Classic Rock Corner

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

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.

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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.

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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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero