Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Hall Rocks With Irish

IrishAbroad.com, July 24, 2007

Mike Farragher

July 24, 2007

Why in God's name are you taking her to Cleveland for her birthday?!? That was a recurring question when I told people of my plans to celebrate my wife's milestone birthday (a husband's code of conduct forbids me from printing her age) this past weekend. I was just following orders; the missus always wanted to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Did I marry the right woman or what?

Walking up to the hall is an experience guaranteed to raise more than a goose bump or two. A stunning piece of daring architecture designed by internationally renowned architect I.M. Pei, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum looks like a futuristic ice sculpture jutting out of the banks of Lake Erie.

According to the website, the venue is within 500 miles of 43% of the U.S. population and less than a day's drive or an hour's flight from many major cities in the U.S. and Canada.

We took the plane. Cleveland Hopkins International Airport is a 20 minute drive to downtown, or an easy trip on public transportation.

For anyone still making up their minds on where to go for a last minute summer getaway, look no further than Cleveland! We even got into a Cleveland Indians game by walking up to the gate and paying face value for a ticket that cost a fraction of what a Yankee ticket costs. How can you go wrong?

I thought I would be leaving work behind, but work soon found me as soon as I walked into the hall. U2's stage props are the first things you see when you enter, the hollowed out compact cars that acted as lighting fixtures for the Zoo TV tour in 1991 shine the spotlight on the visitors as you pay your way.

There are three cars dangling from the glass and steel ceiling. One silver mirrored model looks like it had a disco ball vomit all over it, while the leopard print model looks like it made big cat road kill on the way to the museum.

There are plenty of Irish references throughout the site. U2 is there, and they are in good company. Aerosmith and Madonna are in front of them, and they are situated across from the wild stage costumes of David Bowie, the sequined glove of Michael Jackson that goes with the torn red leather jacket worn by the fallen pop star in his "Thriller" video.

The U2 exhibit was an interesting hodgepodge of band history. In what must amount to be a delicious slice of revenge, the band chose to immortalize the rejection letters they got from record company geniuses in the late 1970s within their exhibit.

Billy Lawrie, director of A&R at Arista Records, writes that "although this doesn't meet our needs at present we would like to thank you for thinking of us and encourage you to keep us posted on future endeavors."

RSO Records writes to a Mr. P. Hewson (a/k/a Bono) at 10 Codewood Road, Dublin on May 10, 1979 that "we have listened with great consideration but feel that your music is not what we're looking for." The letter is signed by Alexander Sinclair, who probably no longer works in the record business for passing on one of the biggest recording outfits of our generation!

There are hand-written lyrics of "Bad," from the album The Unforgettable Fire in 1984. The birth of their future merchandising empire can be found in a relic from Larry Mullen Junior, who silk-screened the first U2 design onto a T-shirt during his art class.

Bono's first guitar and the militaristic costumes from the band's PopMart tour, including a wicked fretless bass once played by Adam Clayton, round out the U2 exhibit.

Obviously, the Lennon and McCartney song partnership produced the greatest band in the world, and the Beatles are prominently represented with walls of memorabilia. It's great to see the pale, weathered lavender matching suits they wore at Shea Stadium and the moptop lunchboxes and board games that were part of the teenybop souvenirs of the era.

"John Lennon was the first punk," said Marianne Faithful with a sly smile during one of the many video montages that play in the many theaters within the hall. Truer words were never spoken.

There is disappointment in store for Van Morrison fans. Though he was elected into the hall a few years back and he does make an appearance in a documentary on the blues, I didn't see any memorabilia from him.

Since the museum relies mainly on the private collections of the artist for material, one must wonder what kept Van the Man from parting with his stash of memories?

Despite the reverence displayed to the forefathers of rock and roll, the rebellious spirit is never far behind. It is provided by none other than Sex Pistols lead singer Johnny Rotten, the Irish Brit formerly known as Johnny Lydon.

"This honor is like putting urine in wine," he retorts in the letter in which he declines the offer of membership into the hall.

While the hall does a brilliant balance of all phases of rock, I would love to see more Celtic and Irish additions on my next trip. Richard Thompson and the Fairport Convention influenced many an acoustic guitarist, and Rory Gallagher gave way to a million air guitarists. They deserve their rightful place in the rock museum.

I'm sure we'll see Sinead O'Connor in there before long, but what about the Virgin Prunes, who influenced the likes of the Sex Pistols and U2? What about the Clancy Brothers? Bob Dylan himself makes no bones about citing the influence of this legendary folk outfit, yet their impact does not get a mention.

If the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame doesn't let them in, perhaps we should all lobby for a Celtic Music Hall of Fame? Until then, I highly recommend making this pilgrimage. I know it's only rock and roll, but you'll like it. Trust me!

For more information, log onto www.rockhall.com. A number of hotel and travel packages are available on the site.

© IrishAbroad.com, 2007.

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