Mother Lode

The hand that rocks the cradle is the Rock Hall's good friend.

Other-Worldly Paintings Valley Art Center (155 Bell Street in Chagrin Falls) Friday, September 7, through Friday, October 19


Sometimes, just entertaining the thought that rock stars had mothers can be a stretch. Rolling Stone Keith Richards rebelling by not cleaning his room? That's not the emaciated junkie we know and love.

And although Snoop Doggy Dogg has been known to chill in his lavish crib, it ain't the kind with a teething ring and a baby blanket.

So it seems kind of weird that moms would act as a pipeline to the corrupters of our youth. But according to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame curators Jim Henke and Jackie Clary, the way to a musical icon is often through the womb. Along with managers and widows, moms are like a one-stop shop for rock and roll relics.

"Moms keep a lot," says Clary, who has lunched with the women who once clasped Debbie Gibson and A.J. McLean to their respective bosoms. "It's great to deal with them, because they're so proud. They're almost slightly baffled that you're so interested in their child. But they love pulling out the old report card. And they'll go, 'Oh, hey, I remember that.'"

As assistant curator, Clary deals mainly with the flavors of the month, while head curator Henke handles the classic-rock relatives. He's traveled down to Tennessee to take tea with Margaret Everly -- Don and Phil's mom -- and hit up Bev Smith for daughter Patti's jacket.

Mrs. Everly's cache could have stocked one hell of an estate sale. "She had kept their bedrooms as they were and had tons of stuff," Henke recalls. "From the stage outfits they'd worn to their report cards. The kids took tap-dance lessons when they were very young, and she had their tap shoes. That was a case where she had so much stuff, I had to pick and choose, because we couldn't do an entire museum."

Her one request: that Henke bring a truck and haul everything himself. She didn't trust shippers.

Patti Smith's mom not only came through with the jacket; her exemplary maternal efforts served as an icebreaker when Henke finally rubbed elbows with the high priestess of punk.

"I met Patti at some function in New York, and the first thing she said was, 'Oh, you know, my mom was telling me how great you guys were to deal with.'"

Jim Morrison's parents also had the collecting gene, mothballing his Cub Scout uniforms, the first poem he ever composed, and the "I love you, Mommy" notes he'd scribbled as a Lizard Princeling. "I believe we have every single one of his report cards," says Henke.

"And athletic letters from sports teams," adds Clary. "You don't really think of him like that -- you think of the black leather pants."

Some families loan stuff, but the Morrisons gave up the goods for good. According to Henke, "We're talking about building a library, an archive of his stuff."

The nonprofit Rock Hall can't shell out cash for acquisitions, unlike its more capitalist counterparts, the Hard Rock Café and the Experience Music Project in Seattle. But for moms, just knowing that their precious pumpkin's baby shoes are enshrined in Cleveland in a crushed-velvet case can be a thrill bigger than big bucks.

"More often than not, they think it's kind of cool what we're doing," says Clary. "It's almost like they never thought about that." When she does the Attic Crawl at their homes, "I'll bring gloves with me, and I'll start to go through stuff, and they'll look at me funny. 'Why are you using gloves?' I'm like, 'Well, to us this is an artifact.' 'Oh, take those off!' 'OK if you say so.'"

Clary obviously was taught never to second-guess Mom. Or Dad, for that matter. 'N Syncer Joey Fatone's pappy -- Joe Fatone, Sr. -- has also been a real cheerleader for the Rock Hall. When they first rang him up, he was caught unawares. "That was like the furthest thing from my mind, that the Hall of Fame would call and say, 'We want some of your son's stuff.'"

But he was up to the task, managing to locate Joey's first love letter and the set of Wolfman fangs he wore in high school.

"He had a job at Universal Studios, as the Wolfman in the Beetlejuice revue," Mr. Fatone reminisces. "I sent those off," along with a "good-size chimpanzee puppet he used to play with regularly. He was a frisky, young, mischievous, energetic little guy. A real boy.

"As big a man as I am, I look in the paper or on TV and see what his group is doing and think, 'That's really amazing.' But I wouldn't say I'm proud. Proud is something that somebody gets when their kid has perfect attendance. This is proud times 100. It's really much, much bigger than anything that can be imagined."

Clary holds Fatone's offering in high regard. "Those kinds of things, the artist may get embarrassed about, but fans will love."

Another score was a pair of boxer shorts belonging to Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean, sent Clary's way by his most devoted groupie -- mom Denise McLean. "We had those on exhibit last year, and it was fun to watch kids go up to that case and be like 'Cool, it's A.J.'s underwear.'"

Denise used to be the band's manager, but quit when the Boys reached the age when they no longer wanted to be seen with her. Once, they even drove off in the tour bus without her. Accidentally. Yeah, right.

But that can't change the fact that A.J.'s mom makes a mean turkey sandwich, says Clary, who has hung out with Ma McLean at the Ritz-Carlton in Tower City and visited her in Orlando, Florida.

"I was over her house for a couple hours, and she's like 'I'm hungry; you want a sandwich?' 'Sure.'"

It probably tasted especially good, because it was a famous turkey sandwich, once removed. File that one under "Rock Star Lunches."

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