RRHOF

2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

I wrote two pieces for Billboard:

Rock Hall Ceremony Wraps With Worthy Performances, Hatchets Buried
and
Bruce Springsteen Makes It Right, Inducts The E Street Band Into Rock Hall

This was a 23 hour day for me, worth every second.

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stooges inducted.

A few days after John Lennon was shot, I cut off my completely unmanageable perm into a daringly short pixie cut and started wearing all black to school. I also started wearing my Clash t-shirt, my Ramones t-shirt, my Velvet Underground t-shirt, and any of the other shirts surreptitiously purchased at either Trash & Vaudeville or Manic Panic. It was not long after that that I was shoved into a locker for the first time with a comment along the lines of “Grateful Dead rules” and “punk shit sucks”. I remember this, because in the process I dropped a vintage copy of Creem magazine with Iggy on the cover that I had hidden in the back of a notebook to read during study hall. I was more worried about the magazine than I was my bruised ribcage.

When Iggy got onstage tonight, after greeting the ballroom with the double-fisted Detroit salute, he said, “Well, roll over Woodstock – we won.” And 20 minutes later, as the Stooges played “I Wanna Be Your Dog” in the Grand Ballroom in the Waldorf-Astoria, I had to agree. We won. As Billie Joe Armstrong read through an impressive, highly accurate, very meaningful list of 20 or 30 bands who owed their existence to the Stooges, I was already thinking that we’d won. As Josh Homme appeared in the tribute film and said, “As far as I’m concerned they’re the greatest rock and roll band ever,” I raised a fist in triumph from my lowly position on the couch in my living room. It only took us seven years, but they’re in. They couldn’t get them in while Ron Asheton was still alive, but – they’re in. It’s done.

We won.

And a double-fisted Detroit salute to every asshole in my senior year who beat me up for liking different bands than you did. Seriously.

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From Asbury Park To The Promised Land: Visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part II

Before I start going through the exhibit and telling you what there is to see, I will just cut to the chase and tell you that if you are a big Bruce Springsteen fan, seeing this exhibit is imperative. It’s imperative because this exhibit is being done now, at the height of his career, WITH HIS FULL AND COMPLETE COOPERATION. There wasn’t much the Hall of Fame asked for that they didn’t get. The access and scope is unprecedented. So while you plan your trip to Cleveland, I’ll get on with the rest of it.

The exhibit is arranged chronologically. It leads you in gently, it’s all about telling the story and giving context. It begins with the Castiles, and Bruce’s early history. Remember those photos in the Kennedy Center tribute, the ones you had never seen before? Well, when HOF VP Jim Henke went out to interview Bruce for the exhibit, as he was leaving, Bruce handed him a CD. What was on it? Those photographs, now printed out and in a case where you can sit and stare at them for a good 20 minutes.

On the left is a surfboard, one of Bruce’s old surfboards, back when they lived in the surfboard factory. Pieces of Asbury are here, too, like a brass ring from the carousel at the Palace. There’s an address book with Clarence’s phone number in it, and on the opposite page are lyrics. “Senorita Spanish rose, close her eyes and blows her nose, love is just a fire hose.” (I swear I am not making this up.)

You will find yourself reciting the history in your head as you walk through the exhibit, as you see the things you have only seen in books before (like the Castiles’ first business card). Marion Vineyard’s legendary photo album is there, open to photos from a party celebrating Bruce and George Theiss’ 19th birthday. The haircut and the Elvis shades have got to be seen to be believed.

There is a section for Child and the Bruce Springsteen Band and Steel Mill, posters and fliers and photographs. My favorite is a poster for “Bruce Springsteen And His Band Of Elves,” appearing at a Rutgers University Christmas concert.

Then you come to the exhibit for the first record, and THE Columbia sessions tape box is there, and that’s when you start running into the pages and pages and pages and pages and pages and pages of handwritten lyrics. I am not lying when I tell you that I read every single word of every single page. It took us hours, and other people walking through the exhibit thought we were absolutely insane. If you don’t need to do that, it will take you a lot less time to go through the exhibit. And even if you don’t care, I would urge you to pick one or two songs, just a couple, and stand there and read them. Get to know the handwriting, the loopy T’s. He always used spiral notebooks and he always used blue ballpoint pen. I want to read the early versions, see what lines made it, see what he kept, what he reused later. In “Growin’ Up,” our jukebox graduate was a sweet shop graduate in the first version. Plus, random lyrics from “Blinded” show up in the middle.

