Saturday, April 13, 2013

Interview with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Meredith Rutledge-Borger

If you google 'Meredith Rutledge-Borger, you will learn of the passion she has as a curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  In reading about her, here are some quotes I found that provide insight into what she is about and more about this passion she brings to her work:

"I am an old-school, vinyl LP lover. For me, a huge part of the experience of music has been holding a 12 by 12 album cover in my hands, minutely examining the artwork, the liner notes, the credits – CDs and MP3s just don’t work the same way."  Quote from Women Who Rock Exhibition Installation, Update #2, April 27, 2011

"It’s been said that fashion and style are the natural visual counterparts to creative musical expression. Rock and roll artists have had a long relationship with the world of high fashion — picture Elvis Presley’s iconic gold lamé suit designed by Nudie, then fast forward to Madonna’s equally iconic gold bustier designed by Jean Paul Gaultier.  Fashion designers like Gaultier, Thierry Mugler and  Gianni Versace have all become synonymous with the branding of rock stars like Madonna, Mick Jagger and Elton John."  Quote from Fashion Meets Rock and Roll, February 12, 2013

In a NY times article, she is quoted as saying this about the Women Who Rock exhibit (which was on display at the Rock Hall in 2011/2012)...
“Women have always been the outsiders of rock ’n’ roll...we wanted to show that women persevered and their music — and there were different kinds — became part of the fabric of the rock ’n’ roll industry...they were singers and they were songwriters, instrumentalists, producers and even record-label owners.”  Article:

You can also read about Meredith travelling to the UK to do research for a 2-Tones record exhibit (  You can also learn more from her about the Beatles 'Apple Boutique':  You may also learn that the movie 'Lady Sings the Blues' which stars Diana Ross (who portrays Billie Holiday) "may well have been introduction to being a music curator!":

Kirk at DDTTRH caught up with Meredith while she was busy working on a major exhibit for the Rolling Stones which opens May 24th.  Here is our interview with her:

Kirk, DDTTRH:  Meredith, thank you for taking the time to speak with me.  Something I thought would be great to do is to speak to someone at the 'other side' of our effort, which represents the 'RH' in our name...DDTTRH or Duran Duran to the 'Rock Hall'.  

I've been reading up on you a bit and some of the exhibits you've talked about.  How long have you been an Assistant Curator at the Rock Hall and what do you enjoy most about what you do?

Meredith:  I’ve been working for the Rock Hall since 1996. I started in the curatorial department in 1999. I really enjoy the fact that I am getting paid to follow my passion, and that I have the opportunity to share that passion with our visitors – giving them fresh insight into the music that changed the world.

Kirk, DDTTRH:  I love that you have passion for what you do.  I remember my last visit to the Rock Hall...I really enjoyed the exhibits that to me were put together with great care.  I actually learned a lot just reading and perusing through them.  One thing that interested me most was a video I was able to see about the history of Rock and the various branches that Rock created.  Further, I remember seeing the David Bowie exhibit and thinking that he is not necessarily under the definition of 'Classic Rock' (would you agree?).  Has the Rock Hall changed its views over the years about what it considers to be the classic 'vein' of Rock and Roll and how have those views affected the bands/artists it inducts?

Meredith:  Here at the Hall of Fame we try to be inclusive rather than exclusive in terms of our definition of rock and roll.  We also make an effort not to glue artists in to any one particular pigeon-hole – artists are just artists who bring their own unique skill-set to the table.  So we honor artists that are traditionally defined as rock artists, but also artists whose work predates rock and roll, work that we consider to be the roots of rock and roll. Any music that shares those roots – even if it is outside of the traditional definitions of rock and roll, is all welcome at our table. Traditionally-defined “classic” rock and roll carries no more weight here than folk music, or R&B or hip-hop. The criteria for induction as an artist (as a performer, composer, or musician) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is that the artist must have released a record, in the generally accepted sense of that phrase, at least 25 years prior to the year of induction; and have demonstrated unquestionable musical excellence. We consider factors such as an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence is the essential qualification for induction. 

Kirk, DDTTRH:  Please define what you mean by 'musical excellence'.  That can be subjective, right?  I guess it would depend on who you speak to.  Who helps decide if an artist is 'excellent'?

Meredith: Everyone personalizes everything about rock and roll.  Without metrics, the definition of "rock and roll," who is or was important, and who should be inducted is inevitably subjective. 
As a result, our Nominating and Voting Committees are replete with Inductees (in fact, they are the largest bloc of voters).The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has built our Voting Committee around the most qualified group possible:  the living Inductees, which number around 400 at this time.  
The selection of Performers is a two-step process.  It begins with a Nominating Committee consisting of a diverse panel of living inductees, journalists, educators, historians, noted musicians, industry heads, etc. Each member receives a guide noting those eligible for the first time, those who have been nominated unsuccessfully before and all other eligible artists.  Virtually every significant artist of the past 50 years has been discussed at this level.  A large majority are very qualified but have yet to get the votes to make the final ballot.  Some have even made it on the ballot numerous times, but have not received sufficient votes to be inducted. 

