On this Museum Monday, we are going to take a tour through some rock ’n roll history in Rockford, Illinois. The Burpee Museum is currently exhibiting the guitar collection of one of the greatest musicians of all time, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, with Rick’s Picks. This is not your average grouping of memorabilia. From Cheap Trick’s humble beginnings of a local band to world-wide recognition, Rick saved everything from his worldwide tours, and now this nostalgia can be viewed by everyone at the Burpee.
Nielsen, when asked what the exhibit means to him, had this to say, “It’s a lot more than just guitars. It’s my life. It’s perpetual motion, magic potions, evolutions, false conclusions, harmonic fusions, full color illusions, black and blue contusions, diffusions and delusions, late night seclusions, superstition and ambition, flights over oceans, shameless promotions, occasional demotions, sonic explosions, prepositions and compositions, traditions and transitions, collisions and decisions, expectations and exhilaration, havens and invasions, schemes, dreams and extremes, documentation and amplification, loving emotions conquering pre-conceived notions. It’s my story in guitars, music, video and all the stuff I’ve saved all these years: cracked open for all the world to see. Hope you come, hope you have fun, ‘cuz oh boy, this house’ll be rockin’.”
One of the most interesting aspects regarding the influence of Cheap Trick in Rockford is that everyone seems to have a story about the band. Rick and his family have lived here for years, a part of the city’s nomenclature. I have run into Mr. Nielsen several times on the Sunday morning Starbuck’s run before going to the grocery; he can be found having breakfast at the Stockholm Inn, a city staple, or dining at the Japanese restaurant JMK Nippon; driving past in traffic in his classic Thunderbird; there is even a special seat at the Coronado Theater tricked out in black and white checkerboard, a favorite design. The influence of Rick can be seen throughout Rockford, as he continues to give back to the community. He appears in YouTube tourism videos that parody the Wisconsin state senators who hid out in the Best Western Clock Tower Resort last year.
At Burpee, the immense exhibit had a real challenge to showcase Rick’s guitars and the accompanying memorabilia. I cannot imagine the amount of meetings required to discuss the choices. According to the website, Rick gave the keys to his colorful past and storage units to the curators and said, “Go for it! Surprise me!” Fans have declared Rick’s Picks “Better than Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Seattle’s EMP Museum.”
Rick being one of those guys that has common ground with any musician, brought along friends Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters, Slash of Guns n’ Roses, Todd Rundgren and Joe Perry of Aerosmith. Video commentary throughout the exhibit on the guitars and Rick’s influence on musicians is available on the latest iPad technology, with headphones to catch every nuance provided by Shure.
The art of this exhibit is found on the guitars. Rick has a collection of 2000+, many of his own design, some are guitars of his celebrity friends like Brian May of Queen. I particularly like the Batman guitar, but the showcase piece is Rick’s famous five neck, manufactured by Hamer in 1981. This unique instrument was so popular onstage a second one was designed with the signature checkerboard pattern. Why five necks? Rick’s desire to play multiple guitars during songs spawned the creation.
The most creative idea in the exhibit is the drawers. How else to showcase a collection of incredible miscellany that spans an entire career? Early letters from Rick’s high school, lyrics to ‘Heaven Tonight’ on scraps of paper, tickets, boarding passes, hotel keys, its all there; showcased in drawers that can be opened by the viewer bringing the exhibit to a new level, with a personal invitation to dig through his drawers from Rick himself.
I would like to thank Alan Brown, executive director of the Burpee Museum, for pointing out that Cheap Trick has yet to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; the exhibition includes a petition drive to rectify this oversight. And many thanks to Jay Graham of Graham and Spencer, who was giving a special insider tour when I visited the museum, providing many special insights and details.
I hope you have enjoyed this Museum Monday, I included lots of video clips and interview bits to click through on the photos. A new Cabinet of Curiosities will be available on Friday. If you have any comments on Rick’s Picks, please use the space below. I hope you as much fun with this as I did!