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"[I]t's absurd that a singer in a rock band puts on a pinstripe suit and goes for a walk down Wall Street banging on doors. But you know what? They opened."

-- Bono

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Rock the Hall: To Go or Not To Go?

@U2, February 11, 2003
By: Angela Pancella

 

By now you faithful visitors to @U2 will have read quite a bit about the opening weekend of the U2 exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. You will have learned that an excellent time was had by all, which was only to be expected with such a massive number of U2 fans descending on the place. Now the question becomes, "Is the exhibit worth a trip to Cleveland even without a fan gathering?"

I'd like to address the answer to those who, like me, had never been to the Rock Hall before: go. Go early and often -- not just for the U2 items, but to sample everything the place has to offer. If possible, allow yourself at least a week to walk through the exhibits on all of the museum's floors. (A guidebook suggests you give yourself four hours. That's laughable.) To give but one example of how you might spend your time: there are computer stations set up as listening kiosks where you can access the "essential works" of every recording artist inducted in the Hall of Fame. There are more than 25,000 songs available.

If you are passionate about music and fascinated by the impact of rock on the culture, you will feel at home here. And if you're reading this, chances are good that this is how you feel. To quote from some introductory notes in their exhibit: "For U2 and its fans, rock and roll was serious business. Rock and roll mattered." It's a philosophy that puts U2 in close alignment with the museum as a whole. This is a place where the most ordinary objects attain a status akin to holy relics by their contact with genius. Here you may view the piano where Elton John composed "Your Song," an outfit David Bowie wore as Ziggy Stardust, letters Jeff Buckley wrote about his father. All these have been set carefully in glass or behind protective barriers. When, in the U2 display, you get to the loafers Daniel Lanois wore during the making of All That You Can't Leave Behind, you might think Lanois sent them to gently mock this reverential attitude. Then again, maybe he is being serious. It's tough to tell.

A recent article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer said that Larry Mullen Jr. "hopes the exhibit provides some insights into the unique chemistry at the heart of U2." So you might ask, "does the exhibit accomplish this?"

Not in any direct way.

In the Name of Love: Two Decades of U2 is not set up with a storyline or a narrative theme beyond chronology: "Here is U2; here are their '80s artifact; here are their '90s artifacts." Perhaps the baffling variety of items made it difficult to link them by any other method. (What does a 1978 Battle of the Bands trophy have to do with an Achtung Baby condom, anyhow?) The most that the exhibit demonstrates is that there is a strong bond within the band, and the way it does so is rather subtle. You have to go through the rest of the museum to get the point. Go to the film with highlights from past Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Count how many bands with warring factions reunite just for their induction. Then go look again at what has been accumulated by U2 over more than 20 years of working together: the button declaring "Binky for President" (Binky being an Adam nickname); the 1982 letter to Larry asking him to come to rehearsal which is signed "Lots of love, Edge"; greetings from "ex-members of the Larry Mullen Band" on the occasion of Larry's 21st birthday.

In the end, what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit on U2 tells us is that after more than twenty years, they are still together and they still like each other. This might not be an earth-shattering revelation to fans, but when you compare their history to the histories of other legendary bands on display, you'll see why it's worthy of comment. (One of the most poignant pieces elsewhere in the museum is an early note from the Beatles addressed to their fans. They say the answer to the question "Has success changed you?" is a resounding "NO!")

The ideal time to visit the exhibit would be when fans are gathered, if only because a theater has been set up with a continuous showing of Rattle and Hum. (You've not lived until you've seen that movie on a big screen surrounded by people who not only clap at the end of the songs, but who clap for the guitar solos and the Bono speeches.) Luckily fans will have reason to descend en masse on Cleveland again if the Rock Hall's future activities go as planned.



© @U2/Pancella, 2003.



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