Loose Strife

An MP3 blog

Monday, June 20, 2005

#11 - Cleveland Rock City

“See Emily Play” - The Pink Floyd

Today, out of oblogation [sic] [heh] and despite the lingering jellyfish slosh of the post-wedding hangover, I visited the Rock and Roll (tellingly, not “Rock’n’Roll”) Hall of Fame and Museum, a big glass temple to the music situated on Lake Erie and designed by architect I.M. Pei---a pretty dull corporate-vibe modernist, I think, measured against the more rocking likes of Frank Gehry (the admittedly overexposed It architect of Seattle’s competing Experience Music Project), or the power-chordingly high-concept, if somewhat morose Daniel Libeskind (slated to design the 9/11 memorial on the World Trade Center site).

But it’s in keeping with the vision of the place, as narrow and safe and Rolling Stone canonical as you’d guess, fixated on the Stones/Beatles/Hendrix triumvirate, giving dutiful nods to old black bluesmen and perfunctory ones to the usual punk suspects and some random new wave acts (of the latter, in my admittedly cursory tour, the B-52s and Duran Duran---who share a huge wall opposite the Stones shrine---seem to get the most space). Hip hop is ignored almost completely, ditto disco and electronic music, although I suppose they aren’t, properly speaking, “rock and roll,” and in the case of rap and techno don’t really make the 25 year cut for consideration by the Hall of Fame. But the museum did find a huge space for a “Teen Idols” exhibit to display outfits worn by Britney Spears, Tiffany, N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, and Hanson. What the fuck?

In fact, aside from a handful of instruments (a broken Kurt Cobain guitar; an unbroken Leadbelly one) and various stage props (the Weezer “W” light array, the Phish flying hotdog-mobile from their 1994 Boston Gardens New Year’s Eve show), the museum is largely about clothes. And it’s amazing how empty a musician’s clothes are when they’re not in them. Hendrix’s chartreuse suede boots. Mick Jagger’s UK/US flag cape. Even as I stand before the jacket---made of paper, I discover---that Bjork wore on the cover of Post, and the kimono she wore on Homogenic, I’m weirdly unmoved, despite my reverence for the artist. Actually, I never thought these outfits were real: they seemed, unlike Bjork’s famous swan Oscars gown (she wouldn’t give that one up for the exhibit, I guess), like they’d been fashioned digitally for the album covers in question. In reality, they seem drab, unmagical, not iconic at all.

This saddens me.

Two large exhibits are on the upper floors, which are devoted to rock’n’roll on film. There’s a Tommy exhibit, and one devoted to Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I stand there complaining to Nelson, my ex-roommate at the U of M and a daily newspaper film critic in Milwaukee, about how it all seems a shill for Hollywood Studio product and DVD sales, and how I never liked The Wall anyway, it being musically leaden and vastly less psychedelic than Wish You Were Here, let alone Ummagumma or the early Syd Barrett stuff (like the promethean “See Emily Play,” above, which of course has personal meaning for me), and that in any case, the full-scale, 10-ft-high replica of the Wall in question was clearly not the one used in the few stage performances of the album back in the ‘80s, since that one was knocked down during the course of the performance, and this one seemed to be made of sheetrock, which would have presented an obvious problem if it were to come crashing down on an actual stage.

Right then, a teenage boy standing next to me---he was 15 maybe---loudly declares “That’s awesome.”

He says it with such a tone of reverence that at first I thought he was being sarcastic. But he wasn’t.

“That’s awesome!” he repeats.

Within that “awesome” is nearly everything there is to know about a music fan’s faith and passion---the initial seed, anyway. It’s purity is blinding. I recognize this only in retrospect. In reponse, I make a weak reassertion of my point that it’s a fake, like one of those corny dramatizations they use in TV documentaries.

“I don’t know if it’s the one from the concert, but who cares---this is totally, totally awesome,” he says, not even deigning to address me directly, talking half to his parents, who are standing behind him, and half to The Wall.

I look at the fake Wall, its tabula rasa of white sheetrock, and I feel like some secondary character in High Fidelity who had, literally and figuratively, lost the script.


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