No Photos, Please (one for The Vault)

The cliché is true: you don’t truly appreciate something until you don’t have it.

As a photographer, I’ve always known the value of my camera equipment – both monetary and sentimental. It is, after all, how I make my living and how I’ve spent almost half my life. There have been times when I have not been allowed to use it (not everyone is a willing subject), and a couple times when I’ve just not had it with me when I wished I did. The missed opportunities never amounted to much in the way of regret – until yesterday.

During an assignment at the Hard Rock administration offices, I was offered an opportunity – nay, THEE opportunity – that anyone who has ever listened to music with any passing interest would jump at.

The assignment was a simple portrait of one of the marketing executives (who shall remain nameless). Seemingly uneventful, until his admission that he originally wanted to have the shoot in… The Vault.

The Vault is where the local Hard Rock offices keep, well, everything. Guitars, albums, photographs, costumes… and the ever-glamorous “etcetera”.

The idea was squashed by the arch enemy of all fun ideas, The Legal Department. It seems that Hard Rock is merely the curator of the items, with the former owners retaining the rights to any use. Much like taping a Sunday afternoon game, any unauthorized use is prohibited.

After the shoot, which took place in a lounge outside The Vault, I was asked if I had a few minutes to spare. This was followed by the question, “are you a music fan?”

He didn’t know me – obviously – so I resisted the urge to “DUH?!” and simply said, “oh hell yeah.”

My photo subject then offered me a walk through music history.

“You wanna see The Vault?”

… cue another silent “DUH?!”

Of course, the obvious and most-painful catch was made evident as he pointed to my camera bag and uttered the words I knew were coming but hated to hear – “you have to leave that here.”

Letting go of my bag-o-gear was never so difficult, but sometimes you have to make choices. I chose to see the stuff.

A quick stroll down the office hall; past some cubicles, a signed Doors poster, some office folk, and through the obligatory non-descript-wooden-door that usually precedes the finest of discoveries, and I was in.

A wall of guitars hanging on metal racks – about five or six guitars high and several hundred guitars wide – met my eyes like a trimmed tree on Christmas morning. Stratocasters, Les Pauls and acoustics, Oh My! And they were ALL SIGNED!

Little did I know, there was another catch or two: The autographs were less than legible and I could not handle any of them for a closer look. Nothing was labeled and my guide – the aforementioned nameless exec – could offer no information on which instrument belonged to which artist. He wasn’t part of the curating staff, none of whom were making the rounds with us on the impromptu tour.

I walked by the wall, v e r y  s l o w l y. My eyes scanned every surface and soaked in every inked line. And my mind raced.

“Does that say Richards? I think that says Richards! Does that say Dyan? I think that says Dylan! That one says Slash! LENNON?! NO! No, wait that’s not an L. What the hell is that? Where’s Sting? Wait, where are the basses? Tom Petty?! Holy Shit, What Does That One Say?!”

… and so on.

I avoided passing out. I avoided pleading for someone with a working knowledge of the archives to join us immediately. I simply strolled.

Across from the guitar wall were rows and rows and rows and rows… of shelves. My guide went on to tell me about the photos, books, artwork and record albums that filled each one. All were wrapped and protected and sealed and… not for my grubby little fingers.

There was a second level with racks of clothing. Dare I ask to venture up there? No. There was only time to admire from afar. Both my guide and I were on a schedule, and you can’t have “impromptu” without “prompt”.

I walked by the guitar wall one last time. “Somewhere on that wall is an Eric Clapton,” I thought. And I tried to linger in that idea, and in that room, as long as I could.

On the way to the door I had a brief-but-biting feeling of irony. This was an amazing opportunity, and I was happy to have it. But not knowing exactly what it was I had seen was a bit of a frustration. History is still history without the name tag. It’s just a little harder to recognize.

I briefly mused about some of the autographs I had accumulated over the years. Honestly, if I hadn’t watched as they were signed, I wouldn’t know who they were by reading the scribbled names.

As I took one last look back before the exit, I saw a shelf to my right. Not as crammed as those across from the guitar wall, I was able to make out one or two items. Those items I cannot recall now because of the impact of the last item I saw.

A drum skin. Sitting atop the shelf. All by itself. With an autograph signed in black, felt tip ink. Written clear as day.

“Peace. Love. Ringo.”

So ended my visit to The Vault.

(Insert big, goofy, smiley face here.)

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