The Mistake On The Lake

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Posted by Fleabit Peanut Monkey on July 27, 1999 at 01:12:30:

I have recently returned from a trip to Cleveland. Cleveland was once known as "The Mistake On The Lake", but undeservedly so - I found the city clean, gleaming, friendly and scenic. The sobriquet of the "Mistake on the Lake" can and should be reserved exclusively for the steel and glass pyramid which houses the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. I am undecided whether this place should be dismantled, or whether it should be encased in cement and sunk in the lake.
I've been wanting to visit this place since I was last in town, in 1995 for the opening concert which was held at the stadium down the street. I've had very mixed feelings about the very existence of such a structure since its inception, in fact since the idea of a Hall of Fame reared its head in the 80's. Who makes the decisions about these things anyway? Who decided Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers were important enough to get in there AT ALL, let alone before Howlin' Wolf? Who the fuck let Dick Clark in there? Billy Joel? Gladys Knight and the Pips? Gimme a big fat break. This ain't rock & roll, this is geritol! Now, with the class of '99 duly sworn in, and now that Bruce Springsteen is in, there is no earthly reason to keep this farce up. Everyone who needs to be in is in, along with a great many who do NOT deserve to be in. It's obvious that there's no one coming up through the ranks that will deserve or even want to be in the place. The remaining artists who I think have earned a place in Rock & Roll history - Iggy Pop, the Ramones, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols- would just as soon tear the place down. In fact, that's a great idea! I would pay to see THAT!
So, with these thoughts boiling in my head, I walked toward the I.M. Pei - designed structure. Don't get me wrong - as architects go, Pei is the absolute best Korea has to offer. His ideas are soaring, amazing - and totally inappropriate for what they house. This glass pyramid is no more suitable for rock & roll than the nearly-identical one he built in France was to be appended to the Louvre. Across the front of the museum is a sign which shows Elvis Presley's eyes and declares "Elvis Is In The Building". This got me thinking about what kind of tackiness IS appropriate for rock & roll. Imitation Graceland tackiness would be just fine. Imitation Frank Lloyd Wright tackiness is not.
I walked in and plunked down 15 bucks, looking up at the U2 mini-cars which hang in the lobby. U2 has a commanding presence in the Hall of Fame, despite the fact that they're not actually IN it and whether or not they deserve to ever be (I'm not sure myself - is bombast and self-importance enough of a reason? If so, why ain’t I in there?) Then I went down to the first floor and watched a 15 minute three-screen film presentation called "Mystery Train" which attempted to "explain" just what rock & roll is (was?) It was divided into 2 parts, the second of which contained the section of "Truth or Dare" with Madonna feigning masturbation, then having a press conference to defend her right to masturbate in the name of art. It was divided up, I gathered, so that parents could get their kids out before their ears were befouled by such trash. I had no problems with Madonna diddling herself, but among the luminaries who appeared to explain their theories (the usual chatty suspects - Springsteen, Townshend, Neil Young et al) there appeared for a fleeting second two members of Poison. Now the ol’ Monkey has a personal bone to pick with these girly-men which dates back to the early 80’s, and someday I will bore you with the details. Suffice it to say I had a strong urge to set fire to the place. Maybe that’s why the place is made predominately of non-flammable materials.
So it was with a bad taste in my mouth that I wandered out into the main exhibit hall, where I was confronted by a bunch of mannequins dressed up as people I can’t stand. There was a blonde one wearing a pointy-teated gold thingy. A card beneath it said "Bustier by Jean-Paul Gautier, worn by Madonna on the Blonde Ambition Tour." There were also Slash & Axl dummies, several Michael Jacksons, and so on. None of the dummies looked much like the "rock" "stars" they represented. Around the corner was a black mannequin wearing sneakers, jeans and a black pocket tee. Its card said "Shoes by Converse. Shirt by The Gap. From the collection of Snoop Doggie Dogg." I stood in front of it and laughed for quite some time. Ol’ Snoop knows how lame this place is, I thought. He’s pulling their leg and they don’t even know it.
Somehow the place managed to ruin even artifacts that I should have fallen to my knees and worshipped. Remember how I waxed ecstatic about seeing Howlin’ Wolf’s harp at Chess Studios? There’s one just like it here, beside his pork-pie hat and a really funky old guitar he played. All I could think was that The Wolf wouldn’t like his stuff being in here. There was Muddy Waters’ red Telecaster, an icon if ever there was one. I saw him play it, twice. Now here it was in encased in glass in Cleveland. It should be in Chicago, I thought. They should have buried it with him.
