Rock Hall – Not “Exactly” What I Had In Mind

Last weekend, Joseph, Alex and I schlepped up to Cleveland to attend the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s American Music Masters series tribute to Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew.

On Friday evening, there was a packed house at Cleveland’s House of Blues for the Rebirth Brass Band and Trombone Shorty (who continues to impress crowds wherever he goes). Saturday included a symposium with speakers Rick Coleman, who wrote Blue Monday, a biography of Fats Domino; Daniel Wolff (see Alex Rawls’ latest blog post); Jeff Hannusch (OffBeat regular contributor and author of I Hear You Knockin’: The Sound of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues and The Soul of New Orleans: A Legacy of Rhythm and Blues), who interviewed Lloyd Price (“Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Personality, “Stagger Lee”); and Jason Berry, one of the authors of Up From the Cradle of Jazz.

The Rock Hall overlooks Lake Erie in Cleveland

The symposium was followed by a roundtable hosted by Ira “Dr. Ike” Padnos (Ponderosa Stomp founder), featuring some of the original members of Fats Domino’s band, along with a final interview of American Music Master award-winner Dave Bartholomew by author John Broven (Walking To New Orleans: The Story of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues, Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans). We saw a great New Orleans show featuring Rebirth, James Andrews, Jon Cleary, the Dixie Cups, Dr. John and his band, Theresa Andersson, and a performance by Dave Bartholomew himself. On Sunday we had a few hours to enjoy the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame (known locally as the “Rock Hall.”)

The Rock Hall was impressive, to say the least, although I was warned by Terry Stewart, President of the Rock Hall, that we should come back in about 15 months because the Hall was undergoing serious renovations. Even without the proposed renovations, the museum was impressive. Housed in an I.M. Pei-designed ultra-modern structure overlooking Lake Erie, the Hall looms large in Cleveland’s downtown as a major tourist attraction. The exhibits are exhaustive, some great, some not so great, and some are spectacular. I particularly enjoyed the “Elvis 1956: Photographs by Albert Wertheimer” exhibit. These are a series of photographs taken the year Presley turned 21, and viewing the photos only confirms why this guy captivated the world. I also enjoyed a multi-media tribute to MTV and its importance to popular music.

There was also a great film that showcased all the inductees since the Rock Hall opened in 1956. A Bruce Springsteen exhibit, complete with clothing, guitars, road equipment and numerous notebooks filled with original lyrics to Springsteen’s songs, was fascinating. I admit that we didn’t get to spend enough time in the Hall, but I’d love to go back. I didn’t think the exhibits were as interactive as they needed to be but am presuming this will be remedied when the museum’s new exhibits are showcased in 2012. Also—the lighting was really crappy. God knows, I’m interested in reading the original poetry and song lyrics written by the likes of Lennon and McCartney, but they sure were hard to read in the museum’s dim lighting.

What occurred to me as I toured the museum and watched the inductee film is that this museum is really the story of my life too. Like so many people my age, we are contemporaries of the dawn of rock music. It’s a baby boomer’s life story—we grew up with this form of music, more than any other. It belongs to us. If popular music played a part in your life, as it did in mine, then this is a must-see.

It was fascinating to see the roots of the form and see how it progressed—and is changing—through time. Overall, I loved the Rock Hall and do hope to go back. It’s certainly the best of the music museums I’ve visited thus far.

But I grew up in New Orleans, and as regular readers of my column and blog know, I’ve been a huge proponent of a museum encompassing the breadth of New Orleans’ musical history. We just don’t have anything like it. Our museum certainly wouldn’t be as large or as grand in scope as the Rock Hall, but I know we could do it proud. There are already a lot of resources in the city from which to gather information and resources about our musical history and heritage: the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Archives, the Historic New Orleans Collection, the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane, the Backstreet Museum, the (now in storage) Jazz Museum, Amistad, and so many more. Even the Hard Rock Café in New Orleans has artifacts.

But none of these valuable pieces of our musical heritage are in one place so that locals and visitors can be engaged and educated about what makes New Orleans truly the seminal source for American music. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the non-profit organization that exists to educate visitors, fans and scholars from around the world about the history and continuing significance of rock ‘n’ roll music.

We need a similar resource for New Orleans music located in a tourist-friendly part of New Orleans (my suggestion is Canal Street, in the developing theater/entertainment district). We don’t need to create a tourist destination like Cleveland did with its Rock Hall. We ARE the destination. A New Orleans Music Hall of Fame and Museum would be just the ticket to provide another resource to bring visitors to the city and to educate them and locals alike on our musical heritage, all in one place.