Those nominated are sent to a Voting Committee of about 600 people (all living inductees, educators, journalists, historians, music industry management, musicians, etc.) around the world. Again, the factors to be considered are impact, innovation and influence on this music that we broadly define as rock and roll, as well as their overall “musical excellence”  - as defined by working musicians.

Gold records, number one hits, and million sellers are not appropriate standards for evaluation.  Standards for artistic merit cannot be objective, because such standards are historically and culturally constructed.  Artistic merit can’t be measured by stats.  What is valued as good music or visual art or literature changes over time, depending on cultural conditions and who is deciding.

Those receiving the highest number of votes are inducted into the Hall. Usually, this means five to seven new performing members each year. 

Having said all this, I believe that all worthy candidates will be inducted, just not always when they or their fans deem timely.  This phenomenon is not unique to us.  The sports halls of fame have had many great stars that do not get inducted in their early years of eligibility or for many years to come.  

Kirk, DDTTRH:   Thank you Meredith for this fabulous explanation!  I think its important for fans to know about and understand so they don't take it 'personal' if their band is passed over repeatedly.  I think RUSH is a great example of this.  As part of a group trying to raise awareness for our favorite band (Duran Duran of course), I have had my 'ears to the ground' about other efforts and I know those RUSH folks have been waiting for quite some time now.  I am very happy that RUSH was able to be inducted this year.  I also have talked to Greg Method (also a native Clevelander) and he is promoting Weird Al Yankovic I know.

On that note--I noticed something new and exciting this year that led up to the induction ceremonies.  There was a poll on your website which lets people place their votes for who they think should be inducted.  Can you tell us more about that?  Do these votes really mean anything prior to the final decisions? 
I'm sure these kind of votes would not hold the kind of weight the living inductees would...I do think its rather fun though which is why I'm asking about it.

Meredith:  For the first time in its history, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame offered fans the opportunity to officially participate in the induction selection process. The public had the opportunity to vote for the five nominees most deserving of induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The top five artists, as selected by the public, comprised a “fans’ ballot” that was tallied along with the other ballots to choose the 2013 inductees,  The fans’ ballot counted as one vote – on several occasions the difference in who gets inducted is decided by one vote, so this is significant. The Hall of Fame adopted this model from the Heisman Trophy organization, which uses a similar method to allow fans the opportunity to vote on winners.

Kirk, DDTTRH:  This is exciting!  And, this is especially great for fans who actually would look forward to see their voted on act inducted into the museum.  Do you plan on doing the same thing in 2014?

Meredith:  As far as I know, we plan on keeping the fans’ ballot in place for future inductions.
Kirk, DDTTRH:  Speaking of the museum, I have heard that although Duran Duran has not been inducted yet, it has received items from the band--my guess is that most things are in storage.  Further, a friend of mine who is an archivist in Seattle has said to me that he has helped in getting items to the Rock Hall.  Is this true, and if so...what kind of things do you have from Duran Duran?

Meredith:  We have had multiple items of clothing on loan from John Taylor and Nick Rhodes, and we had a John Taylor bass.  All of the items were on extended exhibit in the Museum at various times throughout the years, and because they were loans, they were returned to the band.

Kirk, DDTTRH:  This is good to hear.  I'm sure John wanted his bass back [;.  This next question has to do with attitudes I'm sure you've come across in regards to the Rock Hall.  Many bands and artists think that the Rock Hall is too political, that its too much like a business, and that its aim is not to induct the most deserving artists, but the ones that can bring in the most ticket revenue.  Some have even knocked on your black tie dinners that are held during induction time and the extravagant ticket prices (I've heard its about $2500 per ticket).  They may see these events and ceremonies as too 'posh' and artists that have either been inducted or are eligible may look unfavorably at you.

What would you say to people like this that criticize the Rock Hall in this way?

MeredithA lot of folks don’t know that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is a not-for-profit, 501-3c educational institution. As a non-profit, all of our Museum ticket sales and the funds that come to us from the Foundation, which puts on the induction ceremony, go towards fulfilling our mission – running the Museum, putting together exhibits and award-winning educational programs that serve toddlers to seniors., both in the Museum, and around the world via our Distance Learning programs. The Induction Ceremony is essentially a benefit – a fund-raiser for the Museum, and the ticket prices to the Ceremony reflect that.
Kirk, DDTTRH:  And a related question...What is the image you strive to convey to guests as a curator at the Rock Hall?

Meredith:  In terms of the kind of image I want to project for the Museum as a curator – rock and roll is so many different things to different people, so there’s no one image to project. If there is one idea that I want to project, it is that of welcoming and inclusion. This is the music that changed the world and brought people together – I want our visitors to feel welcome and see themselves represented.  I also want to challenge visitors’ ideas of what rock and roll IS, and show them where it came from, where it’s going and how it really did change the world.

