I remember with fondness the many trips I was taken on as a boy to the various museums in London. Mostly I left each one with an effusive wildly excited mind-set, having been thrilled by the spectacle of dinosaurs, fighter planes, or stars and planets. But one museum that always left me with a slightly hollow feeling was the Victoria and Albert War Museum. There was no shortage of uniforms, rifles, hand grenades and memorabilia on display but hidden behind the glass cases, untouchable and silent, none of it seemed to convey the sense of loss, pain, and futility that is war. It was all made into something quite prosaic and ordinary. Being a child, I was unable to grasp why the museum always left me quite so underwhelmed.
So it was with a similar emptiness that I felt a distinct lack of interactivity when I visited the Clash popup store on September 21st in Berwick Street. Together with Alex Michon we stared at the lifeless exhibits shuttered behind glass cases, feeling nether vibrancy or energy emanating from the items on display. It was all there – the shirts hung daintily on hangers, the guitars standing in their glass cases, letters, postcards, drumsticks. But given the available technology today and endless possibilities for audience engagement, the store had an almost lackadaisical feel about it – like someone had been hired who had done a thousand of these things and had thrown it together…. quite derivative and hackneyed, just
another day at the office.
Even the visitors seemed to be hushed on that afternoon while we were there, like they were in a church or a library. Nobody laughed, nobody talked to strangers. As on NYC sidewalks, eye contact seemed forbidden. It was a reverent but unfriendly atmosphere.
And it was so fucking hot! I almost passed out (or maybe that was the store’s attempt to convey the heat of the Bond’s shows….)
For both of us, we already expected that the store may have carried a personal melancholic feeling. But for the visitors, I would have expected more of a ‘Clash’ experience with spontaneity and vibrant ideas. Right off the bat, I thought, “How about a karaoke stage where anyone could have got up and did his/her best interpretation of the ‘electric leg’, the ‘Townsend highkick’, or the ‘Simmo growl.'” Using interactive technology, there’s no reason
why this couldn’t even have been fed live onto the Clash’s own website giving the store a worldwide audience. A quiz could also have been made available at the door with the highest score so far being displayed, and a special prize awarded for the day/week. Given another hour we could have come up with a dozen or more ideas.
In short, there was not a lot of fun and things felt very flat to me. Music is a rewarding subject for a museum/store, especially popular music. I was hoping the event would manage to turn the interest and enthusiasm for the band into something more profound: involvement and engagement, with visitors walking in, and dancing out. I can only hope that the NYC popup store will make more of a creative and imaginative effort for a band that deserves so much more.
As Alex so appropriately wrote in the visitor’s book…..”Our Lives In A Museum….”