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Rock’n Roll on Museum Monday with Rick’s Picks

ELO Kiddies!

I am updating this post in order to share the news that Cheap Trick will be inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame during the 2016 ceremonies.  In honor of this long awaited accomplishment, enjoy a museum experience like no other, with Rick’s Picks, my first #ThrowbackThursday.


Hall of Fame logo

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.

Timeline of Rick Nielsen’s life

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; this oversight is no longer the case, as the band will be a part of the 2016 Inductees ceremony, announced 12/17/15 .  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.  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!

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Scipione Borghese – Puppetmaster of Caravaggio


Caravaggio, Ottavio Leoni, 1621

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) created a world of darkness and light through his paintings.  What may appear as just another expression of art to the casual viewer is in actuality a true reproduction of his world.  I have returned to the well of Caravaggio for another story from the artist’s short life, the influence of his patron, Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1577-1633).  Drawing from Andrew Graham-Dixon’s book, Caravaggio, A Life Sacred and Profane, and M, the Man who became Caravaggio by Peter Robb, a portrait of sorts has appeared, detailing the obsession of the Cardinal and his ruthless collecting of the artist’s works.  No accidents of fate can be attributed to their relationship, only a hot- headed painter and one of the many who manipulated him to their own rewards.

Scipione Borghese, Ottavio Leoni

Scipione Borghese, Ottavio Leoni, 1610

Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Pope John V, is someone fit to be called the Cardinal Nephew, willing to bend all opportunities to his desired machinations in the name of the papacy.  Scipione built three major private estates: Palazzo Pallavcini Rospigliosi, the Villa Borghese and Palazzo Borghese.  The Villa Borghese art collection is a testimony of Scipione’s drive to establish the Borghese legacy with other ancient Roman families such as Colonna and Orsini.  Tireless and ruthless in his quest for art, the Cardinal considered extortion and outright theft to be tools of acquisition to complete his gallery.

The meeting of these men occurred in the Antechamber of Quirinale Palace, where Borghese was the papal representative of judicial administration.  Caravaggio was caught up in the net of his own violent arrogance, having assaulted the notary Mariano Pasqualone, who brought charges against him.  A settlement was the required agreement, and for this consideration, Caravaggio showed his gratitude to the Cardinal with a gift, Saint Jerome Writing.  The deal was private enough that no record of a commission or payment survives, but the painting does appear in the possession of Scipione Borghese following this interesting event.

Saint Jerome Writing

Saint Jerome Writing, 1605

Camillo Borghese, Pope Paul V,

Camillo Borghese, Pope Paul V, 1552-1621, Caravaggio, 1605-6

Soon after, Caravaggio found himself the latest flavor in the Roman carnival of fame.  Commissions came his way from several sources, including a portrait of Pope John V, and a commission for the Basilica of Saint Peter; The Madonna and Child with St. Anne, 1605-06; for the altar of the Archconfraternity of the Papal Grooms.  The dream of his fellow artists to be enshrined in this cathedral with the greatest names of the day was within his grasp, for two days.

Madonna of the Grooms, Caravaggio

Madonna of the Grooms, 1605-6

“In this painting there are but vulgarity, sacrilege, impiousness and disgust… One would say it is a work made by a painter that can paint well, but of a dark spirit, and who has been for a lot of time far from God, from His adoration and from any good thought…” note from a Cardinal’s secretary of the time.

This was not the first of Caravaggio’s paintings considered unacceptable, but it was rejected by the College of Cardinals, from Saint Peter’s.  Displayed from April 14 thru April 16, the painting was removed and purchased at a remarkably reduced price by Scipione Borghese.  Recent archival research has revealed that the Cardinal was involved in obtaining the painting at a very early stage of the commission.  Borghese was stepping up his collection of the temperamental artist, by fair means or foul.

Death of the Virgin

Death of the Virgin, 1606

The Death of the Virgin, commissioned by Laerzio Alberti for his chapel in the Carmelite Chuch of Santa Maria della Scala, was ultimately rejected by the Carmelites.  The public reason is the portrayal of the Holy Mother is considered too secular, showing her bare legs.  Accused by his contemporaries of using a local prostitute in the portrayal of Mary, sacrilege for the time, the church deemed it unacceptable, giving another wound to Caravaggio’s pride.  The painting was immediately purchased by the Duke of Mantua, on the recommendation of Peter Paul Ruebens, who called it Caravaggio’s “best work.”

The next masterpieces came to the Borghese collection in 1607, through the settlement of a tax bill.   Giuseppe Cesari, former teacher of Caravaggio, found himself an impediment to Cardinal Borghese’s obsession.  Cesari had a considerable stock of paintings from various apprentices, with two by Caravaggio; Borghese made an insulting offer, which Cesari had the temerity to refuse.  That mistake saw him arrested on false charges with a possible death sentence hanging over him; the payment came in the form of 107 paintings.  The Pope gave them all to Scipione including Sick Bacchus, and Boy with a Basket of Fruit, advancing the Borghese family collection further.

Boy with a Basket of Fruit, 1593

Boy with a Basket of Fruit, 1593

Sick Bacchus

Sick Bacchus, self portrait, 1593

I leave the story of Caravaggio for the moment, as he struggles between the love and hate of Rome, his ego filled with righteous indignation and praise.  The events of his life are ready to collide with the murder of Ranuccio Tommassoni and the artist’s life on the run from papal justice.  Scipione Borghese is not finished with Caravaggio, becoming a crucial figure in his final days.

Has Caravaggio influenced your view of art?  Is his story typical of the tortured artist or are his actions compounded by the puppetmasters of the time?  I would love to chat with you about this artist!

If you want to learn more about the artist Caravaggio, there are similar facets to his story posted here:

Caravaggio, before Fame and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

Detail, Boy with a Basket of Fruit, 1593

Detail, Boy with a Basket of Fruit, 1593

Picture Links

Caravaggio, by Octavio Leoni

Scipione Borghese, by Octavio Leoni

Saint Jerome Writing, by Caravaggio

Pope Paul V, by Caravaggio

Madonna of the Grooms, by Caravaggio

Death of the Virgin, by Caravaggio

Boy with a Basket of Fruit, by Caravaggio

Sick Bacchus, by Caravaggio

Research Links

Andrew Graham-Dixon, Caravaggio, A Life Sacred and Profane

Peter Robb, M, the Man who Became Caravaggio


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