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Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll

Numerous rock ‘n’ roll legends have arisen from New York City’s iconic club scene and famed recording studios. Countless city landmarks have adorned the covers of multiple albums and been called home by some of the biggest bands and names to ever grace a stage. And just as the city has influenced one of the most notable cultural movements of the 20th century, the city itself has been influenced by the genre – look no further than Central Park’s Strawberry Fields. And through October 1, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is offering the opportunity to experience rock ‘n’ roll history like never before.


The “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll” exhibition features one of the most incredible collections of rock ‘n’ roll instruments ever assembled. Just down the street from Urbana’s 800 & 985 Fifth Avenue New York apartments, you’ll be able to explore one of the most consequential artistic movements of the 20th century largely through a display of the medium that made so much of it possible: the electric guitar. Co-organized with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, nearly 130 instruments appear together to tell the story of rock music and give fans a one-of-a-kind look at legendary “axes” made great by the men and women who wielded them. Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” and Eddie Van Halen’s “Frankenstein,” two Fender Stratocasters that charted very different musical paths, sit alongside Jimmy Page’s “Number One Les Paul,” Joni Mitchell’s Ibanez archtop, and Prince’s Hohner “Telecaster.” 


While many of the instruments you’ll see are still playable (and still being played by their owners), there are some whose final sounds were those of their destruction, such as the parts of guitars once owned by Kurt Cobain or Jimi Hendrix. Though only fragments, these cracked or burned pieces of wood, sacrificed by their owners at the end of often frenetic sets, embody so much of what rock ‘n’ roll sought to do: break down societal barriers, reinvent what music means to the masses, and become a form of managed decadence for masses of people who continue to feed off its youthful exuberance and energy. 


While the electric guitar is indeed the primary symbol and most recognized mode of expression in rock ‘n’ roll, there are other instruments displayed in “Play It Loud” that have made equally significant contributions. There are the electric basses that provided their unassuming thump, always there to support the more famous guitar solos. Mammoth drum sets that delivered driving, fevered rhythms and invited movement and dance are seen next to the electronic keyboards and synthesizers — including Keith Emerson’s Moog — that offered artists nearly unlimited potential. All of these, and more, are on display to bring form to what has become the soundtrack of our lives. Complementing this collection of historic instruments is a smattering of famous stage costumes, rare programs from major moments in rock history, and posters that helped to market nearly seven decades of live music. 


Collectors of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia will no doubt be moved by “Play It Loud” — albeit with an urge to bring home some of what they’ve seen. While none of the pieces in the exhibition are slated for auction in the near future, the Central Park luxury apartments at Urbana are close to some of the best auction houses in NYC. These dealers regularly bring significant rock artifacts out for sale to the public. Earlier this year, when acclaimed Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour offered his collection of over 120 guitars for sale to benefit charity, Christie’s of New York was chosen to manage it. In 2016, Sotheby’s offered a meticulously curated catalog of famous, infamous, and often obscure rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia in “A Rock & Roll Anthology: From Folk to Fury.” A signed lyric sheet hand-penned by Bob Dylan for his song “Blowin’ in the Wind,” B.B. King’s personal address book from 1984, and even an original hand-painted awning that hung over New York’s very own landmark rock club CBGB were all featured. Events of this type happen regularly, and what’s more, the objects go on display prior to sale. So, even if you’re not in the collecting game, an auction is a spectacular way to get near to your idols.


Rock ‘n’ roll has left an indelible mark on our society, and those of us living in NYC are fortunate to have access to many of its most hallowed artifacts, curiosities, and ephemera. Whether you’re simply a fan looking to better know your favorite band or a serious collector looking to make your next acquisition, New York is unrivaled in its offerings. Come see “Play It Loud” at The Met or visit an auction house to be in the presence of some true rock ‘n’ roll legends. It all awaits, just steps from Urbana’s Central Park Apartments.