I am in the basement of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, staring at the sacred object that is John Cippollina’s amplifier, a Bride-of-Frankenstein creation that shotgun-marries the solid stateliness of Standell with the classique tube overload of Fender, topped by two monstrous horns to ensure the treble frequencies pierce any solar plexus within range.
Of course, I would love to hear this magnificent beast, especially when brought to life by the electric magnetic energy of John’s custom Gibson SG which sits awaiting next to its amplifier; but of course, that is impossible, given Cippollina’s unfortunately early demise. Yet I am as close to it as I might be on any night at the Avalon Ballroom in 1966; and I vicariously partake of its magic, inspiration, and thingness, seeing within it the shadow of its creator.
Over the past couple of months, with the imminent opening of the long awaited Hall of Fame Library, that will provide an archive of this hybrid musical mutation we call rock and roll, of which I have been a longtime vocal proponent and hunter/gatherer, I have been asked whether such enshrinement is good for the unruly immediacy that characterizes this music in soaring flight.
Of course, nothing will replicate the feel of a guitar in full stun pouring off a stage in an overheated club, with the audience urging and hollering and the band suddenly leaping from the edge of its creativity into territory unknown. But removed from that omnipresent moment, history must be served, and the artifact whether it be memorabilia, candid photograph, scrawled manuscript, yellowed clipping, fan magazine, sound recording, sweated stage costume, home demo or complete body of work - needs a place to call home.
Things get lost. No one knows what those archaeologists and searchers in the future, when the scraps of our century are as far removed as well, the scraps of the last century will deem worthy of understanding. I admit to being a library rat, following the trail of a current obsession through the arcana of that which is left behind: the tangents and b-sides and alternate takes of artistic life. What illuminates? Recently I secured for the Library the (cassette) tape collection of Jim Brawley, who brought his recorder to the New York club scene especially the hallowed CBGB for most of the nineteen seventies and into the eighties, recording all and sundry, the names we know and those who passed along that splintered stage for perhaps only a single night, otherwise lost to the fourth dimension. And when I listen, I hear not only the bands who are shouting their hearts out, and the audience calling and response-ing, but the sound of the room, and the way the music echoed from the walls in a moment of time captured and preserved. And I hear Jim’s voice, as he too is carried away by the moment, and so we are there as well, standing next to him, all too human, as the tape records what will ever be heard.
The muse in museum.
Lenny Kaye was a panelist on the Rock Hall's SXSW music panel, Does Rock and Roll Belong in a Museum? He has been guitarist for poet-rocker Patti Smith for more than thirty years. As producer, he has worked with such artists as Suzanne Vega, Jim Carroll, Soul Asylum, and Allen Ginsberg. His seminal anthology of 60s garage-rock, Nuggets, has long been regarded as defining a genre. He is currently recording solo material for 2010 release.