Photo by Alan Levine
SARATOGA SPRING — “Ever since I was a young boy, I played the silver ball.”
The Who probably best captured how America was once enamoured with pinball machines when it released “Pinball Wizard” in 1974. The arcade game was once banned in major cities concerned that it promoted gambling. That changed in the mid-70s, sparking a bit of a revolution that defined how some teenagers spent their days — slapping buttons and listening to music.
Universal Preservation Hall is to open the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame exhibit “Part of the Machine: Rock & Pinball” on Sunday, July 26. The two-month exhibit highlights rock-themed, playable pinball machines and pairs them with artifacts allowing visitors to explore the art displayed on each case. The marriage between pinball and rock was never a mistake.
“Rock and roll and pinball have a lot in common,” said Karen Herman, Vice President of Collections and Curatorial Affairs, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Loud, colorful and rebellious, it was inevitable that the two would combine to celebrate rock’s icons.”
Pinball was banned until the mid-1970s in most of America’s big cities because it was considered a form of gambling. It eventually became a symbol of youth and rebellion, right along with rock & roll. By 1969, pinball and rock became inextricably linked, thanks to the Who and the group’s opus Tommy, which highlighted the skills of the rock opera’s lead character.
“A number of artists and bands have been immortalized in pinball games,” said Herman. “It gives fans another way to experience the energy and power of rock and uniquely connect with their favorite artists.”
On display, along with the classic “Wizard” and “Tommy” pinball machines, is Pete Townshend of the Who’s acoustic guitar used to compose “Pinball Wizard” and several other songs from Tommy.
Making its debut as part of the exhibit is Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee and shock rock pioneer Alice Cooper’s newest pinball machine – Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle. The classic horror adventure game is narrated by Cooper himself and features a number of songs spanning Cooper’s career and a working guillotine set piece.
Cooper’s stage shows are always theatrical, notoriously employing outrageous stage props including nooses and guillotines. An electric chair stage prop that Cooper used in his 1971 tour across North America and Europe is on display in the exhibit.
Fans can also view pioneering pinball machines of their favorite musicians such as Captain Fantastic (1976), based on the album by Elton John and his character in Tommy, and Beat Time (1967), one of the oldest rock and roll tables, which capitalizes on Beatlemania, featuring several mop-topped musicians and a drumhead emblazoned with “The Bootles.”
Other rare and sought-after playable machines in the exhibit pay tribute to the Rolling Stones, Dolly Parton, Guns N’ Roses, Elvis, Metallica, KISS and AC/DC. From Peter Criss of KISS’ drum set to Dolly Parton’s dress that inspired the backglass for the DollyParton pinball machine, fans will find other artifacts on display as they learn more about the popular pinball and rock subculture.
Hosting the exhibition at UPH has been in the works more than a year as the Saratoga venue sought to develop programming that complimented – rather than competed – with Saratoga’s live entertainment scene in the summer.
“It wasn’t clear when COVID-19 came along that we could hold the event but now that museums are reopening in the state we are proceeding with our plans,” said Teddy Foster, director at UPH.
UPH will follow Center for Disease Control and Prevention and New York State safety guidelines in establishing safety protocol for exhibit visitors. Each visitor, staff person and volunteer will be required to bring and wear a face mask and to wear provided gloves while playing the pinball machines. All individuals will also be required to maintaining proper social distancing.
UPH staff will also take and record each individual’s temperature and procure proper tracing information, and sanitize all surfaces including handrails, light switches, elevators, exhibit pieces, restrooms and common surfaces before new groups are admitted.
Capacity will be initially limited to 20 guests per time slot and will re-evaluated regularly.
Cutline The interactive Rock & Roll Hall of Fame exhibit Part of the Machine: Rock & Pinball is being presented at Universal Preservation Hall beginning Sunday, July 26 for a two-month run.
About the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Rock Connects us. Our mission is clear: To engage, teach and inspire through the power of rock and roll. We share stories of the people, events and songs that shape our world through digital content, innovative exhibits, live music and engaging programs. Join the millions who love it as much as you do. Experience us live or online – Visit rockhall.com or Facebook (@rockandrollhalloffame), Twitter (@rockhall) and Instagram (@rockhall). Long Live Rock!
“Part of the Machine: Rock & Pinball” is presented at UPH by Adirondack Trust Company.
UPH, a partner in the Proctors Collaborative, will sell tickets for 90-minute blocks throughout the run. Tickets will be available for admittance at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. each day and hours will be extended to include 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. admittance on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The event concludes on Saturday, Sept. 26.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students and are available now at universalpreservationhall.org.
About Universal Preservation Hall The Universal Preservation Hall, located at 25 Washington Street in Saratoga Springs, year-round arts and community events venue. It reopened on Feb. 29 after extensive renovations to the former church. Visit UPH online.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.