Wednesday, July 27, 2011

5 Minutes With Meredith E. Rutledge of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Meredith E. Rutledge isn the Assistant curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and has been working for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1996.

Q1. What was the first record you owned and how did it change your life?

I always listened to the big pile of records that belonged to my older cousins, but the first record I actually bought myself was a 45 of “To Sir with Love,” with “The Boat that I Row” on the flipside, by Lulu. My mom and I went to see the film To Sir with Love at Severance Mall when I was about seven. I was already a confirmed Anglophile and was just knocked out by the whole film, but especially Lulu’s performance. There was a record store at the mall, and I insisted that we march right over there after the movie and pick up that 45 of the theme song. I played it over and over for the rest of …well, for the rest of my life, really. I still have that 45 and I still play it, usually more than once in a row. It’s hard to say how that single changed my life. A better way to put it might be that buying that single reinforced the path I was already on – admiring and emulating strong female vocalists and loving the culture of “Swinging London.” I also remember picking out immediately the wonderful bassline of the song. Even before I even knew what a bass guitar was, I always had a “thing” for distinctive basslines – think the introduction of the Temptations’ “My Girl” – and I could feel and hear that the bass part of “To Sir with Love” was exceptional. It would have meant nothing to me then, and little did I know that John Paul Jones, later of Led Zeppelin, was the power behind that bass. Does that make me a rock geek? The answer is yes, I fear. But anyway, I ended up marrying a bass player, so I guess that single really did change my life!

Lulu - To Sir With Love

Q2. When did you join the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame team?

I started working for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. I started out as a Visitor Services Representative, passing out brochures and greeting visitors, and I joined the curatorial department in 1999. The first exhibit that I worked on was John Lennon: His Life and Work. Since then I’ve been the lead curator on exhibits with subjects as diverse as Lead Belly, the connection between popular music and baseball, and our most recent featured exhibit: Women Who Rock.

Q3. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame briefly opened an annex in Mercer Street, New York. Is it likely that the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame will return to New York in the future?

Our Annex in New York City was a successful, temporary venture that allowed us to communicate the Museum’s mission to a key market. We are considering additional opportunities to reinforce the Museum’s work to preserve and celebrate the power of rock and roll.

Q4. Much is made of the connection between music and fashion. These days every fashion designer and brand is trying to grab some street credibility by aligning themselves with music. Do you think the whole music/fashion thing has just become a cheap marketing gimmick and who are the authentic rock and roll designers?

Music and fashion have always gone hand in hand. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Metropolitan Museum of Art co-curated and exhibit on just that topic, called “Rock Style” in 1999. I think the authentic rock and roll designers are those people that understand that rock and roll is about rebellion and individuality, not donning a “uniform.” I think Anna Sui has a rock and roll heart, as did the late Alexander McQueen.

Q5. Can you tell me about the 'Women Who Rock' exhibit?

Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power is pretty much dream fulfillment for me. The project has been near and dear to my heart since I joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It took awhile, and it’s been well worth the wait. More than 120 artists are represented, from Ma Rainey and Billie Holiday to Rihanna and Lady GaGa. We start the exhibit with what we are calling “The Foremothers” – Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mother Maybelle Carter. We then move through the music’s history, making stops at the birth of rock and roll with artists like Ruth Brown and Wanda Jackson; the “Girl Groups” era with artists like Lesley Gore and the Ronettes; the Sixties and Early Seventies – artists like Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell; Rockers and Disco Divas, like the Runaways and Donna Summer; Punk and Post Punk, the B-52s, Chrissie Hynde and others; Madonna and the Pop Explosion, which includes Cyndi Lauper and Janet Jackson, among others, and the Nineties and the New Millenium, with artists like Queen Latifah, Lady GaGa and Janelle Monae. It’s a fabulous exhibit and I’m so proud that we’ve finally been able to make it happen.

"All sorts of people whom I should not have to think about are now stars." -- Toni Morrison

“I feel better for having been on stage, having been told I never could. I’m starting to think, maybe what I did then is working. Oh, I didn’t waste my time. My youth wasn’t misspent!” --Poly Styrene, 1957-2011

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