Grammy Museum: Sounding off in downtown L.A.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT) - America's two most celebrated music museums are iconic edifices that stand out like Dolly Parton at a convent. That's why music fans ogle the architecture when they go to the I.M. Pei-designed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland or Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project in Seattle.
There is only one unusual design element about this new 32,000-square-foot music temple: Once you buy your ticket (for $14.95) on the first floor, the exhibits actually start on the fourth floor. Go figure. Remember, the Grammy Awards don't always make sense, so why should their museum?
For starters, don't be misled by the name. "It's not just about the Grammys," said chief curator Ken Viste. "The Grammys are a filter to the story about music history."
To be sure, the museum offers highlight clips from Grammy ceremonies, outfits worn to the awards (the J. Lo dress just isn't the same on a headless mannikin) and filmed interviews with such winners as Robert Plant and Alison Krauss talking about how they worked together in the studio. Music lovers are likely to spend more time elsewhere in this interactive museum, whose exhibits function like iPods and touch-screen computers.
Fourth floor: The first stop is "Crossroads," a large touch-screen table that explains 160 subgenres of music from emo to oi and banda to trance and how they are interrelated. Nearby pods celebrate the history of major genres, including folk, pop, classical, sacred and jazz with such artifacts as the first issue of Sing Out folk-music magazine from 1950 and a 1957 business card for the Quarry Men (who would soon change their moniker to the Beatles).
"The Music Epicenters" display allows you to search a U.S. map and find out when a city was a musical hotbed.
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Minneapolis is recognized in the 1960s for the Castaways, the Trashmen and Koerner, Ray & Glover and in the '80s for the Replacements, Prince and _ go figure _ Greg Brown (whose record label is in St. Paul, but he's more closely associated with Iowa).
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One climate-controlled showcase contains a treasure trove of instruments, including Glenn Miller's trombone (1917), Buddy Holly's guitar with hand-tooled leather covering executed by Holly himself (1956) and Yo-Yo Ma's temperature-resistant carbon- fiber cello (2002).
Third floor: Put on headphones to listen to Smokey Robinson, Waylon Jennings, Carole King, Ludacris and others explain their songwriting process. Then walk yourself through the making of a recording via eight booths in which you can record vocals (with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis), mix a rock song (with engineer Eddie Kramer), etc.
In a side studio, the "From Mono to Surround" exhibit simulates what performances on the 2008 Grammys show _ Amy Winehouse's "Rehab," Chris Brown's "Run It" and Lang Lang's "Rhapsody in Blue," among others _ would sound like in various historical formats: cylinder, 78, LP, cassette, CD, DAT, surround sound and MP3. After you exit this booth, you'll want to ditch your iPod and upgrade your home audio system.
Second floor: This is the changing exhibits space. Currently on display are a series of Michael Jackson's bespangled gloves and jackets (one weighs 15 pounds) as well as a major exhibit, "Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom," which explores how music and politics/social issues have been entwined, from "Yankee Doodle" in 1775 to "We Shall Overcome" in the 1940s and '50s to the Dixie Chicks' anti-Bush brouhaha in 2003. Artifacts include Frank Zappa's letter to President Reagan about censorship of recordings, outspoken 1960s folkie Phil Ochs' FBI file and bandleader John Phillips Sousa's baton from 1930. Another exhibit lets you hear historical recordings, including 1890's "Snake Dance Song," believed to be the first recording, and Muddy Waters recorded by Alan Lomax in 1941.
The Grammy Museum is part of a new district dubbed "L.A. Live." "They want to think of it as a mini-Times Square," says percussion star Sheila E, co-owner of the Conga Room, a 1,000-capacity music club in L.A. Live. The downtown complex also includes the 7,100-seat Nokia Theatre and the 2,300-capacity Club Nokia. (Prince played at all three rooms last night). These and several restaurants are within spitting distance from Staples Center, site of pro basketball and hockey as well as the Grammy Awards.
While the Grammy Museum may not be the destination venue that the Rock Hall of Fame is, it's well worth a visit for music lovers while in L.A.
"This is stuff you could never see, no matter who you know," James Lipsett, a hobby musician from Thousand Oaks, Calif., said as he toured the museum.
"I like the interactive things here," his friend, singer-songwriter Marcos Lopez-Iglesias said. "It shows that anyone can get involved in making music."
In fact, Lopez-Iglesias' 73-year-old mother, Eve Rendle, of Sheffield, England, did just that. "I did my first rap and I enjoyed it," she said of her experience in the rap booth with producer Jermaine Dupri. "I know how to rap now."
($14.95; 1-213-765-6803; www.grammymuseum.org).
© 2009, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
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