Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Annex: John Lennon, The New York Years

Last week we stopped in at The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's Annex in New York to check out their current featured exhibit John Lennon: The New York City Years. The exhibit (which was curated with the assistance of Yoko Ono) has received oodles of praise, and as such we were psyched to check it out. Having frequented the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland, however, we were inclined to keep our excitement muted. The original museum has always felt too corporate for rock and roll, and more like a record label hall of fame, than "the house that rock built". Still, we were psyched to see the Lennon exhibit, and so we devotedly made our way to the Annex's SoHo location. Suffice it to say, were were pleasantly surprised.

In short, the Annex is nothing like it's big brother: it's small, below ground, subtle, and most importantly in the heart of New York. Sure, once you go inside the museum takes on a more manicured appearance, but the overall vibe is still significantly more gritty and real than anything at the Cleveland location. The museum starts with a short musical montage tracing the history of rock and roll - you'd think it'd be cheesy, but it's not. The sound is cranked, the clips fantastic, and the artists amazing. It seriously sent chills down our collective spine.

From there one enters into a series of galleries that focus on rock and roll, and it's history in New York City. Needless to say, the history of rock in New York is rich, and there's a ton to cover. Ranging from Elvis, to Hendrix, to the Stones, to punk rock and new wave, the museum holds a fast selection of memorabilia from New York's rock and roll past. We have to admit, seeing David Byrne's "big suit" from Stop Making Sense was a personal highlight for us, although there were about twenty other objects (including CBGB's interior) that held up stiff competition. After the tour through the main gallery, one reaches the featured exhibit, which in this case was Lennon: The New York City Years.

To say that the exhibit was lovingly constructed would be an understatement. It is a thorough and well researched of Lennon's stay in New York in the seventies, and features everything one would hope to see. There are pianos, guitars, and clothing. There are hand written lyrics, test pressings of records, and even home movies! More than anything, there is the tangible and real sense of being in close contact with relics of Lennon's memory. For anyone who is even mildly obsessed with Lennon and his work, it's quite a transcendent experience.

That memory is what makes up the other half of the exhibit: there's a strong emphasis on Lennon's personal love of New York, the freedom it afforded him, and his desire to use that freedom to create something worthwhile. The exhibit focuses on his fights for equality and peace, and just how resoundingly they made up the second half of his life. The exhibit poignantly closes with the bag of clothes (unopened) from the day of Lennons death, accompanied by a petition to increase gun control in the US. It's a heartbreaking moment, and it'll stick with you, to say the least.

Entering into the Annex, we were admitedly skeptical, but we've been converted. Granted the admission is high, and there's still a slightly corporate vibe, but the fact of the matter is that this time the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame has done things right. The museum is tasteful, authentic, and most importantly - fun. The Lennon exhibit serves to underscore the museum's legitimacy, and really is quite something to take in. What's more, the museum keeps late hours, so making it part of your Saturday night (as we did) is also an option.

Next time you're in SoHo, stop in and check it out. We're willing to bet you won't be sorry.