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Grammy greatness: Museum in L.A. features exhibits about music legends

By Melissa Ruggieri

Cox Newspapers

Published: Saturday, April 30 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

The 2½-year-old shrine to legends is a high-tech gallery jammed with interactive opportunities, music history, trivia and outfits. It offers more than any 99-cent download.

Grammy Museum

LOS ANGELES — It's impossible to skirt greatness at the Grammy Museum — at least greatness as christened by the music industry.

The 2½-year-old shrine to legends (Stevie Wonder, U2) and forgettables (All-4-One or Baha Men, anyone?) is a high-tech gallery jammed with interactive opportunities, music history, trivia and, of course, outfits.

Many, many outfits.

Whether you're interested in Amy Grant's blazer, Taylor Swift's gold boots or a horrifying-yet-amusing selection of Neil Diamond's spangly jumpsuits, the museum provides the kind of history lesson that can't be purchased through a 99-cent download.

It's apparent as you enter the first hallway on the top floor of the four-story exhibit — visitors start here and wind their way down — and you head to a lighted touch-screen table that allows you to explore any musical genre.

Want to know more about Glam Rock?

You'll stick on headphones and hear the crunchy-sweet sounds of T. Rex while reading about the band's six musical degrees from the New York Dolls and Queen.

Never heard of Krautrock?

Well, you will in the Grammy Museum. A good guess confirms it's German, and the two-minute overview explains the music as a combination of psychedelic rock and early electronica.

But while these historical snacks provide a pleasantly fleeting summary, some of the coolest — and most innovative — elements of the Grammy Museum are its interactive cubbies.

Hopeful producers or studio wizards should embrace the opportunity to pop into a sound-proofed booth and learn, by using touch screens and watching video tutorials from industry experts such as Manny Marroquin and DJ Rap, how to create beats or mix a song.

Each session takes about 10 minutes, and visitors can choose among eight booths and tasks.

Wannabe musicians can jam in the Roland Live studio on a setup of keyboards, guitars and (padded) drums, all equipped with headphones for optimum playing and minimum annoyance to others.

And the Songwriters Hall of Fame gallery gives respect to the names behind the hits, while allowing budding Dylans to write a song with Desmond Child, Hal David or Lamont Dozier on a mini-keyboard and computer.

So sure, go ahead and plop on a white bench in front of a movie theater-size screen and zone out while watching clips of great Grammy performances. (And guess what? That Neil Diamond/Barbra Streisand duet on "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" will still give you chills.)

But don't miss any opportunity to satisfy some itchy desires to actually participate in music.

In addition to its standing displays, the Grammy Museum installs a rotating special exhibit on its second floor — the final stop, aside from the requisite neighboring gift shop, before the exit.

Past galleries include a photography parade of Elvis Presley's early career and a memorial to Michael Jackson, featuring his trademark fedora and gloves, original clothing and lyrics.

Through May 4, the museum is presenting a history of hip-hop with "Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey."

Mostly, the exhibit focuses on hip-hop's birthplace, New York — specifically the Bronx in the early 1970s — and the migration of the music to Los Angeles in the late 1980s with "gangsta rap."

Sneaker fans will get a kick out of seeing the white Adidas — sans laces, of course — that Run-D.M.C. converted into a fad in its "Walk This Way" video with Aerosmith. But it's the colorful collection of Everlast's 50 pairs of sneakers — taken from his stash of more than 900 — surrounded by a memory lane assembly of boom-boxes that provides the most visual oomph.

Sections about hip-hop fashion spearheaded by Jay-Z and 50 Cent and sheets of handwritten lyrics by Tupac Shakur, Eminem and the Fugees will appeal to casual fans. But, as with everything in the Grammy Museum, the reason to visit is for the education.

The museum's next special exhibit will focus on Bob Marley.

Melissa Ruggieri writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.