Walking up the winding staircases to the uppermost reaches of the pyramid-shaped Rock & Roll Hall of Fame I could hear voices. Lenny Kravitz’s resonate, uber-cool cadence was unmistakable. As I got closer I could see big projections of other artists, Taylor Swift and Mick Jagger, adding their own voices explaining the importance of Rolling Stone magazine not just to the music industry, but as a cultural phenomenon.
The exhibit, “Rolling Stone / 50 Years,” tries to capture those sentiments through multimedia displays designed to literally walk you through the early beginnings of the magazine and then to its current place as an icon as recognizable as the music legends it covers. Opened May 5th and running through late November, the exhibit unfolds over three floors.
Rolling Stone was the brainchild of college dropout Jann Wenner, who brought together a small but dedicated band of writers and photographers to bring his vision to life back in 1967. Entering the exhibit, I almost felt like I’d stumbled right into the loft that held their first offices.
While today rock ‘n’ roll is as synonymous with American culture as Norman Rockwell paintings, in the 60s, the music movement was still considered a fad. And as a fad, fanzines covered musicians with soft stories, but Wenner envisioned a publication that captured the political and social implications of rock.
His first Letter from the Editor – blown up and posted on an exhibit wall – gives a flavor of Rolling Stone’s zeitgeist from the beginning.
In Wenner’s words, “You’re probably wondering what we are trying to do. It’s hard to say: sort of a magazine and sort of a newspaper. The name of it is ROLLING STONE, which comes from an old saying: ‘A Rolling Stone gathers no moss.’ Muddy Waters used the name for a song he wrote; The Rolling Stones took their name from Muddy’s song, and ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ was the title of Bob Dylan’s first rock and roll record.”
The exhibit culminates with musicians saying in their own words what the magazine meant for them – that Rolling Stone writers weren’t about the easy or expected stories. “It’s the most honest look at an artist,” I could hear Taylor Swift saying over and over again as the interviews looped while I walked around looking at years of magazine covers. Michael Jackson in a white tank top smiling mid-dance. A close up black-and-white of Sinead O’Connor. The Red Hot Chili Peppers in their birthday suits. Bill Clinton, arms crossed, looking presidential. A profile shot of Bruce Springsteen. A crazy-eyed David Letterman. Each image trying to drill down to the person’s true self and lay it bare just as the writers of the magazine attempt with their prose.
While you could spend the better part of your day at the Rolling Stone exhibit, make sure to save some time to go through the Hall of Fame’s other offerings.
Other exhibits to check out:
Summer of Love – Explore the revolutionary summer of 1967. This exhibit takes you back 50 years to the summer that defined the counterculture movement. With artifacts such as Jimi Hendrix’s purple velvet jacket and a guitar played by Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, this exhibition truly reflects the vibrancy of culture. Open through 2017.
Power of Rock – Discover what its like to be front row for 31 years of induction ceremonies. The new Power of Rock exhibit takes you inside 31 years of inductions ceremonies. The Connor Theatre’s concert quality sound and huge screens will Immerse you in the experience and make you feel like you are there.
Now that’s my kind of museum.
If you go: The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Wednesdays open until 9 p.m. and Saturdays until 9 p.m. (Memorial Day through Labor Day).
Disclosure: To research this article, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame provided one complimentary ticket. I paid for parking, and other incidentals.
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