Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Punk and Clash Exhibits

When Punk Became Museum-worthy: Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Punk and Clash Exhibits

The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame? In trakMARX? Are you having a laugh? Is she having a laugh? Is Andy Mellman having a laugh?

Yeah, yeah, I know...

So, before we even address the punk related artifacts on display there, we'd better discuss the Hall of Fame itself, since from its inception, it's been controversial. In fact, I suspect that for you, my dear trakMARX reader(s), four questions immediately spring to mind:

1 - Should there even be a museum commemorating rock music?

2 - Why the hell is it in Cleveland?

3 - Who picks the inductees - and why hasn't Iggy been inducted yet?

4 - The Sex Pistols told them to F*ck off, so why should I care about the Hall of Fame?

Okay, first up: maybe there shouldn't be a museum commemorating something which is supposed to be rebellious and anti-establishment - but, accepting that there now is such a museum - let me just say that their collection is fabulous! When you visit the Hall of Fame for the first time, you repeatedly find yourself thinking: "Oh-my-gosh - is that...? Wow, yes it is!"

They have all the predictable iconic pieces: Prince’s purple trench coat, Hendrix's guitars, Alice Cooper's guillotine, David Byrne's big suit – and, of course, many Gaultier fashions from Madonna - but their collection also contains some less well-traveled items: a case of Joy Division memorabilia, original stage outfits worn by Hank Williams and George Clinton - and a one armed shirt from Def Leppard's Rick Allen!

The museum has a lot of interesting ephemera too - like John Lennon's original lyric sheets, Jim Morrison's school report card - and a handwritten letter from Charles Manson to Rolling Stone Magazinein which he tries to offer them an interview in exchange fora free subscription to the magazine (Manson has surprisingly lovely penmanship)!

And of course, there are instruments and stage sets from every band you could imagine. Even the memorabilia from groups you don't care about can be interesting to see (Although I loath post-Barrett Pink Floyd - I found the Hall’s rebuilt simulation of "The Wall"interesting just for its iconic value).

Okay, next issue: the location. Most people think that the reason The Hall of Fame is located in Cleveland, Ohio, is that this rock-loving town was the home of DJ Alan Freed - who coined the term “Rock and Roll”. The real reason that Cleveland was chosen over the other competing cities - New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, Memphis and Chicago - was that it was the only town that cared enough to really campaign for it.

Cleveland, with its inferiority complex (how would you like to live in a city nicknamed "The Mistake by the Lake"?), coordinated a huge effort. Petitions, radio campaigns and tax breaks from the city all helped pave the way for the building of IM Pei's Glass pyramid (which looks just like the one he built for The Louvre - so I'm not sure what it (thematically) has to do with rock and roll).

Third: I don't know who exactly votes for the inductions for the Hall of Fame - but I do know that it includes some big mucky mucks - and that (supposedly) the voting pool was reduced this year from about 1000 to 500! I've read that to be inducted, you have to have a certain percentage of the votes. I have also been told (by an ex-boyfriend who once took me to one of the induction ceremonies at the Waldorf) that part of the decision on who will be inducted each year is secretly affected by who might play live - and thus draw viewers to the television broadcast. The year I attended the inductions many of the inductees were dead. This did not make for an exciting show!

As for Iggy? This year REM and Patti Smith covered "I Wanna Be Your Dog" during the ceremony - obviously as a message to the powers that be that Iggy and the Stooges should be inducted - their performance of the song, however, was cut out of the edited version of later broadcasts. So, while Iggy probably will eventually be inducted, let's not get our hopes up just yet.

And the final issue: why should you - a fan of punk music - care about the Hall of Fame? Because the powers that be there (led by curator and former Rolling Stone writer Jim Henke) have (amazingly enough) not forgotten about punk!

As you walk through the main exhibition area you'll see display case after display case dedicated to different periods and forms of music: R & B, Country and Western, Motown, Summer of Love Psychedelia and even Grunge are all represented. My favorite exhibit - the one that makes any visit to the museum a treat - is the "1975-1978 Blank Generation" punk case.

Just inches away from you - but unfortunately behind glass - is a treasure trove of amazing artifacts. The first thing you'll probably notice is a largered sequined jacket with the words "Handsome Dick Manitoba" on the back — in which the great Manitoba appeared on the cover of The Dictators first album, "Go Girl Crazy".

