Trapped in the Grammy Museum - Monday, March 30
We had an extra day built into the schedule before flying east, so we decided to take in the Grammy Museum - a new addition to L.A. Live. The museum is located in the corner of a large building on Figueroa. It’s spread out over four floors of the building, but the spaces are small and the only things on the first floor are a ticket booth and the entry lobby.
We walked the half mile from our hotel and went into the museum at 12:30, thinking it would only take us a couple hours to see it all. Five hours later we still hadn’t seen it all, but we were worn out and we were definitely suffering from overload. They say that good things come in small packages, and what the Grammy Museum lacks in size it more than makes up for in quality.
The tour starts on the fourth floor and at first glance the space seems so small that you are tricked into thinking you’ll be out of there in half an hour. But the truth is you could easily spend all day on this one floor and still not see or hear all it has to offer. It is that good!
Fourth Floor: The exhibit opens with a long, flat table, the top of which is a visual monitor. There are head phones available and the table top is interactive. Words scroll past you and each word is the name of a different type of music. Every style of music is represented and you have your choice of anything from Classical or Opera to Punk Rock or Zydeco. The exhibit invites you to pick a style and learn more about it. I chose Urban Blues.
You press the name ‘Urban Blues’ as it passes and immediately a screen comes up with a history of Urban Blues, the names of famous musicians who played Urban Blues, and examples of Urban Blues playing over the headphones. That alone would be enough to keep a music lover riveted for some time, but there is more.
Around the center screen are smaller areas with the names of other types of music that relate to Urban Blues in some way. There might be Mississippi Delta, Dixieland and Honky Tonk. Each of these can be pressed and then they become the center style. You now see their history and musicians and you hear examples of their music. Around the new style now are several other styles that relate to it. One will be the style you started with, Urban Blues, but now other related styles might be Spirituals, Working Blues and Blue Grass. Each of these can be pressed and investigated, which in turn leads to even more related styles.
The point of the exhibit is to show the interrelatedness of all of the music we hear, and I do believe it’s possible if you stand there long enough, to get from any style on the list to any other style on the list, no matter how diverse or unrelated they seem to be at first. This one exhibit alone could keep one fascinated for hours! And this is just the beginning.
Also on the fourth floor are exhibits dealing with Classical and Jazz, Gospel and Spiritual, Folk and Roots. There is an exhibit that traces the progression of styles through the six decades from the ’50’s through the first decade of 2000. There is an exhibit of instruments, Louis Armstrong’s trumpet, Miles Davis’s trumpet, Jimi Hendrix’s Fender bass guitar, Yo Yo Ma’s Cello, Elvis Presley’s guitar, Buddy Holly’s guitar to name just a few. And there are two sound booths where you can search out and listen to every one of the thousands of songs that have ever won a Grammy!
You begin to feel trapped. You want to see the second and third floors too, but the fourth floor just won’t let you go! You head for the stairs, but before you get to them you are sucked in by a movie showing several dozen songwriters talking about their craft. There goes another 20 minutes! You finally tear yourself away and descend to the third floor. You are now three hours into your visit with no end in sight.
Third Floor: To make a long story, if not short at least less long, the third and second floors are equal to the fourth in content and quality. The third is devoted to the history and technical arts of making recordings. Here I listened to Black poet Langston Hughes recite a poem, to one of Bob Newhart’s Grammy winning monologues, and to Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 speech, I Have a Dream.
Here also there are 8 sound booths devoted to the intricacies of Mixing, Tracking, and all the other technical arts that go into creating a final recording. The visitor is invited to try the skills yourself, and it dares you to try and tear yourself away. Now we were definitely on overload and we began to bypass many of the exhibits, convinced that we were not going to see it all, and that the Grammy Museum was an activity for yet another day or two in the future.
Second Floor: The second floor is devoted to exhibits showing music’s influence on social issues. Here we saw a great video on the political censorship of the Smother’s Brothers and of musician Pete Seeger. Another video played the entire performance of Jimi Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock. Kris Kristofferson narrated a video on the controversy surrounding the Dixie Chix, and on their defiance of the efforts made to silence them. Tired as we were, these were just too compelling to miss.
If you come away from this place with nothing else, you come away with the firm understanding that today's rebel - today's outlaw no matter how cool, is tomorrow's irrelevant old man. You can smash your guitar, swallow a live baby bird, even set fire to the place - but before you know it some pimply faced teen ager who wasn't even born when you were in your prime will be shrugging his shoulders at the mention of your name and saying, "Joe who?"
We finally left the museum at 5:30, missing half an hour more that we could have stayed but too worn out to care. This will definitely be on our list for a return visit some day, and if you ever get within a thousand miles of Los Angeles, do make the effort to go to the Grammy Museum and see it for yourself. We guarantee that you will not be disappointed.