The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Garage is an innovative new interactive exhibit that offers visitors the opportunity to not only view instruments, but actually pick them up and create music just like their heroes. It’s a place to step back and take a break from merely admiring the awe-inspiring music and music-making tools of the legends that populate the Hall’s museum, and crank up the volume to make a glorious noise of your own.
Because at the end of the day, if you really want to understand the music and motivations of rock’s greatest artists, what better way to do it than to place yourself in their shoes? In the Garage, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame makes this seemingly impossible act a reality by replicating the humble environs of legendary musicians who spent the beginning stages of their careers holed up in garages, basements, living rooms, warehouses and other makeshift rehearsal rooms.
Take, for instance, world-class metal titans Metallica. These days, the band routinely travel the globe to play in front of stadiums full of chest-thumping, headbanging fans. And head to the Rock Hall’s Heavy Metal Scene exhibit and you can admire late bassist Cliff Burton’s 1978 Rickenbacker 4001 bass guitar.
But back in Metallica’s early days you could find Burton, his bass and his band mates at 3132 Carlson Boulevard in El Cerrito, California, huddled together in the garage where the thrash icons composed much of their classic albums, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. That garage has since been torn down (although frontman James Hetfield does own a guitar built from reclaimed wood salvaged there), but the music created in that space lives forever in the hearts and minds of millions of rock fans.
Starting off small
Metallica, of course, is only one of many Rock Hall artists that started off creating raw, no-frills music in a raw, no-frills space. Nirvana honed their craft in garages and other shabby spaces on the outskirts of Seattle before exploding into the mainstream with their second album, Nevermind, which defined the early Nineties alternative-rock uprising.
Among the many Nirvana items to be found in the Hall, at the Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll exhibit running through summer 2020, is frontman Kurt Cobain’s smashed 1993 left-handed Fender Stratocaster, which he demolished at the climax of a performance in Inglewood, California, during the 1993 In Utero tour. He destroyed the bridge pickup using his technician’s Makita drill—an item that is also displayed in all its glory in the exhibit.
These energetic and often scrappy acts span from all corners of the world. There was the Ramones in New York (and you can see Johnny Ramone’s circa 1977 white Ventures II guitar in the Cities & Sounds: New York exhibit), and the Who in London (be sure to check out Pete Townshend’s “No. 6” Les Paul Deluxe in Play It Loud); as well as Weezer in Los Angeles and the Stooges in Detroit (and fans of those bands won’t want to miss Rivers Cuomo’s Epiphone Les Paul and James Williamson’s 1971 Cherry Sunburst Gibson Les Paul).
Kick out the Jams
The list of bands that started off young and determined in small, sweaty rooms is endless, from Rock Hall Inductees like Creedence Clearwater Revival and 2020 nominees MC5, to the Runaways and the Cramps, two artists whose instruments populate the Hall’s artifact collection.
In the Garage, visitors can recapture and recreate that electric and one-of-a-kind moment that so many legendary acts have experienced in their careers—only they get to do it with better gear and working air conditioning.
With that in mind, head to the Garage, pick up a guitar, a bass or a pair of drumsticks, and prepare, in the words of one such iconic band, to kick out the jams!