Wednesday, December 8, 2010

John Lennon exhibit at Grammy Museum/L.A. Live

Today marks the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder in New York City – a time when everything suddenly stood still for many people. I was 11 years old and remember watching a TV sitcom around 8:30 p.m., when a special report relayed the news. I’d purchased the 45 rpm single of “(Just Like) Starting Over” from a Licorice Pizza store only weeks before and played it often (but not the flipside containing Yoko Ono’s “Kiss Kiss Kiss,” which I thought was dumb. Even now, I’m inclined to agree). 

As fans celebrate his wonderful body of music and cue up something – possibly from Capitol’s fab catalog reissues (I’m personally listening to the new hits collection, Power to the People), it’s a good time to remind SoCal residents and L.A. Live visitors about the Grammy Museum’s current exhibit honoring Lennon.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the museum for the first time. John Lennon, Songwriter explores his early influences, formative group The Quarry Men, The Beatles and solo career. Among the cool artifacts are Lennon’s Fender Telecaster guitar, those trademark round, wire-framed glasses, a typewriter used to write lyrics (and several drafts showing where certain lines were crossed out), a replica of the famed Sgt. Pepper costume, drawings, rare photos and posters, Grammy Awards, video footage, etc.

Since I’d never really seen a large trove of Lennon memorabilia, this was quite a treat. Even more so was In the Studio with John Lennon, an interactive area featuring an actual mixing desk used to record "Double Fantasy." Visitors can pick from two songs to add their own vocals to (“Give Peace a Chance,” “Beautiful Boy”). Although a bit apprehensive to sing at first, I had the area to myself late this particular afternoon. So I chose the former tune. Let’s just say, I should’ve been louder.

John Lennon, Songwriter runs through March 31, 2011.

Going on concurrently is Strange Kozmic Experience, an exhibit delving into the late ‘60s rock and psychedelic music era. Focusing on Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Doors, among the more than 60 rare artifacts are Joplin’s custom-painted 1965 Porsche 356 Cabriolet, her paintings, letters and art; Hendrix and Doors memorabilia, photos,  posters (some from the collection of Doors authority Ida Miller, who runs, a site devoted to band-related news) and more. It was very interesting to see Jim Morrison’s poetry books.

Strange Kozmic Experience runs through mid-January, 2011.

Another section that I found particularly enjoyable was the third floor. Revolutions of Recorded Sound, featuring Playback: From Mono to Surround, takes you from the earliest gramophone to the mp3. I chose Amy Winehouse’s live version of “I’m No Good” as an example. The In the Studio interactive experiences take you through what a producer, engineer and remixer’s job entails. It was very enlightening. I stepped into the soundproof booths to watch and “help” Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (Janet Jackson) record backing vocals on The Human League’s “Human.” 

Then I "assisted" producer Mike Clink (Guns ‘N Roses) in “deciding” which group of musicians to use guitar overdubs and a keyboard mix on a cover of The Who’s “Who Are You.” Not an easy choice, when you have Slash, Matt Sorum, Wendy Melvoin, Taylor Hawkins and Mike Inez among the players. The remixing process is somewhat complex, as Paul Oakenfold showed. In another booth, veteran Bob Ludwig from Gateway Mastering sheds light on his job. Getting just the right compression and dynamic range adjustments on a Beck tune wasn’t easy.

I definitely could have spent more time up on the fourth floor. This is where the Songwriters Hall of Fame gallery is located and you can “collaborate” with noted wordsmiths Hal David, Lamont Dozier and Desmond Child via computer kiosks. There were also several interviews and acceptance speeches to hear.

These are just a few of the things to see and do at the Grammy Museum. The museum store stocks music t-shirts, buttons, pins, books, CDs, hats, magnets and more.

Each month, special programs featuring master classes, artist performances and interviews take place in the 200-seat Clive Davis Theater for a separate fee. Some previous participants have included Stewart Copeland, Yoko Ono, Roseanne Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Train, John Mellencamp, Jeff Beck, Ringo Starr, Smokey Robinson, Dionne Warwick, Dwight Yoakam and Annie Lennox.

Located across from Staples Center at Olympic Blvd. and Figueroa St. in downtown Los Angeles, the museum is open 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Sunday-Friday, 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $12.95 for adults and can be purchased at Ticketmaster and the museum box office. For additional info on admission and curator tours, go to or call (213) 765-6803. 

Lennon archive photo courtesy of Capitol Records; logo provided by the Grammy Museum. Thanks to David Miller for his assistance.   

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