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Anyone who may have been there on the last night of business of a Tempe venue will tell you it's a lot like the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Nita's Hideaway, Long Wong's, 6 East, Hollywood Alley — none of these beloved nightspots went down without a fight. In some cases, the looting started long before last call, with devotees trying to walk out with stools, signage, even large hunks of the bar. I'd like to think someone somewhere saved a large hunk of Long Wong's graffiti'd bathroom wall or even an unsanitary square inch of 6 East, although you might have to get a Board of Health dispensation to display it somewhere. These would be artifacts I'm sure many nostalgic Tempe music fans would pay to see on display.
And Tempe History Museum is trying to do that, if literally all the pieces fall together.
The renovated museum has been producing exhibits and programs all about Tempe's past, present, and future for many years. Currently, it has an exhibit up called "Made in Tempe" that showcases things manufactured within the city limits, although it is not known whether toxic Tempe Town Lake is one of them.
A new exhibit is set to open in November to be called "the Tempe Sound" and its curator, Josh Roffler, is hoping to borrow from fans whatever cherished Tempe music memorabilia they are willing to part with for a few months.
"We at the Tempe History Museum have long recognized the importance of local music, and have talked about doing a music exhibit for a number of years," says Roffler. "In 2010, we remodeled our museum dramatically, and one of the things we added was a performance space. Ever since, we have been hosting free local music performances on a regular basis. We have thus become more involved in the local music scene over the past few years, and so it feels right to start working on a music exhibit."
Thus far, some of the aforementioned brick-and-mortar memorabilia has been slow in coming, "These music venues really meant a lot to people, and some people did save pieces of them," says Roffler. "I have talked to a guy who still has an adobe brick from the Sun Club that he keeps in his garage. Someone else told me about a brick from Long Wong's that they have. Someone brought in a sign and a menu from Hollywood Alley. Anybody who has local music artifacts like this can contact me, and we can see about including them in the exhibit."
Admittedly, a singular brick isn't going to send shivers of nostalgia up anyone's spine, but Roffler has already collected some iconic fare that might. "Someone brought in an old wooden crate that apparently was used as a stool at the Sun Club," he says. "We also have a hand-painted Del Montes banner, which was the Gin Blossoms' alter ego. One of the things that I've really enjoyed seeing is the wide variety of show flyers with all kinds of great original art."
Judging by the callout for items on the Tempe History Museum's website, the focus seems to be on the '90s music boom that produced the Blossoms and The Refreshments, but Roffler hopes to go further back. Among the Holy Grail items he is gunning for is something from the Waylon Jennings era.
"Something to represent Waylon Jennings' early solo career in Tempe would be pretty amazing. We already have a copy of his first album, which was sold during his shows at the Tempe nightclub JD's, but a few additional items to represent Waylon would be great. Also, any signage from iconic Tempe music venues, or instruments played by notable Tempe artists. We do plan on displaying a couple of [original Gin Blossom] Doug Hopkins' guitars, which I think will be pretty memorable for museum visitors."
No museum installation would be complete without mannequins standing in for real people, wearing the iconic clothes of yore. For a lot of the bands of the '90s and their fans, the uniform of the day was grungewear, something no one would pay to see. But Roffler has already collected a considerable number of bygone band T-shirts from groups like Dead Hot Workshop, Meat Puppets, Gin Blossoms, Piersons, and Feedbags. "We are really interested in stage outfits. For example, Tempe metal band St. Madness is known for wearing stage costumes and makeup. I have been talking to the band about dressing a mannequin with some of their stuff."
Roffler insists that having a display of Tempe music isn't the closing the coffin lid on a bygone era that such an installation might suggest. "Creating an exhibit that pays tribute to Tempe music is not like entombing it, nor does it does mean that music in Tempe is somehow over. Tempe has lots of great local bands today, and, as a major college town, probably always will."
Here is a full list of what the museum is looking for, in case you are spring cleaning and run across any of these items:
• Photographs of musicians and venues