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Ken Viste
Associate Curator
Experience Music Project (EMP)
2901 Third Avenue #400
Seattle, WA 98121
http://www.emplive.org
206-262-3133


Crazy, Man, Crazy:
What is Rock 'n' Roll?


Rock 'n' roll is a term that music lovers take for granted, but what does it really mean? As a historical category, rock 'n' roll signals a musical moment, in the 1950s, connected to the flowering of "teen" youth culture and the tentative first steps of racial integration. As a style, rock 'n' roll mingles vintage trends including rockabilly's ducktail haircuts and poodle skirts, the greaser's leather motorcycle jacket and boots, and the jump bluesman's shiny Zoot suit. As a sound, rock 'n' roll most often means a guitar-based small band riding a rollicking beat, pushing the boundaries of melodiousness and decorum in the name of unbridled self-expression. As a philosophy, rock 'n' roll is associated with an odd mix of iconoclasm ‚ the "rock 'n' roll wild man" game ‚ and musical/cultural preservationism, as its fans seek to keep alive the Edenic moment when popular music was energized by an innocent, adventurous, adolescent heart.

CRAZY, MAN, CRAZY: WHAT IS ROCK 'N' ROLL? seeks to refresh and deepen visitors' understanding of this idiom, the moment in which it emerged, and its legacy. As a revision of Experience Music Project's long-standing "First Rock" exhibition, CRAZY, MAN, CRAZY preserves the mission of acquainting visitors with the roots of the popular music explored throughout the museum. Instead of attempting a definitive history of rock 'n' roll's birth, however (a task that leads to so many tangents and disputes that this small gallery cannot accommodate it), CRAZY, MAN, CRAZY seeks to establish a working definition of rock 'n' roll, as its first proponents asserted it and its long line of loyalists maintain and elaborate upon it.


Primary Message
Like romance, glamour, or cool, rock 'n' roll is a term many people use but few really think about in specific. Rock 'n' roll has come to mean something specific within popular music and culture, even as it is used to signify a much larger spirit. The definition of rock 'n' roll can be broken into various elements having to do with sound, attitude, lifestyle, historical associations, and marketing strategies. Considering each of these elements separately allows for a clear image to emerge of rock 'n' roll as an ongoing style and standard within music.


Secondary Themes

Rock 'n' roll is a Crossroads
In reality, many styles merged to produce what most music lovers now consider rock 'n' roll. Gospel, rhythm and blues, country music, and boogie woogie all flourished before and after the moment of rock 'n' roll's emergence, but their nexus is the music's source.

Rock 'n' roll is a Particular Phenomenon
Though the phrase is used in association with a seemingly unlimited array of sounds and styles, rock 'n' roll as this exhibit describes it represents a specific experience of music for both musicians and fans. As music, it is amplified, amateur in spirit, song- and hook-based, and highly portable. As a fan experience, it is cathartic, joyful and rebellious. These qualities emerged at its birth and continue to define it today.

Rock 'n' roll is a Continuum
Though largely associated with a nostalgic view of the 1950s, rock 'n' roll does not really have a true beginning or end. Artists and aficionados can be found throughout popular music history who embody its sound and attitude. In addition, some artists and fans have become preservationists, dedicated to keeping alive the specific definition of rock 'n' roll represented in this exhibit. For them, rock 'n' roll is a living thing, not a nostalgia trip.


Objectives
To renew visitors' interest in and understanding of the basic elements of rock 'n' roll.

To offer younger visitors a visceral experience of a musical style and historical moment they may otherwise only know through the second-hand nostalgia of places like the Johnny Rockets hamburger chain.

To allow visitors who lived through the era to remember and perhaps discover new insights about their own musical legacy.

To provide a racially integrated view of the roots of rock music.


Structure
CRAZY, MAN, CRAZY is divided into an introduction and 6 exhibit sections in the current conceptual plan. These sections are not linear and, aside from the teaser and introduction, can be arranged to fit the space. Elements 3-7 all fall under the general conceptual heading "Rock 'n' Roll is..."
1. Teaser (Talon Case)
2. Introductory panel / segment
3. A Crossroads
4. A Sound
5. An Attitude
6. An Industry
7. Rock 'n' Roll is Here to Stay

The structure accommodates the small gallery that will hold this exhibit by focusing on one iconic artifact for each segment, with other artifacts, text, and graphic elements supporting that central icon. The exhibit layout will utilize the glass cases built into the gallery to allow for the most visually exciting elements ‚ including Ike Turner's piano and Bo Diddley's guitar ‚ to be either fully seen or glimpsed from outside the gallery. Entering the space in a clockwise fashion (an unavoidable aspect of this gallery), the visitor will soon realize she can move wherever she likes and still understand the story, as each element will be vivid and make sense on its own.

