I remember when I used to work at a local paper, my friends Robyn, Nick and I would go out to grab something to drink before we started our work day. We’d stand in line, all three of us holding a different type of beverage—Robyn with hot tea, Nick with chocolate milk, and my own left hand wrapped around a cup of Wawa’s cigarette butt flavored coffee, six sugars and a cup-and-a-half of cream. The background music leaking out of the speakers in the ceiling would surround the air with some 1950’s excuse for Rock and Roll—Fabian begging to be turned loose, Bobby Rydell asking to be held tight or Fats Domino looking for his thrill. I’d turn to robyn and Nick and say, “How did our parents ever like this?” I got my answer to this question in Cleveland.
The museum itself holds many interesting artifacts—costumes, musical instruments, records, awards and various ephemera—all objects that tell the story of Rock and Roll. But of all the things at the museum, the most important is the short film they play to introduce you to the museum. The answer to my earlier question—Why did our parents like songs about older women, dead girlfriends and hound dogs—was so obvious, I had to slap myself in the face while watching the film.
Viewers are attacked with the images of aluminum-tainted TV dinners, women in pearls and dresses marveling over their new porcelain covered gas range, and children saying the Pledge of Allegiance, brushing their teeth and being tucked into bed so mother and father could retire to the den where mother picked up her knitting and father grabbed his pipe and glanced at the football scores while occasionally stealing looks at Milton Berle on TV.
The world needed Elvis Presley whose voice and movies were inspired by southern baptist African-Americans. It needed Fats fingering the piano with longing. And while Fabian And Rydell maintained their high school football quarterback demeanor, fat hair and All-American looks, their lyrics bespoke of the longings of young men outside of their hygiene classes.
These early pioneers shook things up—they made the world take notice that young people had no time for the Cold War or prefabrication. There was something more there for them and the world of manufacturing and advertising couldn’t give it to them. They were the early free spirits who would spend much of their lives challenging the idea that there was no such thing as “normal.”
Alas, today we have no Elvis, no John Lennons. Hell, we don’t even have any Smothers Brothers. We’re stuck with Justin Bieber and four “experts” of music judging teenagers with bleached, puttied and coiffed hair who sing through their noses a la Madonna, 1984. There is no more rebellion in Rock music. From Coldplay’s U2 ripoffs to Nikki Minaj’s inability to spell “Stupid Hoe” correctly, all popular music has is the distilled drum beats of the past repeated over and over through a computer in the name of creating something “Cool.” The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum is not just a museum, it’s a memorial to Rock music and to the idea of “Cool,” and as Michael Stipe said years ago, “Nothing is cool.”