AJOBO: The House That Rock Built

On the drive back from the Fest for Beatles Fans in Chicago, I spent a few days in my Ohio homeland, namely Cleveland. It was a real treat to show Susan Ryan — a native New Yorker — around the place where I spent so many of my formative years. My parents were/are HUGE Cleveland Browns fans (as am I), so some of my first memories are going to games at the old Browns Stadium. As a kid, Disney on Ice at the Coliseum was my JAM. And when I became a teenager, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was where I learned about music.

I read an interview a few years ago with Ohio-native Mark Foster of Foster the People where he said something to the effect of, “I went to the Rock Hall every weekend and just absorbed everything there.” He and I are around the same age, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we combed the triangular levels of the Hall together at some point, maybe even shared some headphones at the listening stations.

After my first visit in 2000, the same year I became a Beatles fan and, coincidentally, the first year of the Rock Hall’s monumental John Lennon exhibit, I was begging my long-suffering mother to schlep me an hour into Cleveland so I could study artists like Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard, as well as develop my connection with ’60s bands like the Beach Boys, Lovin’ Spoonful and Rolling Stones, and get an introduction to Talking Heads, the Buggles and Blondie. When I wasn’t at the Hall, I was on its then-crappy website, voraciously reading every bio of every artist. I even set its layout graphic as my desktop background.

My mother comes up a lot when I write and even when I speak on panels because, unlike most parents of my generation, she wasn’t into music. At all. Like I said, she loves football. She spent the ’60s at games and training camps, not rock shows and underground clubs. (Which never fails to annoy me.) Bless her, she still took me to the Rock Hall, and then paid the $15 admission to spend the day on the cafe balcony overlooking Lake Erie while I ran free with a friend or two.

In 2002, when George Harrison died, the Rock Hall was the only place I could think of that would be a proper sanctuary in which I could mourn. Dramatically dressed in black (I was 16, come on), I spent hours staring at a framed 8×10 of young George that was lovingly displayed on the fifth level. I don’t know how, but it brought me peace. Still today, walking into the Rock Hall feels like going home. Even my mother calls it “the Rock,” either as a term of endearment, or because she can’t be bothered to add the “Hall.”

Last Tuesday was my first visit in two years. Last time, I was excited that the entire basement (the main exhibit hall) had undergone a major renovation that now follows a much more logical path through the history of rock ‘n’ roll. There are still the all-important listening booths where I heard so many of my favorite songs and musicians for the very first time, along with the usual array of costumes. (John Lennon’s Sgt. Pepper suit is now behind glass — but it wasn’t in 2001 when I may or may not have touched it…)

The actual Hall of Fame is represented in a 90-ish-minute video presentation, which has been chopped throughout the years to make sure as many inductees are included as possible. After countless viewings, I can pretty much point out what sounds and segments have been shortened. There are few things that make me as nostalgic as watching the Hall video, though. I spent years of my life closely studying it, associating songs with moving faces for the first time. (Keep in mind, this was pre-YouTube!) I still think of that video when I hear Bonnie Raitt, the Yardbirds, Ruth Brown, Jackie Wilson and others. Yes, the graphics in the early days are laughable and could probably use a revamp, but I like the charm and lack of sophistication. It reminds me of days when people would “ooh” and “aah” over 3D flowers and a logo that only sorta-kinda looked like the Rolling Stones lips and tongue.

Being a huge Brian Epstein fan (he’s a big reason why I have a master’s in Music Business), I was super stoked to check out his special collection in the Class of 2014 exhibit. But, aside from some incredible journals and moving sketches, there was little of his life represented, overshadowed by his case-mate, KISS. It is, however, a sweet feeling to finally see your idol validated, like he should have been back in ’88 when the Beatles were inducted.

(As a side note, I completely compartmentalize the Hall & Museum from the actual Hall of Fame. As much as I love the Rock Hall, the institution is a whole other story…)

Though Tuesday’s visit lasted over five hours, it felt all-too brief. One could probably spend two days there and not really have a fully in-depth experience because, particularly after the reno, there’s so much to see and do. Of course, I stopped off at the gift shop, where, in my youth, I’d pour money into t-shirts, posters, stickers and CDs. This time, I glanced over the books and spotted a number of my friends’ names on spines, and envisioned my own there someday, thinking how much that little music n00b has evolved in 14 years.

Yes, it’s called “the House that Rock Built,” but it could be easily be changed to “the Rock House that Built Allison.” It’s safe to say that my life would be completely different had I not grown up in northeast Ohio, had a willing parent, or an institution designed to educate. It’s always been my dream to work at or with the Rock Hall in some capacity, and I don’t think that will ever change. But I just have to smile when I see young kids discussing Hank Williams with older folks, and possibly learning, for the first time, the magnetism of music.

This Week on REBEAT!

Did you catch RAVER last weekend? If so, you might already be waiting with muchos anticipation for our EXCLUSIVE interview with Jeremy Clyde of Chad & Jeremy. The duo’s hitting the road next month along with our previous interview Mike Pender, future interviewee Billy J Kramer (stay tuned for that!), Denny Laine, and Gerry and the Pacemakers. Keep an eye our for our chat with Jeremy mid-week… you won’t want to miss it!

– Carey Farrell pits two of her favorite fake bands of the ’60s against one another in our first ever Battle of the Fake Bands. Which two will it be? You’ll just have to check back and see. One thing’s for sure — it’s not going to be pretty.

– Part three of Sally O’Rourke’s in-depth look at Holland-Dozier-Holland’s post-Motown career, a review of Lovin’ Spoonful-bassist Steve Boone’s new autobiography, a perfect Labor Day JUKEBOX, a fan-friendly RAVER and more!

About Allison Johnelle Boron 94 Articles
Allison Johnelle Boron is a Los Angeles-based music writer and editor whose work has appeared in Paste, Goldmine, Popdose, and more. She is the founder and editor of REBEAT. Her karaoke song is "Runaway" by Del Shannon. Find her on Twitter.