Sunday, March 01, 2009

Revisiting the Grammy Museum

I just got back from spending three hours at the Grammy Museum and LOVED it, despite my previous brief but negative review. Yes, it’s no Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nor is it as dramatic as The Experience Music Project, but it’s wonderful nonetheless—especially when you get there at 10:00 on Sunday morning and have the place all to yourself!

The Museum is small—just three floors of exhibits and a lobby. The top floor provides an historical overview of, say, the past 80 years of popular music. Subsequent floors focus more on the Grammys themselves: memorable performances, filming the telecasts, charity events featuring Grammy winners, etc. There’s also an interesting display on how music is made, covering the perspectives of everyone from the artists (e.g., Robert Plant and Alison Krauss) to the studio musicians (e.g., the Wrecking Crew again!) to the producers (e.g., Phil Spector and Ahmet Ertegun). Finally, a handful of permanent exhibits talking about the cultural influence of protest music.

Although the Museum is currently showing a loaner collection of Michael Jackson’s more famous musical costumes—including an assortment of gloves—most of the exhibits are audio- or video-based: historic clips of Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, et al.; interviews with contemporary artists, who reveal, among other things, which groups most profoundly influenced their musical style (guess who was mentioned the most?—the Beatles, of course!); snippets of seminal tunes from some 50+ music genres (yes, even classical and folk); and more. Most moving to me was a duet by Carole King and James Taylor, singing “You’ve Got a Friend,” one of the most important songs of my young adulthood. Plus I loved the brief videos on the now famous “No Nukes” concert held in NYC in 1979 and the Dixie Chicks’ resurgence after being ostracized for publicly criticizing George Bush’s actions in Iraq.

But the best thing of all—definitely worth the price of admission alone—was the huge screen on the third floor, showing many of the greatest Grammy moments over the years: Tina Turner singing “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” walking down an impossibly steep staircase in her trademark high heels and impossibly short mini-dress; Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Torme scat-singing to a jazz tune; a baldheaded Melissa Ethridge, channeling Janice Joplin, after surviving breast cancer; Louie Armstrong on trumpet; Count Basie on piano; and much, much more. I was hoping to see footage of George, Paul and Ringo’s reunion after John Lennon died, but decided it was time to go home after waiting an hour. Besides, I needed an excuse to return another Sunday when Tim could go with me.

If you love popular music and have a few hours to spare, I highly recommend a trip to the Grammy Museum in downtown’s new L.A. Live complex. I guarantee it will make you feel young again.

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