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Rock-and-Roll Is (Really) Here to Stay

Cleveland walks tall as Hall of Fame opens with concert and big crowds

CLEVELAND'S funky new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which soars above Lake Erie, is as explosive and rebellious as the music itself. With its triangular, cubic, and circular shapes bursting out from a tall rectangular base, the museum gives dramatic effect to Cleveland's level midwestern skyline. A couple of days before the museum's opening over Labor Day weekend, architect Ieoh Ming Pei sat outside on the third-level deck studying some photographs, when a well-dressed local woman interrupted him. ''I just want to say that this adds a lot to Cleveland's skyline,'' she said of the hall. ''You've done a wonderful job.'' With a sheepish smile, the distinguished Mr. Pei replied simply, ''Thank you.'' The conversation underscores the importance to the city of this seven-story structure, which has taken 10 years to build - from the hall's conception to its actual construction. Pei admitted at the opening press conference that he was reluctant to take on such a project, mainly because he wasn't a rock-music fan. But after visits to New Orleans, Nashville, and Elvis Presley's Graceland in Memphis, and some persuasion from Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner and Atlantic Records chief Ahmet Ertegun, he began to appreciate the rock he once tuned out. James Henke, the hall's chief curator, says the museum is all about music and not limited to inductees. ''The museum works on a variety of levels,'' Mr. Henke says. ''There is a fun element for the casual fan, and for the serious fan there is a depth to the collection, such as artifacts, posters, documents, and timelines.'' Indeed, people who visit the $92-million museum will be overwhelmed with information. There are interactive databases that play the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll (more than 100 from the 1970s alone), videos that tell the history of rock, and thousands of artifacts. As with most openings, there are some glitches. In the fashion exhibit ''U Got the Look,'' the mannequins have been decapitated to fit into the display cases. The heads, which resemble the rock star whose outfit is on display, hang in the background or rest on the floor in the glass case. Stephen Sprouse, costume curator, said ''the size of the displays was already set so the heads had to be chopped.'' Also, visitors may experience some delays on the interactive computers at the beginning of the exhibit: The keys sometimes have to be pressed several times before the computers react. Visitors are led on a journey through the music that influenced rock, including rhythm and blues in Detroit, San Francisco's psychedelic '60s, and rap music in New York. Other parts of the museum feature memorabilia, including Janis Joplin's psychedelic Porsche, the Everly Brothers' tap shoes, Bob Marley's Bible, John Lennon's report card (''A sound knowledge of books'' but ''very poor in mathematics'') and Jim Morrison's Cub Scout shirt. But the most interesting exhibits are the ones that reveal something about the performer. For example, the Doors' Morrison may have been known as a wild and rambunctious performer on and off stage, but the items on display show a much different side to him. His rock-poetic side comes through in a Christmas card he wrote in orange and green crayons to his parents: ''A cool yule and a frantic first.'' He also wrote a Mother's Day card that says: ''I love you mother. I love you mother.'' And Bruce Springsteen, in the 1970s, wrote a rather humble letter to a fan in Sweden who had requested lyrics to one of his songs. After much cacophony on the lower levels of the museum, ''the stairway to heaven,'' as it has been dubbed, leads to the Hall of Fame. Signatures of the inductees are etched on backlit glass plaques. The room is black and the only light is from the signatures and video monitors. Ohio Gov. George Voinovich (R) expects that the economic benefits to Cleveland will be enormous. It is estimated that 750,000 to 1 million people will visit the museum each year and $75 million will be pumped annually into the local economy. But why Cleveland as the site? Why not New York, Los Angeles, or Detroit? Well, for starters, Cleveland was the first city to approach the Hall of Fame Foundation in 1985 about having a museum. Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed is credited with coining the term ''rock-and-roll'' in the mid-1950s. But more important, residents and city and state officials lobbied hard to persuade the foundation to choose Cleveland. To cap off the Hall of Fame and Museum's opening, a concert was held Saturday night in Cleveland Stadium featuring John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, Melissa Etheridge, Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and others. Alternative group Soul Asylum, in the concert's hottest performance, paired up with Lou Reed and Iggy Pop for ''Back Door Man,'' a song by Howlin' Wolf and later performed by the Doors. Fans at the nearly seven-hour concert were dancing in the aisles, and playing air guitar and drums to the upbeat tunes. But the dancing won't stop there. The way things are going, Clevelanders will likely be dancing in the streets for some time to come. * Tickets cost $10.90 for adults, $7.65 for students and seniors. For more information, call 1-800-493-ROLL.

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