In the London punk exhibit I saw the first thing that sparked my interest. You know the cover of London Calling, with the picture of Paul Simenon about to smash a P-bass? What’s left of it is hanging there. It looks beautiful. If EVERYTHING in this graveyard was smashed to bits, it would almost be worth seeing. Almost.
Around another corner, and there was a whole exhibit devoted to the Stones. But it was almost all recent stuff - the cape Mick wore in ’81, the blue & yellow football suit from ’82, the Voodoo suit from ’94 (it is REALLY cool up close. It’s covered with mojo hands, icons, plastic crucifixes and a thing that looks like a human vertebrae. ) Cool as it is, that’s from FIVE YEARS AGO. What the fuck’s it doing in a museum? There was some genuinely cool stuff - Brian’s dulcimer, a hate letter from 1966 ("We hate you. If you come here we will go to the toilet on you as this is all you deserve, etc") a list of what kind of booze each member expected backstage at MSG in 1972. Multiple screens played clips of various appearances, but maddeningly and typically for the place, it was all just little clips and all stuff you can see anywhere. Still, I spent a long time there, soaking it up. Then I went to look for Lennon’s Sgt Pepper suit. Evidently it’s on loan, replaced by the cape from the cover of "Help!". Sorry. Not as cool. A ’59 Les Paul Special which he supposedly played "in the early 60’s". Really? I’ve never seen any pictures of it. Where’s his Rickenbacker? Where’s his Epiphone? THOSE are museum pieces. Not the nondescript ones he gave to Julian, which are the ones the museum has.
In the San Francisco section was another thing I liked -- John Cippolina’s guitar & amp. It’s cool because it’s so damned weird - it’s a Fender Twin sitting on top of kind of 15" bottom, a big old tape-driven echoplex taped sideways to each side of the Twin and on top of the whole mess SIX Wurlitzer horns that looked like trombone bells which stuck out a few feet. A row of truck lights indicated which gizmo was on at any given time. It looked like something that the band on Fat Albert would play through in their cartoon junkyard. Cippolina, leader of Quicksilver Messenger Service, is dead, probably killed by harmful rays emitted by this jerry-rigged pile of tolex. If you’ve never heard him - his soloing made Jerry Garcia seem succinct.
Everywhere I turned I was confronted by more appalling proof that these clowns don’t have the faintest idea what Rock & Roll is. Anyone who sent them stuff gets to be in the club. A big section of Pink Floyd’s Wall is there, covered with Roger Waters’ angst-filled scrawlings about how much it sucks to be a Rock Star. I thought of a quote of Johnny Rotten’s - "if you don’t want to be a rock & roll star, then STOP BEING ONE!" and also the fact that he got his job singing for the Pistols because he was wearing an "I Hate Pink Floyd" t-shirt. Ah, but look - here’s the reel-to-reel recorder the Basement Tapes were recorded on. That’s cool. Yeah, but it’s right beside the massive Tom Petty exhibit. "Hat worn by Petty on Southern Accents Tour". Should he be in here? Hmmm. He’s friends with Bob Dylan - is that good enough? Er, I guess. Um, but where are the Chuck Berry artifacts? Little Richard? Jerry Lee Lewis? Sorry. Here’s the recording equipment from Sun Studios. Um, why isn’t it in Memphis, where it belongs? Bob Dylan? A few old concert posters, donated by someone else. I guess those guys didn’t rush to send the museum their old shoes & hats. This place is like a Rock & Roll Good Will Store. Of course Mick, shameless self-promoter that he is, sent them a truckload of stuff. It saves him paying for storage space too.
The special exhibit was about Elvis. The 6th & 7th floor were full of Elvis regalia - his jumpsuits look worse in person than in pictures. There’s the photo of him & Nixon, when Elvis offered to narc on the Beatles in exchange for a big ol’ badge fer his collection, and there’s the big stupid belt he wore on this auspicious occasion; there’s his karate outfit; there's the double-necked Gibson he pretended to play in Kid Galahad; there’s Pricilla’s nighty - STOP PLEASE!! - no wait - here in the corner, perhaps at the sacred mystical apex of the pyramid where the new age vibrations are the grooviest - here is the true meaning of Rock & Roll as defined by this self-important, misguided, wrong-headed heap of glass & plastic on the shores of Lake Erie. Although the crowd, mostly faithful Elvites, seemed to be ignoring it, I stood in front of the icon and worshipped. Yes, there it was - straight from Graceland, on special loan, for a limited time only - a TV set with a neat bullet hole in the lower right corner of the dead screen, spidery fractures forming a serrated aureole. Above it hung a .45 automatic. A made-for-TV moment flashed through my head - Elvis, perhaps portrayed by former Disney kid star Kurt Russell, wearing a cape, costume jewelry and shades -- paranoid and doomed, dumb white trash demigod with bloated belly stretching the putrid polyester -- black hair dye darkens the sickly sweat which loosens his paste-on sideburns -- he catches a glimpse of his blurry reflection in the tv set during a rerun of King Creole -- big fat pathetic present superimposed over greasy-haired heavy-lidded past -- he reaches for the gun, omnipresent as Percodan -- BANG!
Rock is dead, they say. Long live Rock.

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