Yesterday, I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the first time. For those of you who have not read my “About” page, I am a sophomore living in Cleveland. Yet, I had never really gotten around to going to the museum. It was too far away and didn’t seem very interesting. Yesterday changed all of that, as my mother and father brought me to the museum at the end of a grueling 14 hour road trip. My mother is not the biggest fan of rock and roll. She would far prefer a Judy Collins album to a Led Zeppelin album. My dad, on the other hand is a huge fan of classic rock artists, and while other children were raised with Raffi, my dad raised me on The Who. This is the group that went into the museum.
After paying the unreasonably high admission price of $22, we got our little bracelets and wandered around the exhibits. A few exhibits were on the history of rock and roll, and the blues and gospel musicians that inspired it. The next few were the artifacts of some famous musicians, as well as an exhibit on the Rolling Stones. Looking at the merchandise is fairly unimpressive. There are a few guitars from famous musicians, but for the most part, the artifacts are memorabilia. Ticket stubs, album covers and posters occupy most of the space in the museum. The videos were interesting, but all in all, the experience was somewhat mundane. Before we left, we made one last stop to watch a video commemorating the inductees to the Hall of Fame.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was founded in 1983, and has inducted a few members every year. There are many artists, and as expected these icons epitomize rock. Led Zeppelin, The Who, and The Beatles are among a few of the inductees in the Hall of Fame. But, as I was watching the inductees, I started to get really into the video. The music that they were performing seemed better than when I had listened to any individual song. It seemed really strange, but everything was better.
So what had changed? Obviously it wasn’t the music. The music was the same as the songs I had listened to growing up. The only thing that had changed was the context. In many ways rock and roll is just an expression of society. Rather than controlling society, bands are shaped by it. The Sex Pistols didn’t create disillusionment, but harnessed it, and created a condensed message of discontentment. The real focus of rock and roll is the story behind the musicians. Any musician can capture a heart or mind for a while. Hit singles come from unexpected sources all the time, and even best albums are ephemeral measures of lasting power. On the other hands, some groups that don’t do well on their own serve as the inspiration for generations to come, such as The Velvet Underground. The real measure of the groups isn’t the songs, but the fans. Just to clarify, I don’t mean people who like the song, or who have bought an album or two. I am talking about the obsessed fans, the fans who become musicians because of the group.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is less about the musicians than it is the fans. The building itself is a shrine to the obsession that fueled the creation of a hall of fame for rock and roll. At some point, music became as much a part of obsession as sports teams. Now, instead of rooting for a favorite player, we have an organization that idolizes musicians on a recognized level. The posters and tickets that occupy the showcases don’t tell the stories of those individuals who made it big in the world of rock and roll, but instead tell the story of the fans who carefully saved all the memorabilia they could, saving for the day they got big. Instead of baseball cards, they had autographed tee-shirts. The Hall of Fame isn’t a museum to discover artists, but for the fans to look at their idols, and remember the times they had at concerts and record stores. Yeah the price might be high, but in the end the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sells back nostalgia to those people who had forgotten that they could be nostalgic. And that is well worth the price of admission.