Beatles exhibit aims to make ‘Get Back’ a museum experience
That’s exactly why Anabel Martinez, 37, smiled as she sat in a dark, circular-shaped gallery at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on a recent Sunday morning.
She came to Cleveland for a business trip and paid $35 for a general admission ticket to the museum without knowing about the special Beatles exhibit, “Get Back to Let It Be.” Launched in March, it is a show intended to complement the acclaimed 468-minute documentary series directed by Peter Jackson and released by Disney Plus last November.
“It was like they were playing for me,” she said after watching Paul McCartney and John Lennon exchange verses during the rooftop performance of “I’ve Got a Feeling.” “I could feel their passion and what they were feeling, and it was really, really emotional for me.”
Martinez, a huge Queen fan, even planned to create a Beatles playlist on Spotify for the trip back to Fort Wayne, Ind.
Then there was Colleen Mueller, 48, who wore a Fab Four t-shirt, a Beatles handbag slung over her left shoulder and an Apple Watch loaded with multiple images of the mop tops. Did she expect this exhibit to be a little larger than the lower level corner of the museum? Sure. Was she disappointed? Not at all.
Especially after his exchange with Bill Curto, a member of the museum staff, near the entrance to the exhibition.
Curto’s jacket pocket clinked with about two dozen Beatles collectibles. They were minted in the early 1960s by a New Jersey company for promotion, but were not distributed when the band discovered they had been made without permission. For years the parts were in a warehouse until they somehow got to Yoko Ono. She, in turn, donated them to Rock Hall around its opening in 1995 and said they could be distributed in any way the institution saw fit.
This Sunday morning, Curto looked at Mueller’s Beatles jersey.
“Is this just today’s shirt or do you really like the Beatles?” he asked him.
She professed her true love. It earned him a coin.
Martinez and Mueller are a perfect example of the challenge of doing anything The Beatles. How do you respond to both die-hards of the band, people who can break down every “White Album” demo, and newcomers who wouldn’t know the difference between John Lennon’s Rickenbacker and a Black & Decker weedkiller?
The museum seems to recognize the exhibit’s limited scope — it takes up just 2,500 of the building’s 55,000 square feet of gallery space spread over seven levels — by not charging a special fee above admission. general.
“Our goal at the start was not to make it a retrospective exhibition,” said Craig Inciardi, director of the museum. curator and director of acquisitions. “We didn’t want to dilute the story in any way.”
Inciardi understands how to bring rock into museum galleries. He and ‘Get Back’ exhibition designer Daniel Kershaw teamed up for ‘Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll,’ an exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art that drew more than 600,000 people in 2019. Hall of Fame has worked with the Beatles and the estates in the past, but this is the first time representatives from the entire band have cooperated for a single show, he said.
The 18 objects selected are believed to cover the period in 1969 when the Beatles recorded the album “Let It Be” and performed live in front of an audience for the last time on the roof of Apple Corps headquarters in London. On display are the red Ringo Starr raincoat borrowed from his then-wife, Maureen, for the rooftop show; two pages from the diaries of producer Glyn Johns; and Lennon’s Epiphone Casino guitar. Michael Schmauder, the main prep for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, created a copy of the Apple Corps front door.
The show also features photography by Ethan Russell, who photographed the cover of “Let It Be” and Who’s “Who’s Next” albums and was the Rolling Stones’ official photographer. Over the years, Russell had a strained relationship with the Beatles, which prevented him from selling the footage he took of them. But he is happy to have been included in Jackson’s film and also in the hardcover book dedicated to “Get Back”.
“I haven’t been consulted on anything, but having my name on the title of the book is almost worth the price of admission,” he said. “Peter Jackson, Ethan Russel. It’s a nice billboard.
The artifacts are special, but they’re not what dominates the show. It would be the music – and the visual explosion on the screens. The sound will sound as soon as you approach the entrance. There are three cylindrical chambers showing different sections of the “Get Back” sequence, and in these dark chambers visitors tend to congregate. Each room plays footage from a different location covered in the “Get Back” docuseries. The loops lengthen as they go, from three to five and finally 10 minutes for the final space, which presents the concert on the roof.
Having multiple tightly packed spaces wired for sound posed a challenge for designers. Johns solved some of that when he visited and browsed “Get Back” before it opened to the public.
“There wasn’t really any isolation between the individual rooms and the sound was going through more than one,” he said. “So I went to look and they had very, very tall speakers and the walls of the rooms didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling. We moved those speakers to the floor so it wouldn’t bleed as much.
Johns admits he didn’t feel a thrill when he walked past Lennon’s glasses or Starr’s battery on display in Cleveland. He’s seen them before, in context, when he was working with the band. But he’s impressed with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Tier 2 space, known as “The Garage.” There, visitors can pick up guitars or basses or sit behind drums and play along to a pre-recorded song. There is also a large room where museum employees offer to pick up instruments and play with anyone who asks.
“It’s great that a kid can go out there and play with other musicians or, on their own, try out guitars without any interference and with lots of encouragement,” Johns said. “Obviously the release of the film has introduced and revived a lot of people’s interest in the band and that’s wonderful, but this area is the best thing they’ve ever done.”
The Beatles: Return to Let It Be at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland until March 2023. rockhall.com.