That’s rock and roll.
This exhibit is so much better than the reviews. By the time I was finished I was in shock, as if I’d just endured a Zeppelin show, or another aural assault by our favorite bands of yore.
A bunch of instruments from famous musicians…doesn’t sound like much.
Unless you were there, unless you lived through it.
It starts with Chuck Berry’s Gibson. To think that this is the guitar he played “Johnny B. Goode” on. That’s a rock STAPLE!
And then there’s Bo Diddley’s box guitar and you turn a corner and right there are Ringo’s drums. Turns out the bass drum was lost, and this is a replica, but not the rest of the kit, not George and John’s guitars.
Now I’ve met Ringo. He called out to me at the Greek, during sound check. But when you see those drums you’re taken right back to ’64 and the Sullivan show and you start to tingle. The energy, that was IT!
Furthermore, they tell the story of the logo, with the dropped “T.” It was the shop owner’s idea, not the Beatles’. That’s the history of music, what we believe was labored over was done thoughtlessly in a pinch. Now it’s iconic.
And then you see Blackie, Clapton’s composite guitar.
Those are two things that strike you. How many of the guitars are hybrids, put together from this and that.
And the sensibility. Never forget that Keith Richards went to art school. These guys were NEVER on the right path, the straight and narrow, they were always a little bit off.
But it’s when you go into the annex room that your jaw drops.
There are the rigs.
I stopped first at Jimmy Page’s. It’s astounding how the equipment has aged, or had rough edges to begin with. That was the analog world, not the digital world we now live in. Today we expect everything streamlined, designed by Jonny Ive, to work straight out of the box and forever. But back then? Electronics were touchy. Boxes were hammered together. Everything had rough edges. That’s the essence of the sound.
And they had video.
You know the modern Jimmy. He looks like a tall slim grandfather, and despite his demonic image, he’s got a soft high voice. But he starts telling tales. This one Telecaster was given to him by Jeff Beck, when they were together in the Yardbirds. He played it on Led Zeppelin I. Huh? There’s an actual instrument and…
Jimmy talks about his double-neck Gibson and then he starts to play.
“Kashmir.” Come on, we know it’s hard to get that sound and Jimmy’s old and he moves his fingers on the frets and he picks the strings and it’s the exact same sound from way back when, it’s incredible. And “Stairway” and the theremin in “Whole Lotta Love”…
And you see Eddie Van Halen’s 1978 rig. The speaker cabinets look like they’ve been on the road. And Eddie tells the story of building his original red and white Frankenstein guitar and plays a bit of “Eruption” and then you go in another room, and there it is.
Eddie wanted Gibson pickups in a Fender guitar, because of their humbucking properties. Forget the surgery, when you see the actual guitar… IT LOOKS LIKE IT WAS PUT TOGETHER WITH BUBBLE GUM! In between the two pickups there’s a floating piece of metal that’s attached by wires and if it was your guitar, you wouldn’t let it leave your bedroom, you’d think it’s too fragile. But this was the axe that Eddie jumped around on stage with and cut all those legendary tunes… This instrument has gravitas.
And the Boss’s half Esquire and half Telecaster, the one he wore slung on his back on the cover of “Born To Run”…IT’S ALMOST WORN OUT! It’s down to the wood in places, there’s no lacquer, same deal with Clapton’s Blackie. These instruments have been USED! And they have not been under glass, protected, they’ve been on the road, they’ve seen miles, they’re a badge of honor and the sounds that emanated from them are emblazoned upon our brains.
And Jimmy’s dragon suit. And then a movie of him in it. It makes it all come alive.
That’s the key to the exhibit. They list exactly when these instruments were used, what year, what records, sometimes what songs. And then they sing out to you, even though they’re silent. It’s like being up close to living history. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? This is the guitar that Hendrix played “The Star-Spangled Banner” on at Woodstock? This is the organ that Keith Emerson plunged knives into?
It was show business, artifice, we were never that close. But if we had been, we’d have seen the imperfections. Rock and roll was built from whole cloth, some of these instruments were literally built by their players. And sure, they became rich and famous. But it was a long hard road to rock and roll. Practicing eight hours a day like Tom Morello. Looking for sounds. Trying to get it right.
And the rock stars gave instruments away. Sold them. Normal people would never do this. You cut a track with an axe and then you gift it?
But these people are not like you and me, never were. They were a different breed, called to action by their instruments. They had no other path. And they stumbled and studied and learned along the way.
And the exhibit was crowded with tourists who were looking but didn’t seem to get it. I only wished someone was there with me, so I could turn to them and say…DO YOU BELIEVE THAT?
These instruments were the bedrock of rock and roll. Which was the bedrock of our generation. The music was not passive, it was active, and it was everything. We went to the shows to communicate with the band, not shoot selfies. We were into the gear, we knew the models, we went to Manny’s to check them out. All those memories are stored in our brains. Ready to be activated…
When we see these instruments.
It’s like your deceased relative come back alive. Speaking to you. All the time you spent with them is in vivid color. It’s magic. And even though we were all there together, it was personal. The music entered our brains and set our minds free, led us to drugs, standing up to the man, sex…
That’s right, rock and roll was the root of all evil. The oldsters hated it.
But the little girls understood, along with a whole generation.
Music was everything back then. And if you were there you’ll be overwhelmed.