It’s not like this was news to me and it’s obvious even on “Tracks” that he does this. He finds a line he likes and he’ll keep using it until it fits. But it’s different to just hear finished product than seeing the process that got him to the finished product.

Alongside the early records, up until Born To Run, he also had lists of album title concepts. These are well worth reading, because many of them are very, very, very bad. For Wild & Innocent, for example, he was also considering “Circle of Lions,” “Hungry & Hunted,” “From The Churches To The Jails”. For BTR, there were pages of alternate titles as well as a tracklist that captured the kind of feeling he wanted on each song –

There’s also a prose description of a cover concept: “Flash – a street in day, fantasy on a golf bench in back of Madam Marie’s with big moon over the ocean & clarence in background”. (If you remember, there used to be a minigolf park behind Madam Marie’s. If you don’t, now you know.)

There are cases filled with reviews and photographs and fliers, all carefully preserved in scrapbooks. Some of this is him but most of it is Adele, you will definitively prove it is Adele when you find a letter written to her from Robert Hilburn, apologizing for not sending a copy of his review to her sooner. There are tshirts and jackets and backstage passes. There is one of Clarence’s saxophones, THE saxophone, the one he used on “Jungleland”. One of Danny’s accordions is there.

The Wild & Innocent lyrics went from one extreme to the other. My notes say “Bruce killed a lot of women in early lyric versions”. Scenes that were more violent in the first draft got way, way toned down in, say, the final version of “incident”. There’s a line I noted “at night we stalk the jungle in heat with murder in our ears”. (Yeah, sometimes the lyrics themselves are very, very bad, too.)

There are women’s phone numbers written in the margins in just about every third page. I liked that. I wondered who they were.

The Born To Run jacket is there. It is smaller than you think it will be, it has shrunk, it was likely tortured to death before it ended up with whichever girlfriend finally kept it. I noted this in my blog for the Hall of Fame’s website, but it bears repeating: one minute I’m reading the lyrics about “silver star studs on my duds” and the next minute I’m standing in front of the jacket, THE JACKET, which has silver star studs on the shoulders. (Which, frankly, must have been a pain in the ass and I’m shocked they’re still there, because if you carry anything on your shoulders they are eventually going to get caught in a guitar strap.)

You head up to the second floor now, up a spiral staircase with the lyrics to “Thunder Road” running up the walls as you ascend. When you get to the top, there it is: the Esquire straight ahead of you, with a BITUSA poster right above it. You probably won’t even notice the poster, but it’s there to give context to everyone else who don’t really know or understand what that guitar is. You will want to spend some time with the Esquire up close, and your observations will be different than mine, you will see different things, pay attention to different things. The glue, the wear, the frets just plain worn away. It is good that it is there where we can all see it.

(I can also tell you that the rumored stories about Kevin escorting the guitar there are true. I can tell you that he refused to give the guitar to anyone except Jim Henke, and when he did, he said, “I can’t believe he’s giving you this.”)

Upstairs you have Darkness and The River and BITUSA and Tunnel lyrics to contend with. You also have more guitars and more artifacts. The exact outfit he wore on the BITUSA cover. No seriously, the exact outfit. And looking at the jeans up close, you realize that there was absolutely zero accident that he chose those jeans, and they weren’t the only ones he had, and the holes and the wear and the wash were all carefully considered, and frankly, if my ass was going to be memorialized on a record cover, I would do the exact same thing.

(I know. I spent too much time thinking about this stuff.)

The outfit he wore on the Human Touch cover, down to that — necklace. (I did not think that era was his best look.) I hope you like “Plugged” because it’s running in a loop up here, and you will be there at least long enough to hear it once, probably once and a half. (I heard it FIVE TIMES before I stopped counting). The ticket taker’s booth from Tunnel. The flannel shirt from The River cover. The Kennedy Center medal, some Grammys, his Oscar. I will not tell you everything that is there because there still need to be some surprises. Do go around the corner towards the elevator, because there you will find a handful of Bruce’s favorite signs from the last tour (apparently he has boxes and boxes of them), along with a photo of Terry in costume and behind the ticketbooth you just saw in the other room.

