A trip to Cleveland is truly a visit to the worst goddamn place in the world. Founded by Dutch explorer Johann Clevelander in 1647 as a trading post for clogs, tulips and vowels, present day Cleveland is known for its lakeside promenades and beauty. All that is better then the truth which is that the only reason the town exists is to make residents of Buffalo or Gary, Indiana feel better about their lot in life. The lake actually caught on fire and people continue to live there.
A visit to Cleveland is not without its charms. The uniformly ugly and misshapen citizens of the town will make anyone feel better about themselves after a plastic surgery mishap or massive weight gain. Apparently the suburbs have some nice homes and shopping areas. Then there is LeBron James and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the two icons of the city and the only reasons to visit. So if you’re in town early for a 7 PM tip off and you can’t find any airplane glue and your crystal meth dealer is not available a visit to the Hall is a necessity.
Did I tell you that area around the Arena and the ballpark is a wasteland? Can’t you build a Quiznos or a Hot Dog Cart, Mayor McCheese?
Needing some sort of tourist attraction, the city used the excuse that the radio deejay who coined the term “Rock and Roll”, Alan Freed worked in Cleveland. Mr. Freed or “Moondog” moved to New York and eventually died a broken man after a payola scandal. This did not prevent the founders of the Hall from ignoring all common sense and building the hall in what was then know as “The Sadness Capital of North America” and “The Gateway To Erie, Pennsylvania.” A truckload of cash from the City must have convinced them as well.
Did I mention that the Drew Carey Show was set in Cleveland? That’s something.
The Hall of Fame is prominently featured on highway signs entering the city and is incredibly easy to find as it is only building built in the past 45 years that is not a stadium. We managed to find parking on the street right at the hall for a quarter an hour. One of the best things about downtowns in the rust belt is the ample and cheap parking available at the main attractions.
The building housing the hall was designed by I.M Pei. Along with being a Bart Simpson prank call to Moe on an early episode of “The Simpsons, Pei is best known for the pyramid addition to the Louvre. The Hall looks like a copy of the Louvre and the statement that Pei was trying to get across is how his vision can be destroyed by budget cuts. It is also surrounded by a football stadium and a skateboard park in Craptown USA instead of a palace in the most beautiful city in the world. As you enter the building it feels like the student centre of a third rate university or the food court of a small airport terminal. The only inkling that this might be a museum for Rock and Roll is the hanging Trabants from the ceiling. These were the East German cars U2 made famous during the Zoo TV tour. The entrance was also the only area pictures were allowed in the building.
Did I mention that I can take a picture of a billion dollar Van Gogh at the Met but Mick Jagger’s shoes from the Steel Wheels tour is off limits? Please don’t even think about taking a picture of Jim Morrison’s grade six report card.
After paying the $22 admission fee you are transported to a world where all music was produced between the years 1955 and 1977 from the Sun Studios in Memphis, to a punk club in London England. The Hall of Fame is meant to honour all music created for the youth culture after the mid 50’s. Unfortunately the exhibit for hip hop, the prevailing youth music for the past 20 years is basically a case for the adidas worn by Run DMC. It is allocated less exhibit space then the Allman Brothers Band. The only black artists celebrated the ones who were screwed by their white managers in the pre Rock and Roll era or anyone named Jimi Hendrix.
The main exhibit era is in the basement. Display cases are filled with artifacts from different eras including the early 60’s British Invasion and the San Francisco folk rock era. One room is filled with outfits from artists as diverse as David Bowie and U2. Some artists are famous enough to warrant their own display like the Elvis, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Group dispalys featuring gruesome drug deaths and plane crashes have not yet been created. Any American musician with at least one hit who died in a plane crash gets instantly inducted to the Hall.
Then there are the inexplicable choices like the Doors, another group which the hall deems more important then an entire genre of music. This group was relevant for barely five years is primarily remembered for Jim Morrison. Nicknamed the “Lizard King” for his lithe moves but a bloated blob of alcohol by the time of his death, Morrison became a free speech icon by displaying his dick onstage. A shitty rock version of a circus band fronted by a hippie Las Vegas lounge lizard, The Doors were a joke by 1970 but have remained in the public consciousness due to famous fanboys Francis Ford Coppola and Oliver Stone.
Did I mention the fact that the Doors blow and have more display space then hip hop or Motown?
The basement features the bulk of permanent exhibition while the other 6 floors feature attractions such as a recording studio, the member’s plaques, Rolling Stone magazine covers, a restaurant and the obligatory terrible gift shop. A small display features the history of Cleveland rock, which basically revolves around the song “Cleveland Rocks” The top 2 floors feature a rotating exhibit which at the time of our visit was filled with Bruce Springsteen memorabilia.
If you go into the Hall expecting an overpriced crapfest then you can’t be disappointed when that is what you get. I was actually expecting worse and was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t worse. If you are in Cleveland, have $20 and a couple of hours to spare there is absolutely nothing better to do in town. It’s like the Sbarro at the airport.
No review of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can be complete without noting that the annual induction ceremony takes place in New York City. The greatest indictment of the importance of the induction and the horror of the city is that you cannot convince the inductees to take a 45 minute plane ride to the city that houses the museum. Even the 25th anniversary was held at Madison Square Garden. There is talk that some ceremonies will be held in Cleveland but I’m not holding my breath.
I did enough of that in Stinktown, USA.