Monday, January 19, 2009

The Grammy Museum

The Grammy Museum opened last month as part of L.A. Live, a downtown plaza that hopes to emulate the excitement of NYC’s Times Square. The jury is still out on just how exciting L.A. Live will eventually be, but for now it’s shiny and new and gives people another reason to go downtown after dark.

Hoping that the Grammy Museum would be our own Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame (Cleveland) or Experience Music Project (Seattle), I was disappointed by its size: a mere four (rather small) floors displaying photos and audio exhibits of past Grammy award winners. The museum does house a nicely intimate (250 seats) theater, however, where Grammy officials hope to host public programs and unique musical events. For this reason alone, Tim and I became charter members.

As I’ve written elsewhere in this blog, the Beach Boys have loomed large in Tim’s and my lives. Not only did they sing about the surf culture we both loved as kids, but they were local boys, growing up in Hawthorne, not too far from where we now live. One of my sister’s and my theme songs was “All Summer Long.” And who doesn’t love “Good Vibrations”?

Fame, of course, doesn’t suit everyone and so Brian Wilson, the mastermind behind the Beach Boys, famously dropped out of the public eye in the late 1960s, frying his brain on drugs and playing piano in a sandbox that he built in his bedroom. As he says in his most recent, extremely autobiographical album, “That Lucky Old Sun,” “At 25 I turned out the light/ ‘Cause I couldn’t handle the glare in my tired eyes.”

But happily for us, Brian is now back, winning a Grammy in 2004 and a Kennedy Center award in 2007. Yes, he may look like something of a zombie (in an Hawaiian shirt!); still his contribution to California culture cannot be overstated. No wonder, then, that the first big event at the Grammy Museum theater was an interview with Brian Wilson.

The event sold-out immediately, so I had Tim work his connections magic. On Thursday morning, less than 10 hours from when Brian was being interviewed, Tim called to say he had tickets in hand. We were in! As suspected, the audience was filled with mostly “industry” folk, including Harry Shearer, who we later saw rocking out to “California Girls.”

Brian marched up the stairs to the small stage, looking like some guy who had just wandered in from the street. The conversation was obviously well-rehearsed, with the interviewer occasionally feeding Brian the answers. I was enthralled nonetheless. Did you know, for instance, that “Pet Sounds,” possibly the most brilliant Beach Boys album ever produced, was named in honor of Brian’s mentor Phil Spector (P.S. = Pet Sounds/Phil Spector)? Or that “God Only Knows,” one of the most beautiful pop songs of our generation, was written in just 45 minutes by Brian and Tony Asher, an ad guy who wanted to break into the music business? Besides Spector, Wilson said he was most influenced by the Four Freshmen, the Everly Brothers, and the Beatles. In fact, in the most touching moment of the night, he related how nervous he was singing with Paul McCartney at a recent function. “I tried not to be nervous,” he admitted, “but I was.”

After about 35 minutes, Brian’s current bandmates joined him on-stage to sing songs from past and present. We’ve, of course, heard him sing live many times before, but never from only 10 feet away. His voice is definitely shot, but it didn’t matter. I was a teenager once again and Brian Wilson was singing just for me . . .

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