Cleveland? We don’t need no stinkin’ Cleveland! At least when it comes to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, because Soho now boasts its own Annex of said Hall of Fame, and it’s a pretty decent (if necessarily curtailed) overview of this genre’s history.
The Annex takes advantage of technological advances inexorably making their way into museums. Visitors enter the foyer-like Hall of Fame, lined with brushed metal plaques bearing the signatures of inductees. As a soundtrack plays, the featured artist’s name glows in neon colors, so you can kind of ‘follow the bouncing ball’ around the room. The hall leads to a screening room where visitors watch a short history of the honored artists, supplemented by slides and footage of each subject—concert posters, photographs, even live footage of us in the audience, superimposed on the main projection—which add to the speakeasy-like experience.
The Roots & Influences section puts forth “family trees” of artistic influences by older artists on today’s popular ones. A soundtrack kicks into your individual headset as you enter an exhibit’s radio frequency, so what you’re hearing is always linked to what you’re seeing, which are fade-ins of slides of the artists. It’s curatorial choice, of course, but you may have chosen another lineage than this under the heading “Art Influenced Rockers”—Velvet Underground, Television, U2, Coldplay.
The next phase of the Annex is called Moments to Movements—pivotal points that shaped the history of the art. Many iconic items of memorabilia line the hall, from Janis Joplin’s velour dress with beading she applied herself, to Elvis’ peacock jumpsuit, to one of a Michael Jackson’s military-style jackets, plus guitars belonging to Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and many others. The “poets” are represented with handwritten lyrics; Elvis Costello wrote “Red Shoes” in 20 minutes, on a printed train schedule, while on the train to Liverpool, perfectly demonstrating that talent + resourcefulness = genius.
A large room is devoted to New York Rocks, reached after passing through monuments to Bruce Springsteen (including his car) and Billy Joel, located peripherally perhaps because they’re more “tri-state area” denizens. A model of Manhattan is ringed by computer monitors that use a Google Maps interface and seem quaint by today’s standard, showing city locations of rock & roll note, like Madonna’s East Village address and the Apollo Theater. An oddly musty-feeling exhibit of pieces from CBGB’s are shown, including lockers and a lot of sticker-covered artifacts. David Byrne’s Big Suit sits behind frosted glass, onto which footage of The Talking Heads is shown.
The final gallery houses John Lennon: The New York City Years, created by Yoko Ono and curated by Jim Henke of the RRHF (Click here for a CNN report). Lennon’s dramatic life and death, packed into just 40 years, are fabled, but what this exhibition brings to light is how Lennon’s relatively brief history in NYC is an encapsulation of all the good and bad that the city can represent. He underwent a lengthy battle against deportation by the Nixon administration, which considered his anti-war activities a threat. A number of related documents, including letters of support, are on view. The cornerstones of this exhibit are four screens showing videos and footage from concerts, political rallies, and of course, with Ono—in performance, on Dick Cavett, and walking through Central Park like a wizard making the rounds. His assassination is acknowledged by an image, by Ono, of the glasses he was purportedly wearing at the time, as well as a paper bag with the clothes he was wearing, numbered as legal evidence. New York has never had such a visible immigration case or homicide since Lennon—a brilliant meteor whose flames of talent and charisma lit up the city like a fireball and then were extinguished as abruptly as plunging into the ocean.
Image: John Lennon’s Green Card. Photo courtesy Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex