Jerry Leiber, who with Mike Stoller formed one of the great songwriting teams, has died. (One obit is here: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/source-songwriter-jerry-leiber-dies-at-78-20110822.)
I talked to Leiber and Stoller back in 1995 as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum was about to open. Below is part of the story I wrote at the time.
"What do I think of the museum? I don't think much of it, and I don't think less of it," [Leiber] said. "I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it.
"It's a nice thing. The nice thing is to preserve what has happened historically, and that's what a museum does. And I think that's a good idea."
Still he wondered if it might better be called an archive, or a library. "A museum sounds, like, dead," he said, "and maybe rock 'n' roll is too much associated with what's alive. Sometimes people just pick unfortunate titles."
In terms of titles, for that matter, Leiber is not even sure what the term rock 'n' roll means anymore. ... Leiber argues that "rock 'n' roll is really a misnomer. I remember when they coined the phrase, and it was really a catch phrase used to promote something."
The phrase, at one time a euphemism for sex, was applied to "songs that are offshoots of pop writing. Then you see offshoots of things that are integrations of pop writing, country writing and some blues. It seems to me like it's a melting pot of influences. .... It confuses me, to be very frank with you, because too many things are called rock 'n' roll that were once outside the realm."
Although he's comfortable with older categories, Leiber would really prefer an elimination of any such classifications. Jazz, he noted, now includes "that junk they play on the radio that imitates water coming in."
"There are only two kinds of art anyway, good art and bad art," he said, "and music is the same way."
Does Leiber at least think Cleveland is a good place for the museum? "No," he said. "I would have put it in New York, Chicago, L.A. or Memphis. Not that Cleveland isn't a decent place. And I heard for so long that (influential disc jockey) Alan Freed's from Cleveland, but I don't know if that's a reason.
"I think the people that made the music are a lot more important than the people that sold the music."
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