CLEVELAND - On the banks of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is taking shape.
Ten years in the making - many of them plagued by false starts and fallow fund-raising efforts - the mass of steel and concrete has begun to resemble the sleek, angular, 150,000-square-foot structure first envisioned by architect I.M. Pei in 1987.
The $84-million project must be ready for an announced Sept. 1 opening, a Labor Day weekend of star-studded festivities that will include a day-long concert at nearby Municipal Stadium.
By that time, the hall will be filled with dozens of interactive displays and exhibits of priceless rock 'n' roll memorabilia: guitars played by Chuck Berry, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and the Who's Pete Townshend; glittery stage costumes worn by the Temptations and George Clinton; posters advertising concerts by Jefferson Airplane and Ike & Tina Turner; and studio equipment that captured the early efforts of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash.
Thousands of memories
In all, about 4,000 items are being considered for display. During construction, some are being stored in warehouses around Cleveland while others are being held by their donors until the building is ready.
Meanwhile, the floors of chief curator Jim Henke's office are covered with designs and blueprints for the final exhibits.
Once they're assembled and arranged, the hall's organizers hope they'll tell the story of rock 'n' roll from its roots in country, blues, R&B and jazz to the latest forms of hip-hop and nouveau punk.
"I've pretty much approached this as an editor - `What is the story we have to tell, and how do we tell it?' " explains Henke, a Cleveland native and former music editor of Rolling Stone magazine.
"It's meant more to be a museum about rock 'n' roll, not just about the people who have been inducted into the hall of fame. We'll go as far into the present as we can take it and as far back into the roots of the music as possible. There are a lot of people who aren't (inducted) in the hall of fame who will still be represented."
Since January 1994, it's been Henke's job to make sure the hall will be filled; he's the Indiana Jones of rock 'n' roll, traversing the planet to find rare and valuable artifacts.
It was a daunting task. When Henke came on the job, the collection was thin. "There were maybe 10 really usable pieces," he remembers, including Buddy Holly's high school diploma and some Hendrix and Who material. "It certainly was not enough to open a museum with."
More important, Henke encountered severe skepticism toward the hall. Though progress was promised at the annual induction ceremony each January, "we'd leave, and then nothing would happen in the next year," notes Henke, 41.
So besides building a collection, Henke's mission became one of public relations, traveling around North America and Europe to build goodwill for the museum. He's still haunted by the comment of Bill Curbishley, manager of the Who (and now Jimmy Page and Robert Plant), who asked, "Is this thing really going to happen?"
"I thought, `If this guy doesn't believe it, we're in trouble,' " Henke says.
The tide turned once construction began in June 1993. Henke and other hall officials were able to take performers and their managers through the building, showing them their plans and soliciting suggestions.
Most of the reaction has been positive - with the occasional curmudgeon such as Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, who turned down an invitation to visit.
"We were nominated for induction a couple of years ago, and they turned us down," Gilmour says. "They asked us . . . and I got grumpy and said, `No, I'm not going to go. They just turned me down for induction.' "
A volunteer spirit
Henke's charge then switched to solicitation, and almost every item became an adventure in its own right. The hall decided early on not to pay for any items, so Henke and his staff of mostly part-time and volunteer helpers tried to sell potential donors on the spirit of the venture.
According to Henke, some donations came easily and others required a harder sell. And some that started easy required a bit of patience.
Such was the case with Chuck Berry, whom Henke met with at the 1994 induction ceremony in New York, when Berry inducted Willie Dixon. Berry told Henke to "go through my autobiography and see what you want," but it was 15 months before Berry's materials arrived in Cleveland - a stellar selection that includes one of his guitars, the original lyric manuscripts to the songs "Carol" and "School Days," 1950s concert posters and some stage costumes.
One of the hall's finest moments was an agreement with Elvis Presley's Graceland estate to share memorabilia from its collection in Memphis - the result of a long, diligent campaign.
Hall director Dennis Barrie - a former Midwest director of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art in Detroit, and former director of the Cincinnati art museum who beat an obscenity rap for showing Robert Mapplethorpe photos - invited Graceland CEO Jack Sowden to attend the '94 induction ceremony.
Sowden was frank. He thought a rock 'n' roll hall of fame might be competition for Graceland. But hall officials pursued him, making frequent trips to Memphis to sell the Graceland folks on the importance of representing Presley - who was inducted as part of the hall's first class in 1986.
On March 21, Graceland agreed to loan the hall several items from Presley's 1968 TV special, including the black leather suit he wore.
"It was a matter of them being won over and feeling Elvis had to be a part of this - and also that we're not in competition but all working on the same thing, which is honoring and remembering the music and the people who made it," Henke says.
The Memphis trips also yielded another jewel: a long-term loan deal with Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, for the original recording equipment from Sun's studios - where Presley, Lewis, Orbison, Johnny Cash and others got their starts.
"Sam was very protective over his stuff," Henke says. "It has not even been on exhibit in Sun Studios over there. It's all been in storage in Memphis and a couple of other locations."
Henke struck up another valuable relationship with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which during the late '70s had a display of clothing from the Beatles, Elton John, Led Zeppelin and other rock giants. The museum is lending the hall some of the costumes, which are now kept in a London warehouse.
And the Hard Rock Cafe, which has been a regular high-bidder for rock memorabilia, is also supportive, lending the hall items such as Bo Diddley's first, box-shaped guitar.
Henke says the loan deals fit well with the overall concept for the hall.
"We look at most of the exhibits as being temporary in one way or another," he explains. "Certain people, whether it's Elvis or the Beatles or whoever, ought to always have a presence in the museum. But we see the exhibits as changing over time.
Ultimately, Henke says, about 80 percent of the Hall's collection has come from the performers and their families.
U2 drummer Larry Mullen, for instance, owns a second house in Dublin where he stashes U2 memorabilia. He gave the hall some early T-shirts he made for the band and the guitar that was used to compose the group's first hit, "I Will Follow."
Former Talking Heads members Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth had a stash of material not only from their band but also from the New York punk scene of the mid- and late-'70s. And Margaret Everly searched her closets, finding everything from early song manuscripts to the tap dance shoes the Everly Brothers wore when they were children.
Henke says other relationships are still being sown. Former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman is being pursued for his wealth of band items, and singer Mick Jagger has given the hall several of his stage costumes.
"By and large," Henke says, "people are pretty happy about wanting to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As it turns out, most of the artists are still holding on to a lot of things. Most of them are pretty happy to have their stuff here . . . and we're happy to have it."
RELICS THAT WILL ROCK IN THE HALL OF FAME ----------------------------------------------------- Here are some of the items planned for display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum:
-- Carl Perkins' 1956 Gibson Switchmaster guitar.
-- Roy Orbison's sunglasses.
-- A selection of Mick Jagger stage outfits.
-- Jim Morrison's Cub Scout uniform.
-- Grace Slick's leather vest worn at Woodstock.
-- Tina Turner's dress from the "Tommy" film.
-- Jimi Hendrix's handwritten lyrics for "Purple Haze."
-- Roger McGuinn's 12-string Rickenbacker guitar.
-- Howlin' Wolf's guitar and money case.
-- Run-DMC's Adidas shoes, hats and glasses.
-- George Clinton's "Dr. Funkenstein" fur coat.
-- The Everly Brothers' childhood tap shoes.
-- Elmore James' National steel guitar.
-- Grandmaster Flash's signature Kangol cap.
-- Claymation dolls used for Alice in Chains' "I Stay Away."
-- T-Bone Walker's Gibson electric guitar.
-- Curtis Mayfield's Fender Telecaster guitar.
-- An African outfit worn by Queen Latifah.