Kirk, DDTTRH:  What other types of things is the Rock Hall Foundation involved in?  Is it just overseeing the Museum and its inductees?

Meredith:  In 1983, A small group of music industry professionals led by Atlantic Records Founder and Chairman Ahmet Ertegun and including Rolling Stone magazine publisher Jann Wenner, attorney Allen Grubman, manager Jon Landau and record executives Seymour Stein, Bob Krasnow along with attorney Suzan Evans set out to establish an organization to “recognize the people who have created this music which has become the most popular music of our time.” Ertegun approached the heads of various record companies with his idea, spearheading the formation of the non-profit organization that would eventually become the Foundation. 

In 1986, the Foundation held the first annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. That same year, the Foundation selected Cleveland as the permanent home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
In September 1995, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum opened in Cleveland. In 2006, Joel Peresman, a music industry veteran and former chief of Concerts and Entertainment at Madison Square Garden, became President and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. Under Peresman’s leadership, the Foundation announced the return of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies to Cleveland in 2009 and every three years thereafter.  The Foundation also staged the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary concerts on October 29 and 30, 2009, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. These historic shows and their broadcast on HBO helped fund the first-ever endowment for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. 
In addition to these projects, the Foundation provided an $8 million gift in 2008 to the Museum’s Capital Campaign, which was used to build the Library and Archives center in downtown Cleveland and the 2010-2011 Redesign of the Museum interior. The Foundation also provides funding for Museum capital projects on an on-going basis and continues to be the largest single contributor to the Museum.
Beyond funding, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation leverages its presence in one of the world’s major cultural and philanthropic centers to provide increased exposure for the Museum mission, connections to artists and philanthropists, and other partnerships to advance the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s cultural preservation initiatives.

Kirk, DDTTRH:  This question comes from one of our fans.  They were wondering if you had seen the recent Mercury News poll regarding dream inductees to the Rock Hall...Duran Duran made it to the top 4, which is exciting!

Meredith:  How much does public opinion and polling factor into the induction process?  When it comes right down to it, all the induction voters are FANS – whether they are past inductees, journalists, academics, record company executives – fans with the same differences of opinion as other members of the public about what music has made a difference and who should be recognized. As I said in a previous email, we are sure that ALL DESERVING artists will eventually  be recognized.

Kirk, DDTTRH:   This next question comes from Suzanne, one of our fans...
"Has the Rock Hall considered renaming the museum "music Hall of Fame" since many nominees and inductees are clearly not Rock & Roll stars?"

Meredith:  As I think I may have mentioned earlier, we try to be inclusive rather than exclusive here at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We broadly define rock and roll to include the music that predates rock and roll and was important to the development of rock and roll.  We also open our doors to music that we understand as sharing the same roots as rock and roll, so that would include soul, metal, R&B, folk, hip-hop, disco, techno, roots rock, alternative…we embrace diversity and try not to pidgeonhole artists or styles. The definition of what rock and roll is shifts as this is a living artform, constantly growing.

Kirk, DDTTRH:  I had a couple of extra questions, hope you don't mind.  One is a fun one from me and the other is really a favor for a 'Friend of Mine' (Duran Duran pun intended) who also has an effort that started in Cleveland for his favorite artist, Weird Al Yankovic.  

What do you think?  Weird Al at the Rock Hall?  He certainly is a unique artist and has a depth and breadth of work that it pretty amazing...albeit satirical.  Has his name come up do you know in any discussion of inductees?

Meredith:  Since Weird Al released his first record in 1978, his name, along with everyone else who released their first recordings in 1978, has been in consideration as a nominee since 2005. As I’ve said before, we believe that every deserving artist will be recognized eventually. 

Kirk, DDTTRH:  So, lets imagine Duran Duran does get inducted one day to the Rock Hall (which I know would make a lot of people in my group happy).  As a curator that helps in building displays, what artist or band would you put them beside?  What kinds of things would you show about them to highlight their musical contributions?

Meredith:  When Duran Duran artifacts were on display here in the past, we exhibited them along with other artists of the 1980s.  While I do ant to emphasize that we try not to cram artists into a pigeonhole here, we do like to  give visitors a sense of the chronology of the music.

Kirk, DDTTRH:  This was certainly an enlightening interview.  Thank you SO MUCH for sharing with us your time.  Its so refreshing to know that the Rock Hall and the foundation is out and about 'doing good' for Cleveland and the world in its great mission of preserving music history and our rich music culture.
To learn more about Meredith Rutledge-Borger and her work at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, please visit the Rock Hall's website:

To learn more about Duran Duran to the Rock Hall and its mission to raise awareness of Duran Duran and its impact on music history, please visit:

To learn about how Greg Method, also a fellow Clevelander, who is trying to 'Make the Rock Hall Weird', please visit: