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Review: “Who Shot Rock and Roll” brings the genre to life

The Allentown Art Museum

Paul Cole, a Barefoot Bay, Florida resident, held a very unpopular opinion: he didn’t like the Beatles. Despite his apparent unappreciation for the British boys’ music, Cole found himself inadvertently immersed in the realm of pop culture history when, while visiting London in 1969, happened to be standing near the now famous Abbey Road.

Who Shot Rock and Roll, a Photographic History, 1955 to the Present at the Allentown Art Museum functions in much the same fashion as Iain McMillian, the photographer who captured Cole just behind Lennon. The photo exhibit immerses visitors within the art and the music of rock and roll history.

Crowd Surfing from 1955 to Today

The photo exhibit– housed at the Allentown Art Museum until May 13– includes over 175 images of classic artists who defined the genre including, Elvis Presley, Nirvana, Queen and Pink Floyd, to modern-day acts such as, Amy Winehouse and Eminem. During my visit, the behind the scenes photos, images from live performances, portraits, conceptual images and album artwork honestly told the story of rock and roll. Visitors, carried along for the ride, milled from picture to picture as if they were surfing the crowds of 1955, making their way to the stage of today while passing through the movements— the rebellion, the freedom of expression, and reinvention— which have become synonymous with the genre.

Who Shot Rock and Roll, organized by the Brooklyn Museum in New York and guest curator Gail Buckland, transformed my few dollars into an all-access, VIP, backstage pass to witness some of the greatest acts the music industry has ever produced. The images of live performances, including the famous image of Paul Simonon of the Clash smashing his bass— if bells have yet to ring, think London Calling— buzzed with energy. One could almost feel the rebellion and excitement embodied in the images while, when viewing the behind the scenes images, one could gauge the toll rock and roll took on some participants; a feeling best embodied in a moving portrait of Kurt Cobain, captured back stage breaking down.

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