Monday, October 10, 2005
This is my first visit to this place. I had the whole day today to kill, since I don't go to work until about 10:pm tonite, so I caught the train from near my hotel into the city this morning and spent a few hours walking around. This is something of a routine for me in a new place, to walk the streets and try to get a handle on a new setting. On a gut level, do I get a positive vibe out of the place? Could I see myself living here? I usually have no map or guide, so I just walk and look and react. This is one of my favorite ways to spend a day.
My hotel seems to be separated from the downtown, to judge from the train ride, by about 10 miles of industrial grunge (I guess this stuff always surrounds railroad tracks). The train runs above ground, but on a protected right of way with freight trains running alongside. Still, due to construction or something we ambled along at oxcart pace, and at least one very irritated passenger got fed up and left the train in a huff. The train itself appeared quite tired, and was not terribly busy at 9:30 am. We all had to make our way up front when we boarded to pay our fare into a farebox like I used to have on my bus in Minneapolis a decade ago. This is odd, since most train systems I've seen let you buy a ticket in the station where you board. This seems a concession to economy, but it taxes the lone train operator to ensure that everybody pays their fare. Still, kudos for having the trains in the first place. I admit to my long-held belief that a city without passenger trains is not really a city.
The terminal downtown, at the base of a couple high rises called "Tower City," was nicer and more modern than anything we saw on the ride in, and the station opens up into a shopping & eating complex along the lines of New York's Penn Station (though obviously a good deal smaller). This seemed a very nice hub for commuters as they come and go.
My destination as I walked around was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The portion of the city I walked thru to and from the museum had no residences that I saw, and seemed deadly quiet, like any Wisconsin town when the Packers are playing (think Andromeda Strain). Kansas City seems exactly like this, and the quietude and inactivity results in kind of a pall hanging over everything, as though the buildings and wide streets are artifacts of a vitality now long gone. I passed no restaurants once I left the train terminal, which corresponds to there not being many residents, at least in this part of downtown (but what of the workers?). It's too bad, since the city is on Lake Erie. The waterfront that I saw had an industrial feeling about it, harking back to the ways of commerce from 100 years ago, but these settings have been very successfully translated into hip, urban residential areas in other cities; this seemed like an ideal place to do this. I saw little enough of the place, so perhaps this is underway already in other parts.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was quite cool. It sits on right on Lake Erie, next to the Great Lakes Science Center and Browns Stadium. The huge, glass pyramid was designed by I.M. Pei and instantly reminds one of his similar pyramid in the Louvre. But for the new-ish Science Center next door the modernity would seem out of place amid the warehouses and wharves. But that's its ingenious charm in Paris, and it has a similarly jarring-yet-endearing effect here.
I'm not a rock and roll fanatic in general. Though music is my primary passion, there are many branches on the tree of music which do not speak to me (or with which I am unfamiliar), and the rock and roll stuff that I really care about represents so small a portion of the history of popular music that I was not strongly motivated to see the hall of fame. Often, when I am flipping radio stations in the car (frantic to avoid advertising) I become depressed at how little new and vital there seems to be in music, and how futile it seems for each generation--each high school class, practically--to have "their OWN voice" under the broader heading of rock music. (I guess it's all more vital, or at least more current, than the guys I listen to, some of whom have been feeding worms now for centuries.)
But to see the timeline of this music reduced to its key milestones, and to see a broad overview of the cultural changes we've lived thru in the past 40-50 years, gives a shape and a more coherent directional arrow to this. The chicken-and-egg symbiosis between the rapidly-evolving culture and the rapidly-evolving musical genre is fascinating to think on, and the museum does a fantastic job of giving a context to all these happenings. The films of rock's earliest days, of Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, of Elvis Pressley and the Beatles, of The Stones and The Who, of Motown in the '50s and '60s and of San Francisco in the '60s and '70s: these things take the tepid commercialism of current radio acts and, like wearing a pair of 3-D glasses, show the current music to be the thin edge of a blade which has cut a deep scar thru world culture.
I guess I gotta take their word on rap, tho.