The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum: Sensory Overload

I recently visited Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Overall the one word that describes both the museum and the musical genre it celebrates: relentless. The only two senses that were not constantly being bombarded with input were touch – it’s a museum and as in every other museum, no, you can’t touch – and taste, although there is a very nice café on the third floor if the munchies strike.

Rock Hall

I.M. Pei, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, front entrance

The “Rock Hall” opened its doors to the public in 1995. The museum is housed in architect I.M. Pei’s dramatic structure perched on the Lake Erie shoreline and features a glass pyramid similar to the one Pei designed for the entrance to The Louvre. There’s also an amusing story on the museum’s web site about I.M.Pei’s introduction to rock music. I found that getting around the museum was a bit disorienting; plus there aren’t any floor maps available. The brochure handed out at the door tells you what collections are located on each floor but once you’re there, you’re dependent upon signs to direct you.

A placard I read stated “There are 25,000 items in the museum’s permanent collection, but only 4,000 of those are on view at any one time in the museum. The rest are on loan, traveling exhibitions, or in storage.” I take it that also does not include the items on loan from private collections. I’d gathered that almost half of the items on display at the time of my visit were from those collections. Understanding the importance of items that relate directly to the artists’ careers I questioned the need for several items, such as Jim Morrison’s cub scout uniform or one of Elvis Presley’s father’s pay stubs. Which begs the question, how important are most of those 25,000 items in the museums’ permanent collection?
When one thinks of the “Rock Hall” one immediately thinks of the legendary artists enshrined there and their music. But what about the designers who supported these musical greats? Although few are credited, the collections include their posters, album covers, sheet music, costumes, marketing tchotchkes (like the Beatles’ lunch box that many years ago my mother refused to buy me), and of course the guitars, hundreds of them, each in itself a precious work of art. Most items are arranged in large glass display cases in a kind of 3D collage. Numbered items correspond to placards at the bottom of each case. In several cases it was not immediately apparent what description corresponded with which item. The special exhibit on the life and music of Bruce Springsteen was displayed in a clearer and more organized manner. Certainly love of rock music brings visitors to the museum, but sensory stimulation aside, it is the experience of seeing the artifacts that the visitor takes away.

In addition to the displays there are many interactive listening kiosks located throughout the museum. I enjoyed the one in the museum’s lower level that highlighted influential rock and roll disc jockeys by region and allowed you to hear snippets of their broadcasts. Sirius disc jockey Dusty Street performs her live broadcast on the museum’s studio on the fifth floor. You can see several free multi-media presentations or pay $3 to watch a 3D film of U2’s Vertigo Tour. I chose not to see the film since I already had enough stimulation for one day — a 3D movie would have given me vertigo for sure! 

If you do visit, plan to spend at least several hours in the museum, and don’t expect to be able to see and do everything on your first trip. I highly recommend the museum’s web site. It is an excellent resource in helping you plan out your visit.

  1. dd20century posted this
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