The lyrics upstairs are different and in some ways less interesting. The older drafts of the later albums are more complete, except for “Walk Like A Man” (please make sure you stop to read that one through, as the early draft was very revealing). The “Streets of Fire” early draft bears no resemblance to the finished product. The Darkness titles were very firmly set, there are no lists of grandiose concepts (or they might not be on exhibit, but I’d like to think that the curators wouldn’t let us down).

The biggest surprise for me was the original “Streets of Fire” draft. In the draft on exhibit, the setting is Vietnam: “With a M16 and face in the mud, there’s a soft rain falling in the jungle.” I could be wrong about this, but this would seem to be the first time he wrote about Vietnam directly, in the first person (Lost In the Flood written as an observer). So if you only pick one lyric to read in the whole place, make it this one.

And then there is the table. It’s the table Bruce has done 90% of his writing on. It’s wooden, old like a guitar. It’s going to absorb vibrations. It gets warm and cold – it wears, just like the Esquire. They have it in a huge plexiglass cube with artifacts on the table – lyrics, setlists, album sequencing (there’s a list with three alternate Darkness sequences). There’s an (overdue) electric bill for the Long Branch house, an insurance receipt for one of his cars. I could have sat next to that table for hours, and definitely did sit there for at least half an hour, going through my notes from the first floor of the exhibit, before I moved on. People that worked with Bruce, as they’ve walked through the exhibit, have seen the table and said, “Yep, that’s just what it usually looks like.” Bruce made a joke about all the songs that were in that table. (Which makes me say, GIVE IT BACK RIGHT NOW.)

Cars: there are two cars on display right now, the first car he ever bought, which is in the lobby and you can take pictures of it, and the car he bought with his Born to Run earnings, which you’ve seen in some of the Lynn Goldsmith pictures, in the regular exhibit hall downstairs. It’s not far from Elvis’ car. I like that.

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I wish I had taken more notes. I wish I had broken it up into two days, because there is just so much to appreciate. I think about going back. I wonder what Bruce would have thought if he had seen us standing there, debating the choice of certain words or why some lines were left out (although I kind of understand why the main character in Hungry Heart didn’t go out for a magazine in the final version). I am sure he would have thought we were insane too, just like the daytrippers and Girl Scout leaders herding their charges through as we stood there with our noses pressed to the plexiglass. But, after all, that is why that stuff is there and is what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is for.

It’s worth checking out the web page for the exhibit on the RRHOF website as it’s got a Flickr slideshow. Of course, no photographs are permitted anywhere in the HOF except the lobby. But photographs wouldn’t do it justice anyway.

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Visiting the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Part I

I will start with this premise: If you are reading this blog, you should visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I know what you are going to say. You are going to argue that [artist] isn’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame yet, or that it took them [X] years to induct [X]. I have heard your arguments, and I have made them myself (Patti Smith likely only got in when she did because Michael Stipe issued an ultimatum. Gram Parsons is STILL not in. et cetera). But you need to separate the nominations from the physical place with the stuff, or you will be doing yourself a disservice. Because if you care enough to make those kind of nuanced arguments, then you are exactly the kind of person who needs to visit the Hall in Cleveland.

I will get to individual artifacts in a minute. First, I want to talk about context. In a time in which the notion of radio as a cultural force is all but gone, and kids are learning about classic rock from Guitar Hero, context is vital. While it’s easier nowadays to connect the dots and find the music, I’m not sure that anyone bothers to do the legwork anymore. If you’re curious about a band, you’d probably read the wikipedia article and then go find the record for free. You wouldn’t have to find a record store that carried the Dutch import of the first New York Dolls album (nor deal with the humiliation you endured in the first store where you asked for it). You wouldn’t have to collect old Rolling Stone and Creem magazines to try to learn about bands. You wouldn’t troll through microfilm at the library on a rainy Saturday.

But When you walk into the main floor of the RRHOF, it’s all about context. There’s a wall of early influences. Then there’s a wall of the 500 most influential songs in rock and roll. There’s the performer influence database, an entire wall. Then there’s an exhibit about censorship. Yes, I walked through all of those… and was greeted by Elvis Presley’s purple Lincoln Continental.