The Introduction segment will be concise and graphics-driven. The rest of the segments should be equal in impact, though some will rely on artifacts as icons, and others will rely on interactives. The film included under section 6 ("An Industry ‚ Real Life Rockers") may be pulled out and given its own space, to accommodate visitors who would like to sit and watch it in its entirety.

Visually, the exhibit should evoke the excitement, unpretentiousness and innovation of early rock without falling into "Happy Days/Johnny Rockets" clichÈs. Large graphics showing artists and fans in the kinetic moment of live performance will create a feeling of motion and immediacy. The challenge for a designer is to evoke the mood of a familiar era without falling into clichÈ. The message is that rock 'n' roll means something, it is not simply a clichÈ, and it remains a vital source of both musical history and today's music.


1. Teaser (Talon Case)

The location of this case, in conjunction with Root's status as a permanent gallery, make it an ideal candidate for rotating content, e.g. every 6 months, in a manner akin to our former "Spotlight" treatments. Content would necessarily be "roots," though. This helps us not only refresh our content, but to over time address the many personalities and topics necessarily left out of this small gallery.

Message
This gallery offers a view into the origins of rock 'n' roll and features notable artifacts representing that time and term.

Objective
To attract visitors to the exhibit, while also providing a valuable encounter with a key artifact to those visitors who choose to not enter the exhibit.

Topics, Artifacts, Media and Personalities
Initial proposal: "Rocket 88" collection, based around Ike Turner's Piano. Stands both as a symbol and actual artifact of the birth of rock 'n' roll.

**Ike Turner's Piano
**Saxophones played by Raymond Hill and Jackie Brenston in Turner's Kings of Rhythm
**Miscellaneous graphic and/or 78 RPM record(s)



2. Introductory Panel

Introduction to the exhibit and argument for its definitional approach. Takes almost a "science center" approach, alerting the visitor to the exhibit's focus on the "chemical" formulation of rock 'n' roll.

Message
Rock 'n' roll is not simply a generic term for amplified music made in the latter half of the twentieth century. As a sound, a style, and a lifestyle, it has specific elements, rooted in a historical moment but not bound by it.

Objective
To acquaint visitors with the nature of the exhibit's approach to understanding rock 'n' roll.

Topics, Artifacts, Media and Personalities
Graphics and text only

**Graphics of dancers rippin' it up, instilling a feeling of dynamic and uninhibited fun
**"My Daddy Rocks Me with One Steady Roll," 78 RPM record, 1922



3. A Crossroads

The intersection of several musical styles produced rock 'n' roll:
**Jump Blues/Boogie
**Gospel/Black Vocal Group
**Electrified Blues
**Hillbilly / Honky Tonk
**New Orleans R&B


Message
Rock 'n' roll arose at the nexus of a wide variety of style of music. It contains elements of all of them, though its combinations and effect are unique.

Objective
To honor the many musical roots of rock.

Topics, Artifacts, Media and Personalities
A "family tree" graphic that will visually relate how specific genres connected to create rock 'n' roll, paired with a jukebox where listeners can play select songs from this genre. If Brad can develop this as an interactive in which the images and the sounds synchronize, that's great.
Possible Interactive: roots and branches (Electric Bus). May include artifacts.


4. A Sound

Amplification, an embrace of "rawness," and an often frenetic beat distinguished rock 'n' roll from the other musical styles that informed it, although those qualities were used by certain "rocking" musicians within those other styles too.

As teen dance music and mostly drum-driven small ‚combo music, rock 'n' roll became associated with a specific, very direct, often frenetic approach to rhythm

4.1 Turn it Up
The effect of amplification

4.2 Wild Man Stomp

How rock 'n' roll musicians changed existing genres through their approach to singing and playing

4.3 Bang Your Drum
How rock 'n' roll changed the roll of the drummer in bands

4.4 Finding Rhythm Everywhere
How other instruments grew more percussive within rock 'n' roll, from Fats Domino's piano to Bo Diddley's guitar

Message
Amplification, a "raw" approach, and a strong emphasis upon the beat gave rock 'n' roll a distinctive sound that extends across specific genre influences; rock 'n' roll is based in rhythm, and its inventors changed the way popular musicians approached rhythm within their songs.

