The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland is a lot of things – a collection of music memorabilia; a monument to the power of songwriters, performers, and record label executives; a pile of history that exits through the gift shop.
During my recent visit there with Shawn and his mom and uncle, I saw many objects, like Michael Jackson’s Thriller jacket; Bob Marley’s hat; Ray Charles’ sunglasses; Gregg Allman’s B-3; Joe Strummer’s Tele; Roger Daltry’s microphone; stunning photos of Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder taken by Bruce Talamon – you get the idea.
My favorite things, though, were the tiny windows into the worlds of the songwriters as living, breathing, creative humans moving across the Earth’s surface in pursuit of what is true – lyrics handwritten into college ruled notebooks or onto hotel stationary – the looping and scribbled cursive of Kurt Cobain, Billy Joel, Randy Newman, and many others. One that deeply moved me was this foreshadowing of Joni’s ‘My Old Man’.
Seeing this 50+ year old piece of paper sure got my mind moving:
I pictured a 20-something Joni at the Palace Hotel in Copenhagen, guitar in her lap, pen and hotel stationary on the bed or desk beside her, one lamp on, digging in the post-performance Danish air for the gem that would become one of the most beloved songs on what is arguably her most beloved album.
And she ultimately took out if I’ll come for the recording session, but it persists here, not scratched out. Was she in doubt about Graham Nash, and herself, from the very start of their relationship?
And I wanna know more about what happened that time in London, and about those rock n roll children on that rock n roll Sunday.
And was it in that room where she first sang one of my favorite lyrics of all time? We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall keepin’ us tight and true.
And look at how the paper was folded, but not neatly – maybe she was checking out of the Palace and in a rush, and the idea was hastily stuffed into her purse or guitar case.
I’ll keep pondering, I’m sure, and I’ll keep digging in the air around me for more questions and answers and hypotheses.