The Elvis exhibit is the first one you should look at, because it’s a good example of the multi-layered presentation you’ll find in most of the RRHOF. For the average fan, you get the BOOM of the car and some of the more outrageous artifacts, while the rest of us can read the letter from Colonel Tom Parker to Elvis about paying his income taxes, how hard it is to become a millionare, and to not overspend.

From there, I moved onto the ‘Treasures From the Vault’ exhibit, the one-offs. Like Cooperstown, only a small percentage of the items that the HOF has in its collection are on display at any given time. So this will be different every time you come. And there was Slash’s top hat and Ian Anderson’s fugly poncho but there was also the handwritten lyrics to “Clampdown” sitting next to “Here Comes A Regular”.

There are handwritten lyrics EVERYWHERE in the RRHOF. You will be amazed how many rock stars opt for spiral notebooks and blue ballpoint pen. (Or maybe it was just me.) Joe Strummer used a black felt tip and the words were bouncing all over the page, Paul Westerberg used ballpoint and the words were neat and orderly. You know that bit that Joe shouts as the song fades out? It’s all there, scripted, in pencil.

The clothing exhibit was next. Fleetwood Mac. Aerosmith. Bowie a little disappointing (and all of the items were from Mr. Bowie). The Who was fun. U2 and some lemon-studded quasi army uniforms they apparently only wore for the Australian tour (and I can see why). Nearby is a case with the first U2 tshirt (which Larry made when he was 15 – it looks like it could be sold in baby gap, it’s so small) and the lyrics to “Bad” (large A4 sheet of paper, ballpoint, lyrics against the left margin, changes in the right margin).

Beatles & Stones followed. The big WOW in the Beatles exhibit is Lennon’s Sgt. Pepper suit. It is definitely a wow. But the rest of it was somewhat disappointing – at least to me. But I am a veteran of years of Beatlefest. Beatles memorabilia is old hat to me. With the Stones, the most interesting thing was a rider for MSG in 1973, on which the Stones’ preferred cheeses were detailed. (This will be hilarious to anyone who was ever on the Undercover mailing list). The rest of it was not so thrilling. I suspect Mick is hoarding it all for the big bang in the future. Personally, I am just not going to find Steel Wheels era memorabilia that exciting. I did like knowing that the Stones pinball machine was a gift from Keith and it used to sit in his apartment.

I will confess to flitting through Hendrix – it’s not that interesting to me, and I did live in the same city as the <strike>Jimi Hendrix Museum</i> Experience Music Project . Even though I didn’t want to, I found myself going through the Jim Morrison memorabilia, prominently displayed with a plaque pointing out it came from his parents. As Ray Manzarek said years and years ago, kids, don’t die without a valid will, or your parents will control what happens with your legacy. Maybe I’m reading too much into it but there were too many letters from Jim’s father in the exhibit. (I did appreciate that the map of Pere Lachaise came from the collection of Patricia Lee Smith).

My favorite part of the downstairs exhibit had to be the regional showcases: Rockin’ All Over The World. Memphis, LA, London 1960’s, London 1970’s, New York 1970’s.  I looked at everything but cared the most about things like original telegrams from the artists who agreed to appear at Monterey.  There is so much there and I didn’t need the exhibit to teach me anything, I just wanted to see what I wanted to see. Gram was there, in the form of an acoustic guitar that taunted me through the glass. As I mentioned in my blog post for the RRHOF’s blog, Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz were huge archivists and squirreled away posters and fliers and tshirts from the punk scene. I looked at every single thing in that case. The highlight of the punk exhibit was, of course, Joe Strummer’s guitar. I was talking to a docent later in the day and he mentioned that last summer, instead of Joe’s guitar, they had Paul’s bass from the Palladium gig, aka the cover of London Calling.

That’s why you gotta come see this stuff. Really. You do.