As you study the case more closely, you'll see a cornucopia of 45 covers, hand-printed song lyrics and concert posters from bands like Blondie, The Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Television, Buzzcocks, The Jam and the Sex Pistols. It even contains Sid Vicious's handwritten chord chart for "My Way"!

Not surprisingly, there is a lot of Ramones’ memorabilia - including Marky's drumsticks - and a black leather jacket of Joey's. Other clothing on display includes an outfit worn by Sid Vicious - Chris Stein's "Rapture" video sweatshirt - and a surprisingly large silk vest and pants, once worn by Johnny Thunders - whom I'd always imagined to be more petite.

The oddest objects in the case, however, are probably the punk"trading cards" - featuring the likes of Richard Hell and Joan Jett - and a Barbie doll styled to look like Patti Smith - made by one of her fans, and donated to the museum by her mother.

At the very top of the case is a television broadcasting a taped loop of iconic punk video footage. This reel includes the legendary Pistol's Grundy interview, when a few broadcast swearwords led the Pistols to temporarily become the scourge of a nation - and to permanently become icons to future generations!

And just when you think you've seen everything, you'll notice it...

Down in the corner of the case: a handwritten letter from London haberdasher Malcolm McLaren to The New York Dolls’ Syl Sylvain! In it Malcolm talks about a new unnamed band - a group of musicians who hangout in his shop - whom Malcolm is managing! He begs Syl to come to London and join the band. He thinks they will all work well together:

"...They need you. They would respect you... None of them are idiots. I wouldn't work with them if they were..."

Yes, Syl Sylvain, could have been the fifth (well, sixth - okay, if you consider Wally - then seventh!) Sex Pistol.

For me, that letter alone is worth a visit to the museum. Andy es - punk is about the music and the rebellion – but - if you're a sucker for the old stuff - like I am - you'll love seeing the legendary artifacts on display. And luckily for fans of punk, the permanent exhibit is not the only one of interest up right now.

This year the museum decided to put up a temporary exhibit dedicated to Hall of Fame inductees The Clash. The living former members, along with Joe Strummer's wife Lucinda, all emptied their obviously well stocked attics and garages and lent a treasure trove of memorabilia to the museum for this exhibit.

While visiting my family in Cleveland recently, my husband Chris and I decided to get up early one morning, and sneak off to the museum to check out the exhibit. As all the other tourists headed downstairs to the main exhibition hall, Chris and I, who had both been to the museum a few times before, rushed up to the top floor to see what the Hall had been able to pull together on The Clash.

And there we were, just the two of us, surrounded by three rooms of vintage Clash memorabilia. There was a "Keys To Your Heart" single from Joe Strummer's first band, the 101'ers. There was Mick's guitar case, Strummer's guitar and amplifiers, articles about the band, concert posters, laminate passes, a gold record, costumes (so much camouflage), plus the tiniest set list ever, which Joe hadonce stuck on the narrow top rim of his guitar. There were also videos of Clash performances and interviews. There was plenty to see.

But no Clash exhibit would be completed without THE iconic item... And there it was, right in front of us: Paul Simonon's broken Fender Precision bass from the cover of "London Calling".

Yes, we were in a room, just us and the broken remnants of Paul's bass. No other tourists, no security guards, no one but us... Alas, the bass, and the rest of the exhibit were behind glass. Where they remained.

I did, however, sneak a few photos (whichare forbidden by the museum), my excuse being that punk is about rebellion - and after all, it was a broken bass.It's not like it wasa painting of "The Last Supper," where a bright flash mightmar it in some way.

The Clash exhibit is temporary, so if you're going to see it, go now. The punk case is part of the permanent collection. The museum is currently considering doing a huge retrospective exhibit on the entire history of Punk for later this year or early next year, so keep your eyes peeled for that as well.

And if you’re now debating whether to go to Northeastern Ohio on vacation – try thinking of it this way: it’s a chance to see what kind of place spawned the likes of Pere Ubu, Devo, Chrissie Hynde and the Dead Boys - and the only place in America that actually fought to build a museum to celebrate rock and roll!

Bonnie Datt – tMx 29 – 03/07

Holidays in the sun: www.rockhall.com