Rock Hall Rescue

Soundbites prescribes the cure for an ailing civic icon.

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Like many of the musicians it honors, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame appears to be careening toward an early death. In the past year, the hall has cut close to two dozen jobs and slashed millions from its budget. Attendance dipped to 575,000 in 2002, after a high of 875,000 in '96. Important corporate sponsors such as AT&T and Levi's have ceased underwriting Rock Hall events, and its few major exhibits, such as Lennon: His Life and Work, get extended for months and seem to last forever.

But we still dig the Rock Hall, and we definitely don't want to see it go. So it's time for some friendly advice to the hall's suits on how to keep kicking out the jams instead of kicking the bucket.

Pump Up the Volume

The Rock Hall's biggest hurdle has always been in attracting younger rock fans, who couldn't care less about eyeballing Rick Springfield's parachute pants. The best way to bring in the kids is to bring in the bands they love, by using the hall as a live-music venue for younger, up-and-coming artists It did this successfully with the excellent summer-concert series that kicked off in 2001. For a $5 ticket, you could see some of the biggest names in rock -- from Staind to Godsmack to Good Charlotte -- in performances that were later broadcast on MTV. (The series was shelved this year because of the decline in corporate sponsorships.)

But with or without MTV, the hall must compete with local rock clubs to host shows featuring rising national acts -- even if it means fewer appearances by such rock graybeards as Cheap Trick and Mike Smith. Major labels frequently throw money around for listening parties and special promotional gigs for new artists and new albums. Landing these gigs would surely attract a younger clientele and keep them coming back.

I Just Wanna Have Something to Do

There's tons of cool stuff to look at, but there's not much to actually do -- other than a touch-screen history of rock's various genres, and listening stations that spin the 500 songs that helped shape the music. At Seattle's Experience Music Project, a similar-minded music museum, visitors can learn how to play guitar, keyboards, and drums in a digital music lab. There's a simulated stage, where aspiring rockers can get the feel of jamming out in front of a crowd, and there are courses to learn what it takes to work in a professional recording studio.

Cleveland could easily take similar steps: detail the ins and outs of broadcasting at the interactive Alan Freed studio; let people play Neil Pert's drum set, rather than just stare at it. The Experience Music Project makes the music come alive. With the Rock Hall, we're checking for a pulse.

Bringing It All Back Home

Canton is not the most happening place in the country, but that doesn't keep the gridiron's finest from showing up every year for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's induction ceremonies. And while this is a gripe as old as the hall itself, it still makes no sense that the Rock Hall induction ceremonies are held in New York City. If the hall, its benefactors, and its board are so embarrassed to hold the event in this town, they never should have broken ground here in the first place.

New York inductions are just one more gala in a city that has one on every streetcorner. But holding the inductions in Cleveland would provide an annual high-profile event that the venue -- and the city -- sorely lack. It's all about celebrity cachet, and a star-studded event would bring some needed prestige to the place. As it stands, the hall settles for visits from half-dead has-beens like Glen Matlock and Dickey Betts. That must change. To this day, many people still scoff at the Rock Hall's Cleveland home. It should have been Memphis, they say, or Detroit or New York City. It's hard to silence those jeers when we can't even get Sting's ass in the building.

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