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A Long-Overdue Trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Part of the original set from Pink Floyd's "The Wall" tour in 1979-80
Part of the original set from Pink Floyd's "The Wall" tour in 1979-80
Photo courtesy of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

While it's true that my Bucket List could be contained in a fairly small bucket, a big one got checked off recently when I was able to finally stroll into that big ass glass pyramid on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland: I had arrived at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Though it was established in 1983 and began inducting members shortly thereafter, the physical building did not open until 1995. The Museum's six levels host thousands of artifacts, interactive displays, video screens and jukeboxes, two theaters, and enough nooks and crannies to keep even the most casual music fan occupied for hours.

I was there for five, and could have easily spent five more. Or just move in there for a week or so. Though I think security might question a guy with a sleeping bag at the foot of Howlin' Wolf's guitar.

The author in front of Beatles memorabilia from their Sgt. Pepper's period
The author in front of Beatles memorabilia from their Sgt. Pepper's period
Other photos by Bob Ruggiero and those in his tour group

But the Hall of Fame is far more than a collection of memorabilia (a piece of Otis Redding' death plane!), musician's items (Warren Zevon's handwritten lyrics to "Play It All Night Long!") or stage costumes (Michael Jackson was tiny!).

And that's not mentioning the café and extensive gift shop, the latter of which was pleasantly surprising for its huge offerings of music alone, including imports I've never seen before.

Without gushing (OK, if it's OK to gush at one thing I guess...) it's a place where the entirety of music for the last nearly century -- from country, blues, rockabilly, and soul to folk, psychedelia punk, thrash, and rap -- come together in one narrative. And it all makes sense.

Yeah, I've got problems - big problems -- with the list of inductees to date in terms of who is in there that shouldn't and who should be in there that's not (Deep Purple -- this has to be your year!).

But all that seem to fall by the wayside as I explored the incredibly well laid-out exhibits - both permanent and temporary - throughout. Here were some of my favorite permanent highlights.

The platform boots of Peter Criss, original drummer for 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees KISS
The platform boots of Peter Criss, original drummer for 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees KISS
Photo courtesy of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Mystery Train film The first stop for most museum-goers, this 12-minute, narrator-free film uses the metaphor of a train for the unstoppable approach of rock and roll music. A locomotive that travels through antecedents of older music with effective black and white footage of both performers and society from the '20s through the '50s.

Legends of Rock and Roll These artist-specific exhibits focus on the Big Guns including Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and U2. Even diehard fans will learn something new, and the sheer amount of stuff with a direct relation to the artist is astounding, from famous stage costumes to bits of lyrics written on hotel stationary to personal items. And who knew a young Hendrix made so many crayon and pencil drawing of sports scenes?

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Hank Williams Sr.'s stage costumes and assorted sheet music
Hank Williams Sr.'s stage costumes and assorted sheet music

Cleveland Rocks & Kick Out the Jams: The Music of the Midwest While the decision to place the Hall in Cleveland was not without its controversy (fun fact: the deciding vote was cast by Billy Joel), these two exhibits prove that the region is super, super fertile ground for rock's history from the earliest days up to modern times including the Motown stable, Bob Seger, MC5, Styx, Prince and the Replacements.

Don't Knock the Rock A compilation of video clips and artifacts documenting protests against music from disgust about Elvis' pelvis and Beatles record burnings to the PRMC crusade against heavy metal in the '80s and rap's problems with misogyny. And the footage of Twister Sister's Dee Snider in leather and denim and flying blonde hair testifying before Congress never fails to amuse.

Leo Mintz Gallery A paradise for the music lover who is also a science nerd, this area shows how audio technology and the way that music is listened to has evolved. From the invention of the gramophone through 8-tracks and boom boxes to iPods and high-quality digital files, it's a fascinating journey. And I would have never expected to see my old Walkman in an actual Museum one day.

Part of the Hall's punk exhibit
Part of the Hall's punk exhibit

Inductees Film While this is a long movie -- and by its nature destined to get longer every year -- it's a must to drop in to see for at least awhile. The footage spotlights each and every member of the Hall chronologically by year of induction on a huge, three-section split screen with incredible sound and graphic effects. Wisely, the footage shown is only of the performers in their prime, and the effect is exhilarating.

Pink Floyd: The Wall Balloons, props, and artifacts including (of course) a sizable section of "The Wall" itself from Pink Floyd's early '80s staging of the show. A handwritten note on the Wall from Roger Waters details the incident that sparked the album's creation where he spit on a fan, leading to the concept album about an isolated rock star.

Common Ground: The Music Festival Experience The Hall also plays temporary home to many interchanging exhibits, and this multimedia one during my visit charted the development of the music festival from Newport Jazz, Monterey and Woodstock to Wattstax, Coachella and Bonnaroo with plenty of artifacts and video footage. A huge replica of the underbelly of an outdoor stage allowed visitors to have a Roadie Experience, minus the drug and groupie procuring.

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