Artist: Various Artists
Venue: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC – 76 Mercer Street
Event: “Annex Experience”
Depending on your own personal music tastes and the bands whom you list as your favorites the mere mention of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is bound to spark up some heated debate about just who has been inducted and who for whatever unknown reason still seems to be eluding the honor. To be honest, I have specific issues with a number of these omissions to the Rock Hall myself, but this is not an article for me to air such grievances. Instead, this is a focus on the currently running exhibit that has been set up down in New York City’s SOHO Region and is appropriately called “The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Annex”. Located down on 76 Mercer Street, the display is a nice teaser to what is going on at the original Hall Of Fame space which is located in Cleveland, OH. Having never been to the original Hall, I knew that I wanted to see this exhibit and took a trip down with an associate to be able to share my views on it. Upon entry to the Annex, the visitors are led into the displays by first convening in a small room that looks much like the safe deposit box area of a bank. Instead of the boxes we find numerous plaques of the already inducted artists and depending on who is playing over the stereo – the respective artist plaque illuminates. There were only a couple of us in the room during our tour since we arrived at an off time and had a lot of room to wander back and forth and muse upon those who were featured most prominently. Among the showcased during this segment were the mighty Van Halen, The Sex Pistols, The Eagle and Black Sabbath. The lights get frenetic and the music comes to a thundering crescendo and fades to black. From there the usher leads you into the cinema hall where the story of Rock & Roll is presented for the viewing audience. The theater is spacious and the film rather well done. Images appear on the side walls as well during the presentation that features notables such as Muddy Waters, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley among many others. I won’t spoil the overall fun but will advise that the viewers who are dead center in the theater pay particularly close attention to the Led Zeppelin portion of the film. When the film ends you are guided to the next gallery section. So far we had spent about a half an hour in the place and it was moving quickly.
The gallery area that you walk through next finds you greeted by one of the museums road crew who hands you an audio device from Sennheiser. You can choose to use this or not, and I recommend that you do since it allows the music of the artists you stand in from of the display of to be played. There are several motion sensitive galleries that will begin when you are nearest them and what we find in this hallway is a progression of Rock history. We see Blues leading to Led Zeppelin and some of the Funk stuff leading to Rap and so forth. I admitted some surprise that they found the Velvet Underground leading to bands like Coldplay, but again this is a matter of opinion. We took our time through the hallway but really didn’t spend more than ten minutes as I was now eager to see the actual Rock artifacts more than any videos at this point. Lucky me I would get my chance as soon as I wandered out of this area.
The visitor then finds themselves among a wide assortment of showcases and of course I really don’t want to ruin everyone’s personal adventures into the Annex by divulging everything, but I will make mention of some of the stuff that I found most inspirational. The first things that catch your eye are some of the stage clothes worn by folks like Eddie Cochran and the boots that once helped the already giant personality of Johnny Cash stand all the more taller. There’s a guitar of his as well from his Highwayman days and it gets better and better with every step you take. I felt a sense of awe as I looked at some of the jumpsuits and jackets that Elvis once wore onstage and was surprised to see that they had one of his personal King James Bible’s in the display. The book was open to a page where Elvis had made notations and according to the placard this was something that the singer often did as reference to passages that he felt moved him the most or made the most sense in his day. There is some stuff of Madonna’s and of Michael Jackson’s in terms of jackets and corsets and this stuff surprised me a little because I had no idea about their inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. Of course this is the tried and true rocker in me speaking and being blind to certain inclusions while others I am fond of still are not (but I digress).
The guitar hero fanatics will enjoy the next area that came up because this is where the weapons of many of the famous musical axe-slingers are set up to be enjoyed. Its here we find something from Jeff Beck (an actual guitar that he used for thirty years straight believe it or not) and something from both Satch and Vai which I felt were cool to see displayed. There is a prototype used by John Lennon and something from Pete Townsend and even an acoustic once used by the master Eric Clapton. It is also in this area where you see one of the guitars used by Jimi Hendrix and even behind its apparent triple glassed casing you can feel the energy coming off of it. I stood in front of this piece for a few moments longer than some of others out of respect. There are a few more cool surprises in this section but I will leave that to your own wanderings when you make your visit. Onto the next room we went where the sounds of Bruce Springsteen soon came over the listening devices. This display was massive but had only a couple of things and I can safely say that based on one of the exhibits being a car used by Bruce in one of his videos. There is also a jacket, some guitar picks and lyrics that were penned by the Boss himself. Cool stuff but I would have liked to see more from him being featured in the area especially with New Jersey being so close in proximity.
Right after the room of Bruce we came into the region that was devoted to the New York City Punk Rock movement, and to be honest they could have devoted a whole museum to this subject alone based on the innovators of the time from the Big Apple. It was here we would find some stuff from The Ramones and The Velvet Underground and The New York Dolls. There were quite a few cool things to be examined here and one of the biggest displays that will catch the visitor eyes is the C.B.G.B.’s exhibit. In all its glory is the awning from the club’s entrance and actual tables and chairs and the phone booth from the legendary club that was shut down for good a couple of years ago. Some of the amps and microphones along with the mixing board will have you mentally envisioning the Punk greats that once performed on its stage. A screen on the wall shows some of the bands if your memory needs a little bit more jarring. I had heard that one of the urinals was also on display somewhere but I seemed to miss it and this was fine by me since I had seen them enough when the club was still open. I admit that seeing the CBGB’s stuff as an art display was a bit weird since I had gone to the club a number of times over the years and while the icon years were clearly behind it, the space served a purpose and offered many bands the chance to play. Now it’s just an over priced clothing store…..ah progress. Another display that was rather interesting was the giant New York City diorama and this was connected to a number of touch screen displays. From these displays the visitor could find where famous venues once stood or where certain area musicians were born. This piece will keep you entertained for awhile and might be hard to get to use depending on how many people are in the museum with you.
We wandered into the next gallery area and this is where the exhibit that was set up for The Clash was viewable and there was really too much to explain in this brief summation. Suffice it to say there were posters, lyrics, clothing and instruments from various albums of the band to enjoy and while you walked about the music of The Clash played through your listening devices. I loved having this thing with me at this point because it was making these displays come to life and yet I felt that it might have been just a little bit better had there been some speaking introduced at particular pieces. The cool visual aspect of The Clash exhibit was that they set up some of the displays in UK telephone booth boxes. It helped bring a little bit of “London Calling” to life if you will pardon the pun. According to what I was told, The Clash area is only a limited time exhibit and the museum guest can easily spend some time there if they read every single piece of information that accompanies the piece.
Once you have completed your time in The Clash region of the Rock Annex you hand back your audio devices to one of the staff and you are done and led into the Gift Shop. This reminded me a lot of how Disney does things and I guess this is just the trend to catch those impulse purchases. We wandered about in the shop for a few moments and made note about the great selection of band t-shirts and your standard coffee cups, belt buckles and pins. There were books and music available for sale as well and I am sure that if you are looking for something related to the bands on display that you will find it there. If not, you can always go online to Amazon.com. This was a great way to spend an afternoon and I recommend it to any music fan. Tickets can be purchased online via the website link and they run about $27 for adults. There was no photography allowed in the exhibit but we were sent some images that come courtesy of the Annex’s PR firm and photographer Matt Sexton. Be sure you check it out before it’s gone because there is so much more than what I talked about to enjoy. After all, we didn’t want to ruin every surprise that you would find in there with our commentary.
Official Website: http://www.rockannex.com