping up against each other in a maze of interconnecting galleries on the basement level, present visitors with a sort of sensory overload that captures the lively, rebellious and youthful spirit of rock through the ages. Quiet galleries on the upper levels provide a glimpse at the more introspective and serious side of rock.
Don’t miss the two short films playing at the small theater near the basement-level entrance—Mystery Train and Kick Out the Jams. The two 12-minute films offer a great overview of rock’s history, tracing the music from its earliest roots as train songs, blues, gospel, folk and country and continuing through rock’s explosive emergence in the 1960s and its continuing metamorphosis and growth to the present.
The basement galleries contain smaller rooms dedicated to individual artists or subjects, interactive “jukeboxes” where a touch of the computer screen can call up a biography, list of recordings and videos from many artists (a database heavily geared to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees) and showcases spotlighting different artists and eras with instruments, posters, costumes and other memorabilia.
The third floor houses the Hall of Fame wing, where an hour-long film features snippets of songs and interviews from many of the inductees.
We’ve visited many of the museum’s special shows, including exhibits dedicated to John Lennon, U2, the Who’s "Tommy" rock opera, the Clash, and rock and baseball, as well as two of my favorite shows: Mary Wilson’s collection of Supremes’ stage outfits and "Rock Style" , an exhibit featuring stage clothing like Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation uniform, Ginger Spice’s union jack platform boots, Donovan’s Balkan wedding cape, the outfits worn by the Mamas and the Papas that I recognized from clips of 1960s television appearances, stage clothing from Stevie Nicks, Sarah McLachlan and Tori Amos, Beach Boy gear from 70s stage shows and many others. The costume collection, while stunning, left me thinking how small many of the bigger-than-life stars, with the exception of a few substantial figures like Ruth Brown, really were.
Virtual visitors to the Rock Hall’s extensive Web site also find a lot to see. The site includes plenty of stories and photos about the museum and its treasure trove of artifacts. Be sure to click on the Interactive selection along the top of the Web site to find a full menu of links to the museum at multimedia and social networking sites like You Tube, Flickr and Twitter.
© Dominique King 2009