Saturday, August 02, 2008
Cleveland sites creepy -- but kinda cool
Where in the heck is Rush?
That, I explained to my son, is a very valid question.
But gaping induction holes aside, we had fine time on the second day of our Cleveland adventure.
We made it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum just before it opened, arriving just ahead of a tour bus full of people we suspected would be absolutely horrified at much of what they were about to see inside.
The hall is a neat-looking building — designed by I.M. Pei — but I wonder if its unusual shape limits what organizers can display, because for all its size, there doesn’t really seem to be all that much space, and much of the space that is there doesn’t easily lend itself to displays.
My wife and I visited the hall not too long after it opened in 1995, and I checked it out again with the Baseball Truth gang in 2003, discovered that there had been almost a total overhaul – a dramatic improvement.
You might be wondering why such an institution is in Cleveland. A sign out front reads that Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed is credited with coining the term "rock and roll" and that the city was the location of the first rock concert. What it doesn’t say was that civic leaders pledged $65 million in public money to fund the construction, which didn’t hurt.
One of the few things you are allowed to photograph in the hall: The Trabant cars from U2's Zoo TV tour.
We started in the lower level with the baseball exhibit and found it kind of lacking, but they did show a Dwight Gooden album that I never knew existed.
My favorite part of the lower level is the display of all the stage clothes. There’s a good representation of everyone from Aerosmith to ZZ Top. For people who are supposed to be larger than life, rock stars are often smaller folks, at least that what it looks like when you see their outfits.
Pausing at the David Bowie exhibit, I saw a kid who looked to be 12 studying some "Ziggy Stardust" era artifacts and say "Is that a boy or a girl?" and suspected Bowie would have been pleased.
Not having any Kiss outfits on display is a gaping hole in the exhibit, but I’ve heard that stems from Gene Simmons refusing to offer up anything unless he got a cut of the admission fees. We can’t fault the museum for that.
But there are plenty of interesting relics, including John Lennon’s piano and glasses, one of Elvis’s jumpsuits and Billy Joel’s motorcycle.
Heading upstairs, we found a new Ramones display that was just glorious — a set list even includes when Dee Dee would yell "one-two-three-four" between songs. We immediately picked Joey out of his elementary school class photo in his Cub Scouts uniform.
We also found the display that includes the cremains of Alan Freed. This is either really creepy or really cool. Or both.
The actual "hall of fame" is an audio-visual presentation showing each year’s inductees and snippets of songs, lyrics and interviews – and in the case of the Sex Pistols, their letter calling the museum "a piss stain" and stating why the surviving members chose not to appear at the induction ceremony.
Most of the songs selected to represent the inductees were obvious choices, some seemed of odd. For Madonna, the hall picked "Vogue." It seemed strange to select a throw-away track on a greatest hits CD that is better known for its video for someone who has a boatload of iconic hits.
And is "Kiss," the best example of Prince’s work? I thought something – anything – from "Purple Rain" would be better. And "Why Can’t This Be Love?" sure isn’t what I think of when I think of Van Halen.
The hallway leading out passes what used to be the hall, etched glass with simulated autographs, the names of the performers and the year inducted. It was kind of a letdown when it was all there was. But it’s perfect as a compliment to the video.
Then you pass through another temporary exhibit – this time it’s about the Beatles’ movie "Help!" – before taking a circular staircase to the very top of the building. That used to be the proper hall with the etched glass. Now its more temporary exhibit space, now dedicated to The Doors.
One my favorite exhibits includes some of the huge stage props from Pink Floyd’s "The Wall" tour, which was a big part of the soundtrack for anyone going to high school in the early 1980s.
After navigating the massive gift store, we walked around the lakeside for a little bit then moved on to our last adventure.
We had to work presidents into this trip somewhere, and James A. Garfield has what must be the most unusual of all presidential tombs. The 20th president rests in Lake View Cemetery on the city’s east side.
We arrived at the castle-like memorial about 4:02 — only to find it closed at 4 p.m. We ran up the stairs and found the doors already locked, and were about to walk away when it slowly opened.
The caretaker said he was sorry, and that he had just closed. I asked if we could quickly pay our respects, and was slowly shaking his head when I added, "We’re from Michigan!"
I intended this to show that we came a long way, forgetting that in Ohio State University country, this is like saying, "I would like to be pushed to the ground and kicked."
But I also know that people who volunteer to staff such places do so because they are passionate about the subject.
He opened the door all the way and said, "Let me go and turn all the lights back on."
And once inside we saw a spectacular rotunda with a large white statue of Garfield, dramatically lit. The caretaker said the architect didn’t want the statue in there, thinking it was unnecessary, but was overruled by the committee overseeing the project.
The caretaker pointed out some of the features, then sent us to the circular stone staircase to the lower level.
And there, on simple stone pedestals, were the caskets of President Garfield and his wife, Lucretia as well as urns containing the cremains of their daughter and her husband.
I’ve been to a number of presidential gravesites, and in every other place the caskets are either buried or stashed in a vault. Like with Freed, I couldn’t decided whether this was cool or creepy.
I didn’t want to impose any longer, so we rushed back upstairs and thanked the caretaker profusely. But he said we weren’t done, and pointed to stairs leading up to an observation deck, where, he said, we’d have the best view of the Cleveland skyline in the city. And he was correct.
Asking him to stamp my National Parks passport would have been pushing our luck, so we were on our way.
Lake View is home to a number of other famous Ohio residents, including John D. Rockefeller, lawman Eliot Ness and Ray Chapman, the Indians player killed during a game.
We found Rockefeller and stumbled upon Ness, but were unable to locate Chapman before deciding we needed to start our 5-hour trek back to Grand Rapids.