On a recent trip to Cleveland to see The Black Keys, I had a chance to stop in at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The trip was short (several hours could be spent there) but I did get to see some pretty amazing stuff. Below is my list of the best they have to offer. It probably doesn’t match yours – leave a comment and tell me, I’d love to hear some opinions. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed.
Without further ado …
10. Slash’s top hat: When Guns ‘N Roses burst on the scene in the mid 80’s the rock world was thrown for a loop. It wasn’t the hair-band style we were used to (even though Slash and Axl Rose both had some major hair) it was dirty, hard rock. And the image that stands out the most is Slash’s top hat. It may have been silly if not for his immense talent – instead it became an icon of a rock legend. It’s also surprisingly small. Must have been all that hair propping it up.
9. Randy Rhoads’ polka-dot guitar: I’ll never forget the first time I saw Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” video. It was also the first time I was introduced to Randy Rhoads and his polka-dot flying V guitar. The riffs Rhoads produced in that song started me down a path of guitar love I’ll never recover from. The exhibit is even more powerful knowing that Rhoads died an early, tragic death before the full scope of his talent could be realized.
8. Jimi Hendrix’s suede boots: Hendrix was not only a guitar god, but a fashion icon of the 60’s and 70’s. The green suede boots stand out as both a signature item and a humanizing element. Around the toes and bottom portions of the boots is dirt – turning the green into a brown/olive color. Seeing that reminds you of how real it all is, and brings you closer to a legend. I imagine Hendrix looking down at the fading brilliance of his boots and thinking it’s time to hang them up and find a new pair.
7. Jim Morrison valentine: “Mother be my Valentine,” reads a home-made card from The Doors’ Jim Morrison to his mother. Not only is it amazing to see a child incarnation of a legendary rocker, but the irony of the situation is overwhelming. Morrison regularly told tales of how miserable his childhood was and how little his parents meant to him – even claiming they were dead.
6. 1978 Rolling Stones set list: There was plenty of Stones paraphernalia, but the set list stands out the most. It’s hand-written and gives you a glimpse into a real rock and roll show. Reading the list, you can hear the songs in your head and follow the progression of one of rock’s greatest bands perfroming to a sold-out crowd. The finale was “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
5. Otis Redding airplane wreckage: One of the most soulful singers the world has ever heard came in the form of Otis Redding. Tragically, his private airplane crashed into Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin, on December 10, 1967 and Redding, just 26 years old, was killed. Many are unaware that “The Dock of the Bay,” his only #1 single was recorded just three days before his death. The twisted wreckage is in two parts, “Otis” on one and “Redding” on the other, from the plane’s fuselage.
4. Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” socks, glove and loafers, and “Thriller” jacket: The early years of the MTV era saw Michael Jackson performing “Billie Jean” at the Grammy’s, and the world learned of the moonwalk for the first time – complete with glittering socks and lone glove, and black penny loafers (sans pennies.) The “Thriller” jacket is torn and burned, Hollywood-style, and gets you close to one of the most influential music videos ever produced.
3. Hunter S. Thompson’s letter to Rolling Stone: It’s a scenario made famous in 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – a brilliant but cavalier Hunter S. Thompson explaining himself after missing yet another deadline while out in the desert binging on a cacophony of illicit drugs. At one point in the letter he explains that he’ll need copious amounts of speed for his next story, so the editors should gather up as much as they can and send it ASAP. It’s a first-person look into the twisted mind of one of the great writers for rock’s most important publication.
2. John Lennon’s piano: The Beatles were vital to the development of Rock and Roll. But John Lennon and Yoko Ono taught us about rock’s turbulent relationships, how to break up and how artists follow their instincts no matter the cost. The piano is where Lennon wrote many songs for Double Fantasy. Candle wax from writing sessions remain on the wood and help you envision the man and his muse sitting down, changing music forever.
1. Paul Simonon’s Fender Precision bass: On September 21, 1979, The Clash’s Simonon smashed his bass on the stage of New York’s Palladium concert hall. The moment was captured in a photo and immortalized on the album cover for London Calling. Nothing embodies rock and roll better than that image and nothing makes you feel like a part of rock history than being inches away from the iconic instrument.