I've always had a soft spot for the Cleveland mayor who, nearly 40 years ago, after a Beatles concert in his fair city ended in mayhem, banned all rock concerts from public venues. The reason? Rock music, he said, "did not contribute to the culture of the city and tended to incite riots." The words sound fantastic now, but once reflected a popular belief that rock music was a cultural and moral menace that would undermine ... well, our culture and our morals.
The fact that he was correct did little to thwart the march of history that led straight to the front door, some 30 years later, of Cleveland's own shimmering rock 'n' roll museum -- the I.M. Pei-designed, $92-million complex built to enshrine the memorabilia of a musical movement that, from the far side (i.e. losing side) of the cultural divide, is notable for having brought free love, hallucinogenic drugs and a reflexive anti-Americanism to all us masses.
Andras Simonyi, Hungary's ambassador to the United States, sees something more in rock 'n' roll -- and something more palatable to pre-modern Cleveland and the rest of Square America. Simonyi, who represents as stalwart an ally as any the United States has in "Old Europe," recently visited the rock museum to give what USA Today described as "a major address" on his conviction that rock 'n' roll was "a decisive element" in vanquishing communism. "When we were listening to the radio, we were part of the free world, if only for a few moments, whether the system we lived under liked it or not," the 51-year-old ambassador told the newspaper, recalling his youth under the communist dictatorship in Hungary that collapsed in 1989. "Rock and roll, culturally speaking, was a decisive element in loosening up communist societies and bringing them closer to a world of freedom."
It's hard to know which constituency would be more distressed by Simonyi's formulation: Square America, thinking that the culturally degrading force of rock music had aided in the West's triumph over communism, or the Rock Culture, thinking that its anti-establishment mantras had furthered the Cold War strategies of Ronald Reagan.