The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is getting ready to announce this year’s nominations. Instead of the usual Sturm und Drang about the Hall’s various imperfections I’ll just share some cool memories from my visits in 1998, 1999 and 2000. As it happens, I wasn’t a skeptic, but it’s worth noting that many who were have been converted by actually going there. Probably because experiences along these lines can be had every day.
Anyway my personal top five, in no particular order:
–Descending the escalator and hearing a large group of black school children who looked to be roughly second graders break softly into the chorus of the Isley Brothers’ “That Lady,” en masse and on cue, when it came over the loudspeakers that play music throughout the day and then stop–en masse and on cue–the second their teacher went “sh-h-h-h!”
–Watching a couple of junior-high-age white girls sashaying up the ramp that constitutes the actual Hall of Fame, doing the hand motions to the Supremes’ “Stop In the Name of Love,” which was playing in the video viewing room next door.
–Reading the hand-written letter Janis Joplin sent to her parents when she left home for the last time, in which she constantly assured them she would be alright–this only minutes after passing a doorway where Pete Townsend was snarling back from a movie screen, saying, “They might be your fucking icons, but they’re my fucking friends!…And they’re dead!”
–Seeing the actual piece of paper where the Four Seasons’ Bob Gaudio sketched out the lyrics for “Rag Doll” immediately after witnessing the reaction a street urchin had to his handing her a five dollar bill (instead of the usual nickel or quarter) because, in the immediate aftermath of the Seasons’ initial success, he didn’t have anything smaller on him.
–Getting down on the floor to read a piece of paper in a special Elvis exhibit and having to stay there a while when I realized it was the official contract drawn up between Colonel Tom Parker and the Carolina Theater in Charlotte which is where my mother saw Elvis in fifty-six (part of a set of life experiences I wrote about at length here). That happened five minutes after seeing the only television still in existence which actually has the bullet hole Elvis put in it had convinced me nothing could top that!
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a human institution and so has its problems, some of which I’ve addressed here in the past. I’m sure the forthcoming nominations and ultimate selections will raise my blood pressure yet again.
But it’s worth remembering that these problems are very small in light of what it gets right–like providing a space to honor things that deserve to be honored, as opposed to only remembered: