Rock and roll's still a boy's club, even when it comes to dead guys
Last night, after attending a press preview of the Treasures of the Hard Rock traveling music memorabilia exhibition -- on view starting today at the Hard Rock Cafe Denver -- I was going to write about what it felt like to look at the belongings of famous dead people I care about. While it was definitely weird and sort of cool to view Kurt Cobain's seventh-grade yearbook, I was more affected by the idea that I was in a room full of dead dudes' stuff. Not the dead part -- the dude part.
Sure, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes's outfit from TLC's CrazySexyCool tour was encased alongside Jimi Hendrix's silk shirt and Bob Marley's guitar -- but she was it for female representation. I wonder how we are supposed to shift away from the archaic notion of rock and roll as a boy's club, when we still celebrate only dead dudes?
For the record, Jeff Nolan, the curator of all Hard Rock Cafe memorabilia collections, recognizes this dichotomy -- to a certain extent. "We try to cast a wide net, and we also try to make connections between legacy artists and contemporary artists," Nolan told me. "One thing that gets, well, I wouldn't say boring because I'm into these things a music nerd, but one thing that kind of gets old after a while is only talking about the 'Golden Age' rockers."
Oh, look. It's Jim Morrison.
While Nolan was speaking more to the idea that much of the memorabilia focus is often on guys like Hendrix and Morrison and that he desires to see more recently active artists recognized, we also chatted about Amy Winehouse. He felt the same way I (and many others) did when she passed -- shocked. Because he understood her legacy, several personal items of Winehouse's are in other Hard Rock exhibitions currently traveling the world, and that was important to me.
It's not that these dudes being celebrated are at fault for being dudes -- it's just that none of them are my icons. I've never been terribly moved by Jimi Hendrix; I don't care about The Beatles, really; I think Elvis has always sucked and The Doors are super boring. On a basic music-listening level, that's how I feel.
But I also feel that way as a person who has been just as interested in the culture of music as music itself for the last two decades. While these musicians are important on a level that should be acknowledged, it's also only part of music's story. And having the same stories shoved down my throat as "the greatest" still, decades later, seems off-base.
They were the greatest -- to some people. But many of us were moved by other artists, artists who get left out of legacy-minded conversations over and over and over again.
I think of artists like Courtney Love -- who is still alive and kicking and playing shows in some incarnation of Hole or other -- whose presence in mainstream rock music will always be something that changed my life. But I also acknowledge that a lot of people don't like her. (Though after reading about Keith Moon recently, I don't get what was so cool about that guy, if we're talking his basic human interactions with society.)
Still, it shouldn't change what we get to know as modern music history. As my boyfriend so astutely pointed out, it isn't the Hard Rock Cafe's job to bring the whole story of contemporary popular music of the last 75 years to the public. But with a collection of more than 77,000 pieces of memorabilia spanning decades, I would like to see more.
I want to see Freddie Mercury and Klaus Nomi's stage attire; I want to be able to look at Ari Up's mud-covered skirt from the cover of Cut; I want to see personal photographs of Etta James. There is a lot more out there that we aren't talking about.
Regardless of my feelings on music history, the Treasures of the Hard Rock memorabilia tour is worth good look. It is great to be in a room full of pieces of music history that will only be in the city for a short time; Elton John's sequined ensemble alone merits a visit.