In the summer of 2008, I was hired as a contributing writer in the creation of The Rock Annex, described by Ben Sisario in The New York Times as “a smaller, quicker offshoot” of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland OH. The Annex occupied a 25,000-square foot space beneath an Old Navy store at 76 Mercer Street in Manhattan’s Soho district.
For the Annex project, I wrote the text panels introducing each thematic section: “Roots and Influences,” “Moments to Movements,” etc. I created some captions for specific exhibits or artifacts. I also researched and wrote the descriptions for “New York Rocks,” a 26-foot long scale model of Manhattan identifying the location of two dozen different historic music sites. The Annex was slickly designed and built to a high professional standard by operating partner Running Subways. There were special exhibits dedicated to The Clash (where it was nice to see an old issue of my former magazine New York Rocker on loan “from the collection of Mick Jones”) and to “John Lennon: The New York City Years.”
The Rock Annex opened in late November 2009 with considerable fanfare. I attended the gala opening party, held in a vast Soho loft where corporate sponsors proffered freebies ranging from vodka shots to makeovers, with live performances by Dave Mason and Blondie’s Chris Stein & Deborah Harry.
This was less than three months after Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, plunging the US economy into its worst crisis since the Great Depression (and far from over, at this writing). Meanwhile, a ticket to the Rock Annex cost $26.50 — at that time, more than the Museum of Modern Art. There was a gift shop, but no screening room or performance/lecture space in which to hold ancillary events. The Rock Annex closed January 3, 2010 after just over a year in operation. The artifacts were returned either to Cleveland or to private collector who had loaned them; the exhibit components, including my text panels, were sold at auction a few months later.
Before the closing, I returned to the Annex in late December 2009 with my good friends Doug Milford and Eliot Hubbard–and with permission to photograph all but the John Lennon exhibit, in order to have a visual record of my work. Doug Milford shot the photographs posted below, and I thank him for his invaluable contribution to this post.
All portraits of Jimmy Page found at Flickr.com.
My on-and-off association with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame goes back more than two decades — initially as a voter, then more significantly as managing editor (for a few years) and contributing writer (ongoing) to the program book published for the Hall’s annual induction dinner. I could write at great length about this organization’s pros and cons, ups and downs, and why (The Stooges) (The Hollies) (Jan & Dean) (the New York Dolls) (KISS) (Insert Your Favorite Band Here) still have not been inducted. For the moment, suffice to say I’ve had some memorably great times at these events. The ceremony held April 5, 2009 in Cleveland was no exception — beginning the day before when, entirely by happenstance, I met Jimmy Page at the Rock Hall itself. This post is based on the notes I took immediately following our encounter.
It was a violently wet and windy Friday afternoon on the shores of Lake Erie, and the museum was crowded — not surprising, given the week-long local buzz surrounding only the second Hall of Fame induction to be held in Cleveland in the event’s 23-year history. I was strolling alone through the exhibits when I spotted a friend, chief curator Howard Kramer, leading a guided tour for a small group.
“Andy!” he hailed me, “Great to see you — have you met Jimmy Page?” In fact, I had not.
I shook hands with the founder of Led Zeppelin, a well-preserved 65-year-old wearing his silver-gray hair in a ponytail. Unprompted, Howard gave me the Big Build-Up, effusively describing my recent work on the Rock Hall’s Soho annex. After some uncontrolled fan-boy babble noting about seeing Led Zeppelin opening for Iron Butterfly at the Fillmore East (1.31.1969) I explained to Pagey that I’d written the site descriptions for the Annex’s 26-foot-long scale model of historic “Rock and Roll Manhattan.”
“You must have Steve Paul’s The Scene on there, I’m sure,” said Jimmy, and I hastened to assure him that this legendary West 46th Street nightspot is included in the installation.
“Great club!” Pagey continued, with genuine enthusiasm. “That’s where I saw Howlin’ Wolf for the first time. He’d been to England a few times but I’d never gotten the chance to see him there. I still remember, he and [guitarist] Hubert Sumlin had had some sort of falling-out and I was a bit disappointed that Hubert wasn’t on the gig that night at The Scene.
“I was sitting there slack-jawed, watching Wolf just tear it up, when Buddy Miles came in. Some guy comes over and says to me, ‘y’know, we can get this guy’ — meaning Howlin’ Wolf — off the stage so that you and Buddy can jam.’ I couldn’t believe it — I’m sure I told him to fuck off!” I asked Jimmy if he’d ever jammed at The Scene on another occasion, but he said no, it was a place he went to hang out and listen rather than play.
“Y’know, Andy, a lot of Mafia punks used to frequent The Scene — these young guys pouring out piles of coke on their tables. Some people wouldn’t go there because of that element.”
Jimmy’s thoughts shifted to another, more short-lived Manhattan venue, the heavily Mobbed-up West Village rock club Salvation. (Salvation only lasted about a year as a live music venue but during that time, it was a favorite hangout for Jimi Hendrix. Although I can’t vouch for the accuracy of his account, author Jerry Hopkins wrote at length about Salvation’s troubled history in Chapter 13 of his 1996 biography The Jimi Hendrix Experience.)
Page: “I may have been there only once but I remember that Jimi came in, or rather was led in by some people” — and here he assumed the heavy-lidded, open-mouthed expression of a very loaded Hendrix. “He was at another table and someone came over and asked if I wanted to join him, as we’d never met before.
“But I said no, because Jimi seemed really out of it and I just didn’t want to meet him under those circumstances. Unfortunately, I never got another chance — really too bad.”
Page seemed happy to go on in this vein for a while: He engaged directly with me the whole time, never looking at his watch, checking his PDA, staring into space, or otherwise signaling that the conversaion was now over. However, photographer Ross Halfin and Jimmy’s female companion (we weren’t introduced) were ready to move on. As we shook hands once more and said goodbye, I urged him to check out the Rock Annex on his next visit to New York. A few days later, the NY Daily News reported that Jimmy Page had toured the Mercer Street museum, stopping at the gift shop to purchase five Led Zeppelin t-shirts (I guess he can afford them).