- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Yes, the heart of rock ‘n’ roll is still beating — in Cleveland.

The Rock and Rock Hall of Fame, the nirvana of rock memorabilia situated on the shores of Lake Erie, is offering temporary exhibits to complement its permanent collection of artifacts from across the history of the defining music of the 20th century. Now, in addition to Elvis Presley’s suits, Rolling Stones contracts and even Taylor Swift’s stage getups, visitors can actually enter into a theater for an all-encompassing rock experience courtesy of the late filmmaker Jonathan Demme.

Demme, known for hard-hitting dramas like “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia,” was as equally famous for his many concert films, including “Stop Making Sense” with the Talking Heads, “Neil Young: Heart of Gold” and “Storefront Hitchcock,” featuring Robyn Hitchcock performing in a New York business window. It seems rather fitting, then, that Demme, who died April 26 at age 73, would make his parting gift to the worlds of film and rock the short doc “The Power of Rock,” now playing at the Rock Hall.

Guests begin in a foyer outside a theater on one of the museum’s upper floors, where video of various Rock Hall inductees play to transition the visitor from “real world” into rock fantasy when the doors of the Connor Theater swing open and beckon in the pilgrims. The lights then go out, and Demme’s 12-minute film is projected on moving screens that work in coordination with concert lighting and sound effects going off as video of Chuck Berry, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Green Day, Prince and many more stalwarts of music rock out before you.

This is truly immersive entertainment of the highest order, and a fitting epitaph to Demme’s rather singular filmmaking career.

After getting out of the Connor Theater, head down to the bottom floor for a temporary exhibit about John Mellencamp, touching on not only the various permutations of his stage name — from John Cougar Mellencamp to Johnny Cougar — but how his music was shaped by his Midwestern upbringing before it influenced many other rockers who followed.

Also check out the nearby exhibit on the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

And speaking of half-century marks, head upstairs for the rather impressive “RS50: Rolling Stone Fifty Years.” Begin with the informational signs describing how, in 1967, 21-year-old Jann Wenner scraped together some cash and a San Francisco office to start a music magazine made by and for fans — and taking as its moniker the title of a Muddy Waters song that was itself the inspiration for a certain English band.

A recreation of the office of Mr. Wenner’s day shows the Berkeley dropout hard at work, with shaggy hair and an antiquated phone, as the City by the Bay rolls by below his windows.

The next room features photographs from across the magazine’s history, many shot by the incomparable Annie Leibovitz. Snippets of album reviews are also on display penned by the likes of Kurt Loder and Cameron Crowe, who fictionalized his own experiences as a teen writer for the magazine in “Almost Famous.”

As equally important as the music to the magazine has been its political coverage and investigative reporting, with the likes of Matt Taibbi continuing to churn out quality journalism of the highest order in speaking truth to power.

Make sure to also check out the tip-top room, where many of the mag’s most famous covers are blown up to adorn the walls, including the notorious September 16, 1993, issue featuring topless Janet Jackson, her breasts cupped by the hands of an unseen party behind her. (She later revealed it was her onetime husband, Rene Elizondo Jr.)

While you’re here, make sure to check out the actual Hall of Fame on the 2nd floor, which has been updated with the 2017 inductees. Nearby sits a guitar signed by Johnny Cash, not far from a looped video of Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt.”

And on the museum’s outdoor patio, Cash’s tour bus can be boarded by the curious to experience the stylishness the Man in Black desired for his comfort on the road.

As the lights dim over Lake Erie, Rock and Rock Hall of Fame President Greg Harris then introduces the Drive-By Truckers at a stage set up out front of the museum not far from Cash’s tour bus. The Athens, Georgia, band then begins to add its Southern music to the Midwestern sky, themselves but one link in a chain of musicians stretching back to the dawn of rock — and which will continue as the genre itself grows and changes in the decades to come..

For more information about visiting, go to RockHall.com.

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