Other stuff I liked: I liked the Ohio exhibit just fine because Greg Dulli’s amplifier was in it, representing my beloved Afghan Whigs. I loved the “Respect” exhibit, but wished it had been in the room dedicated to Les Paul and Alan Freed and Sam Phillips instead of just one case against a wall. I did NOT like the pieces of Otis Redding’s plane, nor did I need to see the coat he was wearing when he died. That bothered me a lot and took away from my enjoyment of the rest of that exhibit.  I liked that Pink Floyd have parked their props there, so you have the Division Bell heads and puppets from The Wall. I absolutely freaking loved the Rolling Stone exhibit, which consisted of covers and tearsheets and correspondence. So you’re reading Annie Leibovitz and Jann Wenner’s stormy back and forth, and a letter from aspiring rock journo Patti Smith, and then the absolute prize, that had us howling in laughter to the point that people moved away from us, were letters from Hunter S. Thompson. (A quote: ‘I DID NOT STEAL YOUR CASSETTES. I MAY HAVE DONE A LOT OF ROTTEN THINGS OUT THERE BUT I DID NOT STEAL YOUR CASSETTES!” This theme went on throughout a series of letters back and forth. Ah, letters.)

We did NOT do any of the movies besides the 63-minute reel that shows the inductees. I am sorry we wasted that hour because there was no actual footage from induction ceremonies (or just brief flashes). I expected a lot more. Even if you don’t see the movie, walk through the theater so you can see the signatures in glass of all (or most) inductees along the wall. The reason we didn’t sit through any other movies was because we didn’t want to see footage we either owned or knew by heart. We didn’t think they were going to tell us anything we didn’t know already. Maybe that was an incorrect assessment. That was about the time I wished the HOF had put together maps or self-guided tours for different levels of fans. I would have loved to have walked in there and gotten the “Fanatic” map that would have taken me through the things crazy people would love to see. They have what they call “Spotlight Artifacts” – the Sgt. Pepper suit is one of those – but how on earth is Joe Strummer’s guitar not a spotlight artifact? Or Janis Joplin’s custom car?

When I left, my biggest impression is that I can not ever again skip exhibits about bands I care about. I am so, so sorry I missed the U2 exhibit, for example. It really is worth your time.

Detail stuff:

You need a full weekend, or two full days. It’s 7 hours from NYC, with a couple of short stops. Drive Friday night, back on Sunday afternoon. You can do it in one day if you aren’t interested in the special exhibit, and don’t need to read every single word on every single lyric sheet that Bruce Springsteen gave to the RRHOF. But you’d still be missing something.

There is nowhere nearby to eat in the middle of the day. We planned to eat at the cafe in the museum both days, just to save time, but the food the first day was so horrible that we preferred to have a large breakfast and wolf down a bag of pretzels and a drink instead the second day. The closest food was in our hotel, which was a 10 minute walk away, and then there was honestly nothing, because the neighborhood is a business district. (If there was food nearby, it would have been awesome if the HOF put together a guide  – and maybe there was one.)  I don’t know how I’d do it differently because there really are no other options.

YOU CANNOT TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS, except in the lobby. No really. There is a sign that explains that due to the arrangements the museum has made with the artists who have donated the artifacts, photographs are not permitted. I wish that wasn’t true, but it is what it is.


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Guest blogging for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

As an upshot of my first visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last weekend, I was invited to submit a guest blog for the RRHOF’s website.

There’s also a news story from me on Backstreets.com, but you’ll have to scroll down to the news from 1/26.

Full posts on the Springsteen exhibit and the rest of the hall in general will be up on the weekend.

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the rock and roll hall of fame must die.

Not that this is news to me, or any of you, but it is now official: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a bloated carcass that makes a mockery of rock and roll.

The 2005 inductees have been announced, and they are:

U2
The Pretenders
Buddy Guy
Percy Sledge
The O’Jays

Now, that’s really not what the problem is – the problem is who DIDN’T get inducted, in some cases, YET AGAIN. (Although the fact that U2 got nominated oh-so-coincidentally the year of a huge album and worldwide tour makes me so fucking nauseous and angry I am spitting nails, and I haven’t even seen the ticket prices for this tour yet. (And you know, I LIKE them. They *are* good. They *are* special. The fact that it’s just the four of them up there making noise is something in this day.)

I cannot possibly quibble with Percy Sledge and call myself a rock and roll fan, although I don’t have a list of who didn’t make it in that genre to know if we’ve properly gotten to everyone yet. I don’t even begrudge the O’Jays, although every fucking year it feels like “Here’s a bunch of white guys who made us a lot of money, oh, and here’s some black men that we ripped off big f’in time so we’ll bring their families to the Waldorf Astoria and manipulate them one more time to our advantage” – oh, wait, it feels that way BECAUSE THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT IT IS.

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