Last week, a group of about 12 or 13 cultural festival organizers from the Republic of Georgia came to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. They wanted to get a better sense of what we do to tell our story, to learn more about our organization and, in general, to exchange ideas.
The conversation that ensued made for a memorable meeting – one that reminds all of us about the power of rock and roll.
To start, we provided an overview of the Museum, the Inductions, and our mission to collect, preserve and interpret the cultural relevance of rock and roll. We spoke of our exhibit on rock and roll and free speech, Don’t Knock the Rock. We also talked about our education programs, which include classes on music as a tool for social change, referencing the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, Woodstock and myriad other moments when rock and roll connected people and served as a catalyst for new ideas.
The “new ideas” notion took root with this audience. Several people began to talk about going to great lengths to listen to rock and roll music. Our friends told us stories of their fathers and grandfathers rummaging for miscellaneous parts to craft homemade receivers capable of picking up bootleg radio signals from nearby cities. They talked about scraping up the equivalent of $100 to purchase a vinyl album. They shared with us the joy that rang out in the house when their fathers introduced them to the new Earth, Wind and Fire or AC/DC albums. And they talked about their dreams to dedicate a city block in Tbilisi as “Frank Zappa Square,” because that’s where the people used to gather to secretly listen to the Mothers of Invention.
Rock and roll was not easily accessible for them, and it wasn’t cheap either. More significantly, rock and roll was a dangerous force. It was not their parents who would chase them down for playing rock and roll, it was the KGB. But they were willing to take the risk.
Many of our guests couldn’t speak English and shared their stories via an interpreter. Likewise, they couldn’t necessarily understand the lyrics to the songs they heard as children, but the sounds moved them nonetheless. The music introduced them to something new. Their eyes lit up when they recalled these stories. It opened their minds and showed them that there was something else out there.
For us, well, it reminded us of why this art form is so important. It reminded us of how this music changed the world. And it reminded us of something our old friend, Andras Simonyi, the former Hungarian Ambassador to the U.S. told us a few years ago: The iron curtain was not soundproof.