Objectives
To "tune" visitors' minds and ears to the specific rock 'n' roll sound, particularly its emphasis upon the beat

Topics, Artifacts, Media and Personalities
**Bo Diddley's Guitar and Strap
**Chuck Berry Guitar
**Carl Perkins Harmony guitar **Drum Kit (DJ Fontana? WS Holland? Dickie Harrell?)
**Paul Burlison Guitar & Amplifier
**Stand Up Bass (Marvin Pepper)
**P2000.196.150 photograph of Jerry Lee Lewis **Photo of Little Richard
**Elvis Presley "Louisiana Hayride" Microphone


Simple interactive
Contrasting pre-rock versions of three songs with their rock 'n' roll versions ("Blue Moon of Kentucky," "Mystery Train," etc.)
Self-contained: three to four sets of headphones. Akin to design used in "Songcraft."

5. An Attitude

By lending power to the voices of African-Americans, working-class whites, and young people, rock 'n' roll challenged the social structure. The music's immediacy encouraged people to question their prejudices, and promised a freedom from care, if only temporarily. It was a party music that became an expression of iconoclastic values, encapsulating a unique and liberating spirit and perspective

5.1 Teenagers in Love
The rise of the youth as a consumer, a menace, and a trendsetter; rock 'n' roll as a secret language among teens and soundtrack for their lives

5.2 Breaking the Color Line
How African-Americans were both held up as heroes and exploited at the dawn of rock 'n' roll

5.3 Just a Hick
How rock 'n' roll challenged America's class system

Message
Rock 'n' roll really did change the lives of the people who participated in it by causing them to question the status quo. It also affected social history, both on a superficial level ‚ it changed fashion and leisure trends ‚ and in deep ways, by beginning to empower youth, African-Americans, and some working-class Americans.

Objectives
To emphasize the social importance of rock 'n' roll without overstating it. To provide immediate evidence of how rock 'n' roll changed people's lives.

Topics, Artifacts, Media and Personalities
**Elvis Presley's leather jacket
**Another costume or two that are particular to the time‚ e.g. Wanda Jackson
**4 to 5 Graphics/Images of "outsize personality"/"unknowns"
**DJ personalities/lingo (photos/graphics ‚ audio???)
**Repurposed film footage from "Milestones," presented in a small "theater" or "living room" setting



6. An Industry/Product of Technology

The rise of rock 'n' roll as a phenomenon coincided with new developments in the marketing and distribution of popular music, as well as technologies of recording, broadcast, and distribution. It created a blueprint for entrepreneurs at all ends of the spectrum, from label owners to stylemakers to musicians themselves.

Section tells two stories:
How music and rock 'n' roll culture moved through the world (recorded distro)
How musicians moved through the world (live/touring)

6.1 Independent Labels
How small, often regionally-based labels opened up the record market

6.2 More than Fans
How club owners, clothing makers, instrument makers and other "peripheral" players helped define rock 'n' roll

6.3 Real Live Stars
How the icons of rock 'n' roll built their public images to fit the music

6.4 Technology
How the birth of the transistor radio, 45 rpm format and related jukebox technology, as well as tape recording, helped augment the rise of rock 'n' roll

Message
The establishment of rock 'n' roll as a beat, sound, and attitude cannot be separated from new developments in the music business and technology.

Objectives
To give visitors a basic sense of the economic story behind rock 'n' roll, and the technological innovations that helped shape its sound and distribution

Topics, Artifacts, Media and Personalities
**Independent Labels kiosk from current "Good Rockin' Tonight" exhibition
**RCA 45 turntable, and assorted singles
**Radios currently in Milestones display
**Record Lathe



7. Rock 'n' roll is Here to Stay

This section includes a small selection of artifacts from artists continuing the legacy of rock 'n' roll in its classic form.

Message
The legacy of rock 'n' roll as a beat, a sound, and attitude, and a business is being preserved by select musicians who seek to continually revitalize this particular approach to popular music.

Objective
To show that rock 'n' roll exists on a continuum, and is not simply about nostalgia, though its originary moment is past.

Topics, Artifacts, Media and Personalities
"Wall" of records by contemporary artists that evoke the rock 'n' roll era





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