Just back from a long weekend away, which included a couple of days in Cleveland, a trip I took solely to visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I’m glad to report it was well worth the effort.
The RRHOF was designed by architect IM Pei, and from the moment I walked through its glass pyramid exterior, with classic tunes pounding out of the speakers, I began to relive the soundtrack of my life. This isn’t just the music I grew up with, this is the music I played on the radio for so many years.
The experience begins below ground, on the first of seven levels of exhibits, where the permanent collection is located. There, the history of rock is traced from its earliest roots in the blues, through its birth in the era of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, through the British Invasion of the early 1960s, the Motown years, the Woodstock generation, the 1970s singer/songwriters, the New Wave — and on and on up the escalators to other levels and through each era that has defined rock and roll.
There’s one exhibit honoring Alan Freed, the radio deejay who coined the phrase “rock and roll” while on the air in Cleveland — which is why the RRHOF is located there — right through his role in the payola scandals which eventually destroyed him.
There’s another exhibit about the technologies that made rock accessible to the masses, from the transistor radio through the iPod. There’s a tribute to Les Paul, the genius of electric guitars and early recording techniques. There’s the Jimi Hendrix Surround Sound Theater (not exactly a quiet room). There are the outfits and instruments various rockers have worn and used onstage.
The top two floors are currently home to a featured exhibition about The Who’s “Tommy,” from its birth as Pete Townshend’s rock opera to the movie version (with Ann-Margret, Elton John, and Tina Turner), to the stage version that played on Broadway for a couple of years.
Truth be told, I’ve always thought the “Tommy” plotline was silly — that deaf, dumb, and blind kid who sure liked to play pinball — but the music transcended the concept and became a classic. Here, it gets the full treatment, including an hour-long documentary with commentary from all the major participants.
Throughout the RRHOF there are interactive screens where you can see and hear the music of the inductees, the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll, and various video and audio displays that put the music into context. One of these is a multi-screen presentation of every single person and group that’s been inducted into the RRHOF (inductees aren’t eligible until 25 years after their first recording, so the Class of 2005 includes bands that started out around 1980, like U2 and The Pretenders).
My wife and I spent nearly five hours in the RRHOF one afternoon, then returned the next day for another two hours or so — I was determined to see everything they had to offer — and left wanting still more. If you’re like us, either start early and stay all day, or go for the two-day pass to save a little money.