ABOVE PHOTO: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
The new exhibit “Louder Than Words: Rock, Power and Politics” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum looks at the connection between music, politics and social movements.
By Denise Clay
Thanks to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, freedom of speech and the right to protest have been hot topics of late.
Among the things that made Kaepernick decide to remain seated during the National Anthem was the treatment of African Americans at the hands of police. For the last few years, people have taken to the streets protesting the deaths of a growing list of people including Sandra Bland, Eric Garner and Michael Brown to the strains of Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”.
During the “rock and roll” era, politics and music often intersected. When people took to the streets to protest the Vietnam War, demand equal rights for women and the LGBT community, and fight for police accountability, they often did so to soundtracks filled with music ranging from Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to Lamar, Lady Gaga and Rage Against The Machine.
A new exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum looks at the intersection of rock and roll and politics, and how that intersection has led to change and awareness.
The exhibit, “Louder Than Words: Rock, Power and Politics” uses music ranging from campaign jingles to rock anthems to give visitors an interactive look at various political movements.
A collaboration between the Hall of Fame and the Newseum in Washington, D.C., “Louder Than Words” is organized by Presidential administrations, and features songs, campaign signs and interviews with the artists and politicians involved.
There’s also a variety of artifacts including Elvis Presley’s Army uniform, the hat that Aretha Franklin wore when she sang at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, the “meat dress” that Lady Gaga wore to the 2010 MTV Music Awards (and yes, it was actually made of meat) the guitar John Lennon played when he and wife Yoko Ono held their “Bed-in for Peace” during the Vietnam War, the FBI files of musicians you knew were being investigated by the agency (John Lennon) and some you didn’t (Janet Jackson), and the letter that Priority Records got from the FBI when newly minted Hall of Famers N.W.A released “F*#k Tha Police”.
While the exhibit opened during the Republican National Convention this past July, it had been in the works for some time, said Todd Mesek, vice president of Marketing and Communications for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
At a time that seems to mimic some of the things that were going on in the early days of rock and roll, this exhibit is a timely one, Mesek said.
“We came up with the idea a few years ago,” Mesek said. “Music as an art form has had such an impact on culture and life and has been a part of a lot of important conversations.”
Working together, the two museums composed the exhibit with an eye toward focusing on current events through using a historical continuum, Mesek said.
There are two things that people will notice about the exhibit, Mesek said. One, it’s bipartisan. While rock and roll is usually associated with the left, conservative rockers like Elvis (who hung out with President Richard Nixon) and Ted Nugent (the “Rush Limbaugh” of rock and roll) have a place in the exhibit.
And two, it’s uncensored. While care was taken not to totally offend, the purpose of the exhibit, like rock and roll itself, is to challenge the status quo.
“We’re at our best when we use the lessons of the past to provide some insight into what’s happening now,” Mesek said. “If it’s a hot topic like Black Lives Matter, we want to shine a light on it.”
“Louder Than Words” will be at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum until Nov. 27. It then moves to the Newseum, where it opens on Jan. 13, 2017.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is located at 1100 Rock and Roll Blvd., Cleveland. Admission is $23.50 for general admission, $19 for Military, $21.25 for Seniors, and $13.75 for Children aged 9-12. Kids aged 8 and under get in free.
“Louder Than Words: Rock, Power and Politics” is presented by PNC Bank and sponsored by Hilton Hotels and Resorts, AT&T, Sound Exchange and the Altria Group.