Rock ‘n’ roll life

A lifelong fan of rock ’n’ roll, Meredith Rutledge-Borger has her dream job. As associate curator for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum—a job she has held for 19 years—she collects fascinating and priceless artifacts from the biggest stars in music, past and present, and assembles exhibitions around them.

A lifelong fan of rock ’n’ roll, Meredith Rutledge-Borger has her dream job. As associate curator for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum—a job she has held for 19 years—she collects fascinating and priceless artifacts from the biggest stars in music, past and present, and assembles exhibitions around them.

“I feel really blessed. I never thought when I was coming up that there would ever be such a thing as a rock ’n’ roll curator,” Rutledge-Borger said. “That was something I did in my bedroom. I collected things, and I was an avid reader of rock magazines.”

When she was putting together the museum’s latest exhibition, which honors the Rock Hall’s Class of 2015 inductees, packing crates of artifacts would arrive at the museum like Christmas gifts. With enthusiasm, she talked about some choice inductee items:

rocknroll_drumGreen Day: “We just got a really nice collection of handwritten lyrics, instruments and clothing. We’ve got Tre Cool’s drum kit that he set alight at Woodstock ’94, and it’s kind of charred. That’s pretty fun.”

Joan Jett: “We just got her car today, which is pretty cool. It’s a 1983 black Jaguar XKE. It was her first car. She bought it before she ever had a driver’s license. She drove it off the lot with just a learner’s permit.”

Lou Reed: “We have a note from Lou to John Cale, his bandmate in the Velvet Underground, talking about the tribute album to Andy Warhol that they collaborated on.”

Ringo Starr: “We’re getting Ringo’s main Beatles drum kit, which is really, really exciting. It’s never been seen before outside of Beatles publicity photos. It’s a really precious thing to Ringo. There are a lot of restrictions on how it is to be displayed.”

Another major current exhibition at the rock hall, “Paul Simon: Words and Music,” was drawn from Simon’s vast personal archives, and enhanced with videos of exclusive interviews with Simon, who serves as tour guide.

“Paul is a very meticulous collector and archivist of his career. We thought this would be a great opportunity to showcase one of the premier songwriters of our generation. He offered us an unprecedented access into his archives and to himself,” Rutledge-Borger said.

“This was a really unique and fabulous situation. It was one-stop shopping. It was a dream. Usually things are a little more chaotic.”

Beyonce wore this jumpsuit for the 2013 Super Bowl half time show.
Beyonce wore this jumpsuit for the 2013 Super Bowl half time show.
The fashion-themed exhibition about Beyonce currently at the Rock Hall includes pieces from her 2013 Super Bowl halftime show, the 2012 Met gala, and costumes the singer wore in music videos, by Givenchy, Thierry Mugler and other designers.

“That was a situation where we worked a long time to find the right person to talk to,” Rutledge-Borger said. Finally it happened. “I got ahold of the right person who ‘got’ what we do here and communicated with Beyonce, who was on board 100 percent. We were overjoyed.”

Bruno Mars' tuxedo
Bruno Mars’ tuxedo
An infamous fashion piece displayed at the hall during its “Women Who Rock” exhibition was Lady Gaga’s raw-meat dress, which she wore to the MTV Music Awards. “The day after the awards show, the only thing on my mind was ‘Let’s see if we can get that dress,’” Rutledge-Borger recalled. After Gaga’s management agreed to send it to the museum, “we sent it to a taxidermist where it was essentially turned into jerky. Then it was painted so it had the appearance of freshness.”

Acquiring rock-star artifacts for the Rock Hall’s permanent collection can be a tricky pursuit.
“We have a very limited acquisition budget. We are not-for-profit, and we don’t have the deep pockets of Microsoft billionaires and the Hard Rock Cafes, which are financed by casino millions,” Rutledge-Borger said. “So we have to be strategic and rely on donations and angels who might have deeper pockets than us.

“We’re working really hard to build a world-class collection that relies less on loans and more on things we actually own.”

Where to buy

The Repository
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