I’ve been a member of the Grammy organization for a long time now and try every year to either go to the Grammys, the MusiCares “Person of the Year” show or a Grammy-sponsored “viewing party” that the regional chapters throw. Now that I live in Portland, OR (and have to pay my own way!), I’ve found myself hopping on the Amtrak Cascades line early on a Sunday morning to take the scenic 3.5 hour trip up to Seattle for the Pacific NW Chapter’s viewing party , held at the Spitfire bar/club in Belltown (just a short distance away from the tourist mecca that is Pike Place Market). I’m always happy to donate prints for the fund-raising raffles and/or auctions that take place at the party and, as I have a nice collection of “left-overs” from my RockPoP Gallery days, I put together a nice selection of Justin Hampton poster prints (QOTSA, Mastodon, Judas Priest, Ween and The Beatles) and dropped those off at the club early, which gave me some time to hop on down to the Seattle Art Museum to see the new Rembrandt/European Masters exhibition I’d heard about.
Getting to the SAM, I realized that the exhibition wasn’t scheduled to start until the 14th (sheesh!!), so I did a tour of the current exhibits, including a fascinating one that was closing on 2/17 titled Elles:SAM that featured a eye-popping selection of works – prints, photos, paintings, sculptures and video installations – by “seminal woman artists”. Some of my favorites, including Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler and Georgia O’Keeffe, were included and, while I wasn’t familiar with all of the artist represented, I was particularly impressed with the playful works of Yayoi Kusama and a video installation titled Cornered by Adrian Piper that managed to get even an ADD guy like me to sit down and watch for a while! http://seattleartmuseum.org/exhibit/exhibitDetail.asp?eventID=23870
After buying some Valentine’s Day chocolates at Fran’s Chocolate for my wife Fran (aren’t I cute?), I headed back to my hotel to prep for the evening’s festivities. I got there when the doors opened at 7pm, and any of you that know me know that I’m pretty horrible when it comes to “schmoozing”, so it was my plan to see if anyone else from Portland had gone up for the party (there wasn’t) and then find myself a table near a large monitor. Luckily, I found just such a place, ordered a G&T and settled in for an evening of watching (people and monitor) and checking every half-hour on the status of the silent auction bids on the poster package I’d donated.
Sitting at the table next to me, I did meet a nice guy named Davin Stedman who is a principal in a talented Seattle band called The Staxx Brothers and spent a fair amount of time talking to him and his friends in attendance about the Grammy show, the music business, storyboarding music videos and, my favorite subject, album art. He was very knowledgeable on all subjects we dove into and I’m hoping that we stay in touch, as I was pretty impressed with some of the music/videos I’d seen on his site (http://www.staxxbrothers.com/info/index.html).
After a few hours at the party, during which my range of emotions ran from happy (to have seen fun. win a couple of Grammy Awards and for the Bruno Mars/Sting performances of classic Bob Marley songs) to intrigued (just HOW did they get Carrie Underwood’s dress to light up like that?) to disappointed (they showed Prince PLAYING in the previews!) to downright bored (sorry, just can’t get excited about Frank Ocean or Rihanna, although she’s quite beautiful). By 10:30, it was time to go. I checked on the auction table (bids on the posters were up to $170 – not bad, but should go for more), said good-bye to Davin and the local Grammy folks, and walked the short distance back to the hotel to watch the rest of the show in my room. Maybe next year, I can convince SOMEONE from PDX to join me and double the turnout from our fair city (or, even better, perhaps those of us in Portlandia can host our own party)…
The next morning, I took the monorail out to the Experience Music Project (“the EMP”, to locals) to see what was new and exciting in this temple to Paul Allen’s amazing collection of all things Pop Culture. Being somewhat more prepared this time, I knew that the new Art of Video Games exhibition wouldn’t quite be ready for viewing, but I’d wanted to see the Hendrix Hits London display and, time permitting, the Worn to be Wild leather jacket exhibition. As a side note – while I understand the power of a sponsor’s support of an exhibition (in the case of the Worn to be Wild display, that would be Harley Davidson, a company that makes more money selling licensed clothing and accessories than they do selling motorcycles) and that the EMP has expanded the scope of its original mission statement to include the very broad category of “Pop Culture”, I do hope that, one day, they’ll agree to talk to me and others who promote the importance of album cover art and artists as integral parts of both the music business and Pop Culture and work with us to curate a comprehensive album cover art show there.
Anyway, back to my visit. I next spent a short while traipsing through the Hendrix exhibit, where I did sit and watch a nice video they’d put together on Hendrix’s time in London and took a shot or two of drummer Mitch Mitchell’s silver sparkle drum set (well-known by Hendrix/Mitchell fans).
I then walked out to find a path to a part of the museum that I don’t think I’ve seen before. There, I came upon another exhibit that turned out to be a great surprise. Fans of science fiction and horror, run, don’t walk, to see the Icons of Science Fiction exhibit there – you won’t be disappointed, and your true geekdom will be tested. Turns out that Mr. Allen is a huge science fiction fan as well and, as someone with very deep pockets, he’s managed to put together a collection of artifacts from science fiction storytelling in all forms. First edition books, graphic novels (AKA “comic books”), scripts and props from movies and TV from the Golden Ages until now.
Being a kid who was glued to the TV and in attendance at many Saturday “monster matinees” at the local movie house from the early 1960s on (and who can forget “Creature Features” with your host, Svengoolie?), the items on display reintroduced me to films and shows that I hadn’t thought about in ages. There were props from The Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Forbidden Planet, Star Trek (TV and movies, all variations), Dr. Who and many others. To see a flying saucer model used in Plan 9 from Outer Space and that flying creature that landed on your head and sucked on your brains from It Conquered The World was just so cool. Being that the EMP is a teaching institution, there was an underlying premise to the exhibition – “What If…”(as in “what if we could explore the stars?” and “what if I had superpowers?”) and this was supported by a nice selection of video interviews with trend-setters in science fiction films and television both past (Roger Corman, Gene Roddenberry, etc.) and present (producers and directors for The Matrix, Terminator and others), plus a nice interview with John Landis about the ground-breaking theatrical short he produced with Michael Jackson for his song “Thriller”. With all that being said, the art collector in me couldn’t help but be jealous of Mr. Allen’s collection. Just imagine inviting your friends over to your house to watch a classic horror film on your big screen and being able to walk down the hall past Robbie the Robot and a full-sized Alien (Mr. Giger, your genius is indubitable).
After emerging from that exhibit thoroughly satisfied, I waltzed on upstairs to see the leather jackets on display. There were many, many examples, including a Norton jacket (how did that slip in there?) from the early 60s decorated as any self-respecting “Rocker” would have done it and 8-10 jackets embroidered, pinned, patched, sketched on and ripped in honor of their owners’ favorite punk bands.
There was also a wall of album jackets on display that featured musical acts wearing leather jackets and, seeing them (The Ramones, Springsteen, Joan Jett, Queen, Michael Bolton, etc.) only served to remind me that record covers really did reflect the styles of the times. So, while seeing the famous red ’56 Harley KH ridden by Elvis (as seen in Albert Wertheimer’s famous photo) had its value, it was seeing another example of the importance of album covers as historical documents that made the visit worthwhile for me.
That, and being able to pick up a t-shirt with the Toys In The Attic artwork on it (nice work, Ernie/Ingrid!) for just $10! I’ll wear it proudly, and often.
Mike Goldstein, February 15, 2013, Portland, OR, USA