This year I took my family to visit the Museum of Rock and Roll Marginalia in the small New York town where it has been located since its founding in 1990. They had been clamoring to go, and at last, forgoing a more expensive and better-planned vacation, I gave them their wish. A posh hotel until the end of the jazz age in the fifties, then a gated community for retired horn players from disbanded units like the Bill Bromley Band and former second-tier comedians like Tony Bacon and Zip Downy, the museum is now a crumbling three-story building scheduled for demolition.
The first floor commands the most attention. Until the mid-eighties an impoverished Ramone and his girlfriend lived there, also a Raider from Paul Revere’s defunct outfit, a Pharaoh from Sam the Sham’s sixties-era group, one of the McCoys, a Bangle and her bipolar boyfriend, and an English Trogg on an expired visa. They are gone now, deceased or moved on, their former rooms and suites and the old dance floor turned into exhibit sites containing some of the signs of their musical success.
On display in several refit corners are a fraying Beatles-esque wig and a pair of cracked drum sticks from the Ramone, some badly scuffed riding boots from the Raider, an unraveling keffiyeh and a dented headdress from the Pharaoh, a glittery change purse missing many spangles and an empty pill vial from the Bangle, and an old Danelectro guitar reportedly used on “Wild Thing” abandoned in the US by the Englishman. Also on the first floor is the souvenir shop, which is to be avoided like norovirus. All the same, I bought the two boys small plastic replicas of a Venture’s guitar and Go-Gos’ wigs for the two girls. The museum’s only working restroom is also on the first floor, so take advantage.
On the second floor, to which one ascends by a narrow wooden staircase since there is no elevator, the musical wattage is already grown dimmer, the connection to stardom more distant, and the mementos of lesser-knowns command the space. Here on a small dresser against a peeling rear wall is an Electric Prune’s electric razor, a plastic comb that once straightened the tresses of Terry Knight (of the Pack), one of the New York Dolls’ mascara mirrors, a shaving kit once belonging to a Playboy from Gary Lewis’ band, and, on the floor beside a scarred dresser, a pair of paisley moccasins that once shod a Lemon Piper. A nearby closet, marked by wall-mounted portraits of Gladys Knight and Smokey Robinson, holds one of the Pips’ tuxedos, a terrycloth robe that once adorned a Miracle, a cape that formerly swirled around a Fabulous Flame, and, from a different musical genre entirely, a fringed calfskin jacket that used to enfold a Blues Magoo. On the floor beside a bathroom entrance with its Out of Order sign rest a pair of shoe trees that also belonged to a Fabulous Flame — a different one. The tux and the shoe trees are pretty cool, I admit. Those are the highlights, I’m afraid.
In the rearmost room, under a makeshift banner that reads Where The Action Is, are several tables laden with such items as the shaving kit and toothbrush of Billy Joe Royal, a Mindbender’s sequined headband, the pointy boots of an Amboy Duke (which happened to be my size, of all things), and the spread miniskirt of one of the Jeff Kutash Dancers circa 1967. Near the stairwell, the Leslie Gore Room, said to be arranged the way the diva liked her hotel suites to be arranged when she was on the road, is kind of boss. We’d never seen so many pink pillows, and none so grimy as these.
On the third floor, to which the only path is again a narrow wooden stairwell, the pickings are of such diminished contact with greatness that the stardust is microscopic. Here, beneath another handmade banner that says Let’s Have a Hullabaloo, arranged on two long tables beneath flickering florescent lights and covered by flimsy plastic tablecloths, are such keepsakes as a strand of love beads donated by a friend of a Commodore, an aged and discolored tambourine donated by Connie Francis’s studio percussionist, a cupcake pan that once hung in the pantry of Bobbie Gentry’s personal chef, a bolo that once adorned the neck of one of the Shangri-las’ kid brothers, and a pair of oily gloves left in the lobby by Muddy Waters’ driver’s car mechanic nephew. As one examines them, the artifacts grow more and more recherché, their identification signs progressively more remote from rock music. A nondescript bit of porcelain is marked with the tag: “A waterproof tile on loan from the Cowsills’ beach architect’s pool designer.” The high point, or the low point if you want to look at it that way, is a mounted notice affixed to an otherwise bare wall that says “On this spot in July, 1966, after performing in the first floor ballroom, the Shantays jammed with the Marketts and the Stingers while B. Bumble looked on.” There is no memento of the grand jam, not a Champ Amp or a reverb unit or a single bee’s sting.
After reading that, the family and I could only retrace our steps and descend slowly back to the first floor, following the crudely drawn exit signs, for a second glance at the ballroom, or what was left of it. B. Bumble was here!