On February 3rd, 2011 I woke up at a friend’s place in Rochester early, eager to start Day II of what I had dubbed The Rock & Roll Field Trip From Hell. I had spent months researching any and all musically historic spots that could be found on a trek from Ottawa to Key West and had created a two-week long daily itinerary that m’lady and I would chase down like a treasure map for 7,000 kilometres.
Our first day had only seen a couple of minor hits. After driving through a snowstorm all the way from Ottawa we made it to Rochester and found the spot where Son House was rediscovered in the early ’60’s, an event that basically sparked the resurgence of the blues. (Truth be told it wasn’t a re-surgence at all because blues artists had been virtually ignored the first time around – it was more of a surgence, and one that still thrives and drives music today.)
Son House’s house isn’t there anymore. Neither is Cab Calloway’s, though we did at least find a plaque and a small statue dedicated to the King of Hi-Di-Ho.
Day II, on the other hand, included a pretty important stop on The Rock & Roll Field Trip From Hell. After getting on the road at the crack of rush hour we drove five hours to Cleveland, the city where DJ Alan Freed coined the term rock & roll and held the first ever rock concerts. Of course it’s no coincidence that Cleveland is also home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and of course it’s no surprise that that is exactly where we were headed.
This was my second time visiting the Hall, m’lady’s first. We scored street parking out front and booted it inside. I was hoping we would have more time, as I remember being here from opening to close last time I was there, but four hours was all we had. The first thing we noticed was that the Phish hot dog was back. Hardly a month previous we watched the band flying through MSG upon the old dog and there it was, suspended from the ceiling looking ratty and unmajestic in the brightly lit room. Also available for viewing without even purchasing a ticket were Jerry Garcia’s iconic guitar collection and the ZZTop Eliminator coupe.
We dropped $22 each and went in. Of the 25,000 artifacts the museum possesses the museum only displays about 4,000 at a time, so there were several things I hadn’t seen before. The place is just teeming with astounding bits of music history; behind a pane of glass sits Janis Joplin’s glasses, the next display case holds the remains of Otis Redding’s plane, you can almost reach out and touch the couch where Hendrix sat learning how to play the guitar as a child. Jim Morrison’s grade school report cards, Michael Jackson’s glove, Pete Townsend’s beat up Marshall stack; around every corner was another item I could have gaped at for hours.
Some of my favourite items were the handwritten lyrics and letters. You can see a whole verse scratched out from the original lyric sheet to Truckin’, the same thing with Oh Carol, scrawled on unlined paper in Chuck Berry’s own handwriting. There was a letter from Pete Townsend where he writes that Eddie Van Halen could play real fast, but with that grin of his he could get famous without playing a note. A letter from Kurt Cobain to David Geffen apologizing for some things that were said in the press. It felt like I was seeing pages that had been ripped from the original copy of the Bible. They had some great Elvis stuff and a nice area dedicated to the Allman Brothers Band too. M’lady even found a poster behind glass featuring her cousin’s band, Alice Donut.
The top two floors are reserved for special exhibits, this time around the space was dedicated to The Boss. They had tons of Springsteen stuff, including that classic Telecaster of his, which actually has an Esquire neck and cost him a total of $180, purchased with his first record company advance cheque.
Back downstairs we watched the highlight reel from induction ceremonies gone by and I actually got a bit choked up seeing some of my heroes being honoured. I showed astounding restraint in the extensive gift shop, and somehow we were back in the car a half-hour before closing, headed for Louisville.