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OHIO OR BUST

THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM: GREAT IDEA OR SIGN THAT THE END IS NEAR?

Meanwhile, people who'd bought museum memberships started making unhappy noises. Gripes that first-year memberships began in February 1995, months before the grand opening, fell on deaf ears until a local consumer reporter broke the story; only then did the museum declare that the memberships would be good for one year starting in September. Many of those who bought $250 "party packages" for the grand-opening weekend were similarly displeased, since the amount was supposed to cover tickets for two concerts, one of which was eventually canceled. Rather than refunding the money designated for the second ticket, though, the museum raised the price on the other and suggested that the difference be donated to the hall. Once again, this policy was changed after the boondoggle made the newspapers. In apologizing for these difficulties, public-relations director Tim Moore explained to the Cleveland Plain Dealer that mistakes were being made in part because a staff of three people was trying to look after a membership of 47,000.

Moore didn't mention that much of the information he was providing to the media was highly questionable. At the Friday morning press conference, for instance, he announced that a briefing by director Dennis Barrie would also feature appearances by Wenner and Ertegun; instead, it consisted primarily of a how-do from Governor Voinovich, a visit from three space shuttle astronauts and the opportunity to see Barrie present plaques to museum co-sponsors Radio Shack and Levi's.

Representatives from the HBO cable service, which had agreed to telecast the next night's concert live, were also present at the news conference, but they revealed little other than the names of the artists who had just pulled out of the showcase. These included some of the most intriguing names on the initial lineup: Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg (the only rappers slated), the artist formerly known as Prince, Alice in Chains, Carole King and Brian Wilson. When a few of the reporters grumbled, the HBO spokeswoman did her best to quiet them. "It's going to be a magical night, okay?" she snapped. "Magical."

Bombs away on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...
Blow it up before Johnny Rotten gets in!
Blow it up before Paul Westerberg gets in!
Blow it up before Steve Albini makes a speech!
Blow it up! Blow it up!
--from "RnR Hall of Fame," by Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, 1995

At 11:30, a parade in honor of the hall moved down Superior Avenue, a few blocks from the museum itself. No oversized balloons were present, but there was a giant Elvis Presley, three giant women evidently intended to represent the Supremes, a giant ghost-figure standing in for dead bluesman Robert Johnson, and Robert Jr. Lockwood, a real live bluesman who cranked out riffs from the back of a flatbed truck. In the meantime, celebrities were congregating on a platform in front of the hall. One late arrival in the plaza asked, "Anybody interesting show up yet?"

"Yoko Ono," I responded.
"I said `interesting,' not `annoying,'" he replied.
Actually, the turnout did have some glitter. In addition to Cleveland businesspeople and civic leaders such as Mayor Michael White, the dais supported Little Richard, Ben E. King, Martha Reeves, Paul Shaffer and Ono, among others. Within moments, a velvet-voiced announcer asked dignitaries and attendees to stand for the national anthem as performed by Jimi Hendrix at the 1969 Woodstock festival. The rock luminaries listened piously to Hendrix's version of the anthem, which has been widely interpreted as a musical exploration of the conflicting emotions felt by American youth disgusted by their nation's participation in the Vietnam war. At its conclusion, two Marine Corps Harrier jets in town for the Cleveland National Air Show taking place nearby zoomed over the museum building in tribute. If any observers found this symbolism ironic, they didn't mention it.

Next, a procession of notables made their way to the microphone. Director Barrie complimented the people of Cleveland "who voted for and paid for" the hall. Ertegun vowed that "for the first time in the music industry, we are rewarding achievement regardless of stardom or record sales." Mayor White (who entered to the strains of Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City," seemingly unaware that the song is a biting attack on the urban experience) bellowed, "I remember all the days and all the times and all the jokes and all the comments that `I'm just not sure Cleveland has what it takes.' But we've got what it takes, and we're doing it." Governor Voinovich, providing an indication of his hipness, quoted from a Huey Lewis and the News song: "The heart of rock and roll is still beating--in Cleveland." And Ono managed an unexpectedly amusing line in reference to her late husband, John Lennon, much of whose memorabilia she'd donated to the museum. "I think John would have loved this," she claimed. "He would have loved the fact that he's here and not anymore in my closet."

Then came Wenner, who was plainly basking in the ritual's glow. Readers of author Robert Draper's 1990 work Rolling Stone Magazine: The Uncensored History no doubt understood Wenner's glee; after all, the book describes him as "the ultimate groupie" and includes his comment that he'd started Rolling Stone simply because he wanted to meet Lennon. In his remarks, Wenner proved his knowledge of rock history by quoting lyrics by Chuck Berry, the Grateful Dead and, on at least three occasions, Bob Dylan. (He also cited the assistance of his wife, Jane, whom he recently left for a man.) Then, to the strains of the Rolling Stones' "It's Only Rock 'N Roll (But I Like It)," the celebrities cut a ribbon surrounding the platform amid a shower of colorful streamers shot from pipe launchers. Stamping the streamers with the date and the words "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" aided the cleanup immeasurably; they were instantly scooped up as souvenirs.

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