For Father’s Day, I spent a weekend in Cleveland with my son and had a really great time. We visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Basically, the entire museum is a giant admission that without the creativity and genius of black people, rock and roll and virtually every other form of American music would never have come into existence.
Well, perhaps that’s not the case with country music. But let’s get something out in the open here. If Blues music captures the soul, then country music captures what happens when the soul gets lost. There’s an old joke, “Do you know what happens when you play a country music song backward? You get your wife back, you get your house back, you get your dog back…”
Certainly country music is a uniquely American genre as well those invented and popularized by black musicians. Those would be jazz, rhythm and blues, and yes, even rock. Perhaps especially rock.
The Beatles were just one band that tapped into all three of these sources to write their own music. The Rolling Stones came to America to record at Chess Records, a primarily black record label based on the southwest side of Chicago’s Loop. I’ve been to that building and it makes you realize how much the likes of Chuck Berry brought life to the music of the world.
A mess of roots
So it was interesting to tour the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and see all these rock roots funneled into a series of roughly categorized exhibits. But it wasn’t until we reached the 5th and 6th floor that some of rock music’s most important aspects were celebrated. These were the floors where rock’s political commentary was documented. One video illustrated the many ways that rock music has been used, and misused, as anthems for political purposes.
And so much stupidity was chronicled. For example, when the Ronald Reagan campaign chose “Born In the USA” as a political rally song, apparently no one in that campaign stopped to examine the fact that the lyrics were an absolute indictment of the My Country Right or Wrong philosophy of the neo-conservative movement.
Springsteen sent a cease and desist order forcing Reagan to stop using the song. The same thing happened with John McCain and a long line of politicians that have been told to stop using the work of rock artists to promote their causes. In almost every case, the lyrics contradicted the public platform of the politicians seeking to use the songs for their campaigns.
It does illustrate how easy it is to create a bandwagon and ask people to jump on board, and for the shallowest of reasons. Of course it is still happening to this day.
Still, the Rock Hall did offer some wonderful moments. Getting to see the faux military band outfit John Lennon wore on the cover of the Sgt. Pepper album was fascinating. So were the many examples of song lyrics as written on everything from legal pads to napkins by so many artists. In some cases I knew those lyrics by heart. Words from Jackson Browne that had affected my life in some way. So to see them at their source was a fascinating thing. And I sang them quietly to myself. I’ve been on some of those rock and roll bandwagons a long, long time.
The other world in which rock music is used to recruit people to the bandwagon is sports. The opening sequence of an Alan Parsons Project song was used for years to psyche up the crowd at Chicago Bulls games. Music has a lot of power to incite the human spirit.
And thus it was interesting to be in Cleveland during the runup to the NBA Finals game held last night. One could almost feel the music of human emotion building before the game. There were signs everywhere rooting for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and my son purchased a pretty chill Cavs cap to wear to a party he was attending on Sunday.
The fact that the Cavs won after being down 3-1 was a marvelous sports story, and very inspiring. After my long-time reticence to root for LeBron James because he seemed like such an egotist, I’d recently changed my opinion through his humorous acting performance in the movie Trainwreck, starring Amy Schumer.
His acting humanized LeBron in a good way. So seeing the man bent over the court crying after the Cav’s triumph last night, and realizing the hopes of an entire city sat on his shoulders after all these years? Well, that was pretty moving.
Sucking up to Cleveland
The day before our trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I parked my Subaru in Lorain, Ohio next to Lake Erie. I needed swim goggles since I’d left them home in Illinois, and decided to pedal 10 miles west to Vermilion to a shop called Bicycle Bills. I’d picked up a tourism brochure about Vermilion at an Ohio Turnpike rest stop and the shop was listed, so it sounded like a good place to visit.
The wind was at my back the whole way out, but the scenery along Lake Erie between Lorain and Vermilion was not as nice as I had hoped. The map showed the “lake road” better known as Highway 6 tooling along Lake Erie. But mostly what I saw was Rust Belt ruins and railroad tracks. The shore of Lake Erie is getting a makeover here and there, but the job is not yet complete.
In Vermilion there was a town festival taking place. So I pedaled slowly down the closed streets, navigating between dogs and wayward toddlers, until I arrived at a main stage where music by the band Steely Dan played quietly over the loudspeakers. People were milling about like they do at town festivals, waiting for some kind of entertainment.
It turned out that a pageant to name the town’s new beauty queen was about to take place. So I stopped to take a selfie with the outgoing “queen.” She was more the age of a princess. But you don’t always get to choose the royalty with whom you associate.
Then I found Bicycle Bills and purchased their last remaining set of Tyr swim goggles. Then I spent a few minutes chatting with Bill, soaking in the friendly vibe of a place that is like so many good bike shops across America. Bill and I commiserated about the tragedy of the Michigan cyclists recently killed, and he counseled me to “ride careful.”
Wings and things
That is always good advice. And three miles up the road that advice came to full light. For some reason, a guy driving a classic Chevy with big wings on the back of his vehicle did not know how to get around a cyclist riding legally on the edge of the road. He swung in fromt of me with his oversized fenders and nearly clipped my front wheel. I could see him looking into the rear view mirror. Was he scared that he almost hit me or checking to see if he’d sufficiently given me a scare? One can’t always tell.
As I pedaled back east toward Lorain into the wind, I focused on the pleasures of riding in a somewhat different place. Passing through Lorain to the east, I paused for a photo with the giant duck some organization had hired to promote an upcoming event. The duck and I exchanged kisses because I was loving the day. And why not?
Back at the beach, I threw on my wetsuit and slid into the waters of Lake Erie. After about 600 meters of swimming, it was time to get out and drive East to visit my son.
There is simply not a better way to feel part of a place than to run and ride on the streets, or swim in the water. It’s a connection those of us who run, ride and swim know and love. It made me feel a tiny part of Cleveland, and happy to jump on the bandwagon for their night of triumph. Such is America, where jumping on bandwagons is a sport all its own.