A Tourist Trap with a Difference

During Easter weekend this year, I finally visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. It wasn’t planned as a religious pilgrimage; it just worked out that way. My family and I were visiting my north-dwelling in-laws for the holiday, and I had a day to spare.

The City of Cleveland has kicked up a lot of noise about the museum. Its civic-boosting hype has probably scared away some of the people who would most appreciate the place. But hype and corruption are as intrinsic to rock-and-roll as the sound of electric guitars. So I went with an open mind.

I’ve seen a few of the great American tourist traps—two different Six Flags, several Civil War battlefields, the St. Louis Arch, Disneyland, Graceland, all of the Smithsonian museums, Rock City, Ruby Falls, Mt. Rushmore, and Carlsbad Caverns (to name a few). And I must say that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is one of them. But it is a tourist trap with a difference: It is a monument to the outsiders of American culture and, most especially, an institution that at least makes a start at honoring the African-American origins of our country’s popular culture.

The museum opens at a movie theater with continuous showings of Mystery Train, a made-for-the-museum documentary purporting to tell the whole sad and beautiful Rock and Roll story in a little more than 20 minutes. But the lines were much too long, so I commenced to wandering.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1997
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