Who knew that Keith Richards, the hard-living, gravelly-voice rocker who portrayed such an ornery pirate in Pirates of the Caribbean was such a sentimental guy. Here at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s brand new Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll exhibition featuring notable guitars and instruments from the past do visitors get to hear Richards in a video wax poetically and lovingly about one of his most famous electric guitars. While sharing how he learned some of his strumming techniques from watching the Everly Brothers, he mentions that as the guitarist for the Rolling Stones, all he was trying to do is play something “strong,” that “touches somebody.” He adds a confession, that the instrument chose him, a similar sentiment echoed by three other featured musicians in the exhibit’s video collection: Jimmy Page, Tom Morello and Eddie Van Halen. The instrument “chose” them.
This tribute to rock and roll’s greatest instruments features an astounding collection of items including the beloved guitars of Chuck Berry, Elvis, Clapton and Prince’s, along with harmonicas, saxophones, drums and the futuristic “artpop” piano used by Lady Gaga on a 2014 Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Throughout the exhibit, speakers play iconic guitar-heavy songs from the late 1930’s up until 2017 with the voices of Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Muddy Waters, The Beatles and on and on. According to the museum program, this is the first time that a major museum exhibition “examines the instruments of rock and roll….one of the most important artistic movements of the twentieth century.” The “play it loud,” title pays tribute to the artists who knew that amplifying their music would command attention, and that the “sound-piercing, pounding, vibrating through audiences — would evolve into rock and roll’s signature.”
Among the other notable items in the collection are George Harrison’s “Club 40” electric guitar acquired in 1959, and the Les Paul Custom electric guitar owned by Richards, the one he decorated with paint pens. While it’s the guitar that has the most representation, other notable instruments are on display such as Ringo’s first drum set and Clarence Clemons’ saxophone. About mid-way through the exhibit, guests can sit back and enjoy live videos of Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page, Heart, Prince, Eric Clapton and more. For the rock and roll fan out there, or for those who just love music, this exhibit is not to be missed. In fact, it deserves a few visits as there is so much to absorb.
The Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll exhibit continues through October 1. There are also exhibit-related programs such a free Family Afternoon event where kids can drop in and make a hands-on stringed-instrument (May 12) and “A Conversation with Exhibition Curator” on June 7. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is located at 1000 Fifth Avenue and is open 7 days a week. Visit www.metmuseum.org for hours, and details on its permanent collections and special exhibits.
Photos by MJ Hanley-Goff