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The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

John Lennon's school report cards…Ray Charles' marriage certificate…concert and award outfits worn by Tina Turner, David Bowie, and others…guitars played by Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Ray Charles…platinum records, concert posters, ticket stubs, and thousands of other items connected to every aspect of rock.

If there were no other reason to visit Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would be enough. Its mission statement: "…to educate its visitors, fans and scholars from around the world about the history and significance of rock and roll music." The mission manifests itself through exhibits, collections, concerts, special events, and, of course, its annual induction of significant figures into the Hall of Fame,

As you might expect, many of the exhibit incorporate sound and video. You can sit for hours, listening to "500 Songs that Changed the World." Or watch the two short film montages called "Mystery Train." The first film focuses on rock's ancestors and early practitioners, including Elvis. The second features interviews with megastars from the 60s onward: Bruce Springsteen and Janis Joplin separately discusses the "misfit" childhood all rock superstars seem to share, Neil Young says he'd rather burn out than fade away, and Ozzy Ozbourne talks about how much fun the whole thing is.

Many influential figures get their own display cases, tracing the lives of the great through both musical and nonmusical artifacts. Other exhibits focus on one theme, rather than one performer; one of my favorites was the large area devoted to individual ingredients the bubbling cauldron of musical genres that became rock: jazz, blues, gospel, bluegrass, and more. From Bill Monroe and Jimmy Rodgers to Count Basie, Ma Rainey, and Louis Jordan (among the better known), it's great to see these pioneers heralded for the huge contribution they made to this exciting and ever-changing music, and to sit for a minute and hear their songs.

But the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is not mired in the past. Current artists have their place here as well. One fun exhibit even trace teen idols from Paul Anka in the 40s and 50s to Britney Spears.

Oh, and the pictures! Walk down the corridor to the restrooms and administrative offices, just to see the very rare sight of Pete Seeger in a tux, or the Everly Brothers as young children, already holding guitars.

For someone of my generation (I'm a mid-Boomer, born in 1956), the museum is a walk—uh, make that dance—through my entire childhood and adolescence. For my children, it's an enjoyable history lesson that touches on the great social movements of civil rights, feminism, and ending the Vietnam war, framed in the exciting context of the music that fueled those huge changes.

In the two hours we had—about all we could manage before sensory overload set in—we only managed a tiny fraction of this enormous treasure trove. But a wristband lets you in all day (CHECK THIS), so I'd recommend making a day of it. Come up for air after a couple of hours, stroll around downtown Cleveland or the Lake Erie waterfront, take in a meal…and then go back for more. Arrive early and stay until closing, but give yourself the breaks you need. Oh, and do leave some time to browse the thousands of CDs in the giftshop.

Facts and figures:

150,000 square foot I.M. Pei-designed building on 9th Street and Lake Erie, downtown Cleveland. Pei's stated intention: "to echo the energy of rock and roll. I have consciously used an architectural vocabulary that is bold and new."

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame foundation was created in 1983, and announced its first inductees in 1986. The $92 million complex opened in 1995, and has welcomed over 5 million visitors since then.

55,500 square feet of exhibit space, a 65,000 square foot outdoor plaza for large-scale concerts, live-broadcast-ready radio studios, 168-seat indoor theater, and over 50 exhibits containing thousands of musical instruments, costumes, stage props, papers, film clips, sound recordings, and other artifacts.

Shel Horowitz, Editor of Global Travel Review, won an Apex Award for his most recent book, Principled Profit: Marketing that Puts People First. He's the founder of the international grassroots Business Ethics Pledge campaign.


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