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ROCK HALL HEAD JOEL PERESMAN ON THE RECORD

A few days after Joel Peresman oversees the induction of Def Leppard, Stevie Nicks, Roxy Music, The Cure, Janet Jackson, Radiohead and The Zombies into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 3/29, he’ll head uptown for the Rock Hall Museum’s second collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Play It Loud. The collection of important musical instruments—guitars from Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, you name it, spread out across 7,500 sq. ft.—opens on 4/8.

The museum opening fits squarely between the March induction ceremony at Barclays Center and the 4/27 broadcast of the ceremony on HBO, which caps the annual period of praise and kvetching that follows the announcement in December of the next induction class. Peresman’s job, as Chairman and President of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, is to extend that conversation about the Hall and Museum, which expects to unveil an $80 million refurbishment this year that will bring the Cleveland institution up to date physically and technologically.

“In the next year,” Peresman said in his Midtown Manhattan office, decorated with some very cool Dylan and David Bowie artifacts, “our goal is to find that partner that can help us do more programming under the Rock Hall brand. Ultimately, we want to drive people to Cleveland and this magnificent museum.”

Peresman paid us no mind as we kept stage-whispering the names Todd Rundgren and Warren Zevon, but he did politely answer our questions. 



The induction ceremony, this year at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, is your biggest fundraiser. What does that money support?
The museum and these vast educational programs that work from pre-K through college. We do world-class exhibits, and we try to tour them afterwards. We had an exhibit a couple of years ago about rock in politics called Louder Than Words that opened in Cleveland when the Republican National Convention was out there. Then it went to the Newseum in Washington, and then it was at the Clinton Museum and the Reagan Library. Those things are important to us. 

What’s next for the museum?
There’s a big capital campaign that we’ve embarked on in the last year and a half to try to raise another $75-$80 million to not only redo the museum, but update the technology. Something behind glass with a little panel [doesn’t cut it]. People need the interactivity, they want to be able to research things. We’ve already raised close to $60 million from this and a lot of that’s going to go to the redesign of the museum over the next few years. We want to upgrade our educational programs to expand them and find partnerships with Google or other companies like that that are very engaged in education. 

And exhibits for the current class of inductees are more prominent than they used to be, correct?
Last spring, we opened a brand new wing at the museum [to house] and exhibit stuff from each of the new inductees. There’s a new theater that has this film that Jonathan Demme did; it was the last film he made before he died. We created a whole standalone, a $6-$7 million project to represent each year’s class of inductees. 

What’s going on with your projects to document rock & roll history?
We have an ongoing oral history project where we’ve interviewed probably over a hundred past inductees. Really in-depth interviews. We kicked it off five or six years ago, and in one room we had Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Fats Domino. Peter Guralnick did the interview. It’s important to us to be able to have the story of rock & roll told through the people who created it. 

Since the inclusion of the fan vote and more popular artists such as Bon Jovi getting in, do you see any discernible effect in terms of attendance?
We’ve tried to track that, but I don’t know if we’ve quantified it yet. We get 600,000 visitors each year; only 12% are from the area. After KISS was inducted and when Rush made it in, you’d notice a lot more of those T-shirts around the room. We did an event with [Rush frontman] Geddy Lee in January because he has his book out about basses, and that sold out in seconds. Alex [Lifeson, the band’s drummer] was there, and they’d never seen the place before.

It’s always challenging to get the actual inductees there to see the museum. But once you get them over there, they totally get into it. It’s talking about [the museum] that helps to drive traffic. We did a thing with Metallica at the end of January—had them come over for a private tour of the museum. Now they know what we do and that just kinda helps step things up for when we asked people to [donate memorabilia]. 



In the world of the Internet and social media, the response to selections for the Hall of Fame are rather fast and furious—lots of complaining. On the flip side, how do you make social media work for you?
It’s interesting to see what the public thinks [via the fan vote], and it gives people a better connection. A goal of mine and ours is to expand that a little bit further. How can we create some other programming with a partner? Whether it’s with HBO or Apple Music or Amazon Music, can we create stories, mini-documentaries, that sort of thing about these inductees, because obviously they’re important. 

This year’s class reflects a broad range of styles and eras—The Zombies, Janet, Radiohead—that follows the induction of Bon Jovi and Nina Simone. Is that a reflection of recent changes in the voting body, or is the lobbying for certain acts getting more effective?
The nominating committee is smaller, so there’s a free-form discussion [about acts], and we have definitely brought in some younger people and more women. For all these acts from the ’80s and the ’90s. you’ve got to have people who are up on and well-versed in the history. We have about a thousand people who vote, and if people haven’t voted in a few years, we take them off the rolls. We’ve probably added a couple of hundred people in the last two or three years, just trying to get different folks who had been ignored. 

About a decade ago, it seemed like you had a dilemma of how to put contemporary pop acts in the museum alongside the Hall of Fame members and older rock & roll artifacts. How is that playing out now?
When I first started this job, the mix of people coming in was 60/40 male to female, older groups. And that’s really shifted over the last 10-12 years. More families are coming in, younger people coming in, and you’ve got to have something that they can connect to. They go to see something from Fall Out Boy that’s right along the lines of Jim Morrison’s Cub Scout outfit. You know, you have to have something that can connect so that it’s just not something for the parents. I always say it’s one of the only museums you can take your kids to where they won’t hate you.

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