Saturday, September 15, 2007

Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle - A complete waste of time

Let's clear this up first - I think Paul Allen deserves every penny he owns - all his personality flaws aside - my own brother is himself a Microsoft billionaire, retired at 38 in 2000 (talk about personality flaws). But I'm a capitalist, and they earned it. I applaud the forward thinking genius that drove those early Microsoft geeks to help create an economy that has never been seen before on this Earth. My brother told me a dozen times in 1987 to mortgage my house, sell all my stuff, and buy his stock. I didn't listen - Paul Allen did. But extreme wealth can breed extreme incompetence and extremely elitist attitudes.

Of course, it's well known that Allen is an avid musician and music lover. He plays in a band, and collects music memorabilia from all over the world. But what in his resume speaks of his ability to create and curate a music museum? Funky architecture aside, the Experience Music Project is a disaster. No wonder it's foundering financially, ever on the verge of bankruptcy. No wonder the place was literally EMPTY of visitors when I was there.

I took my second tour yesterday (the first was years ago, and I had little time). I see they have dropped the entry fee to $15 from the previous $25 to try to boost attendance, and it now includes access to the attached Science Fiction Museum housed in the same art-deco blob of a building as EMP. What a complete and utter let down at best, and a fraud at worst. Here's just a few observations:

1. The Jimmy Hendrix collection has been removed! Yep - ALL of it. There are signs around the place saying it was stored for 'preservation reasons'. I find this suspect. Something in the back of my mind tells me the Hendrix family has their own plans for a much-better executed display of Hendrix memorabilia - the reasons are plenty - read on.

2. The signage in the displays is awful. The placards in many cases are far removed from the artifact, and in most cases are so small you'll need glasses to read them. Why in the world would they not put the placard CLOSER to the object being described? Many items in the cases do not have any information at all about them.

3. Many displays appear almost random. Why not have a case DEVOTED to each band - Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Sound Garden, etc.? I went hoping to find a display devoted to Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, only to find their stuff in a cluster-fuck including many other Northwest bands of the 90s. Very confusing, very poorly described (see #2 above), with seemingly random items stuffed into the display case along with the few Nirvana items. The entire display of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and other grunge pioneers is just stuffed in a small hallway case - hardly a focus of the exhibit. Even
the large staging area with outfits from Anne and Nancy Wilson of Heart are infected with similar costumes from Queensryche. Record albums by Heart (under a 'Heart' banner) are interspersed with albums from much lesser bands from the 1960s. What a mess!

4. More empty space than filled space. The entire museum seems more air than exhibits. And right in the central lobby is an iPod propaganda table! There are large areas with no displays, and what displays there are (darn few, outside of the JBL Studio (blatant brand advertising) and the guitar history room - boring) are essentially just lining hallways. There is really not very much content at all here. The focus is Northwest bands - but FAR more attention is given to bands no one cares about anymore (The Wailers and many others). The bands that really carved the Pacific Northwest and Seattle Sound into the global music psyche are so lacking it's ridiculous - clearly Paul Allen is more of the 'dead head' generation and seemingly completely missed the grunge explosion of the early 1990s.

So after a very brief tour of the slim pickings of the EMP, I headed to the now-included admission to the Science Fiction museum, which I have to say is MUCH more populated than the EMP museum. I got to see the original robot from the 1960s Lost in Space TV series, Captain Kirk's original Enterprise command chair, props from Outer Limits and Twilight Zone, and the rather terrifying full-size Alien mother monster from Aliens. Lots of cool stuff here. But sadly the same problems of EMP are present.

Very poor signage again! Some exhibits I just gave up on finding out what I was looking at. Why in the hell go to all the trouble to display a cool sci-fi artifact and put the sign 6 feet away, with 18 point type that is barely legible at the distance you're force to view at? It was so frustrating I just hit the high points and bagged the details. And my God - how many science fiction books does one need in a sci-fi museum anyway? Some displays are so crammed with unknown (oh, I'm sure pivotal no doubt!) books that the actual artifacts are simply lost in the mess. Why not have a 'book wing' with all those lovely books displayed so bibliophiles can have a hay-day?

But I think the overwhelming arrogance of 'no photos' was over the top. We're not talking about an art museum - these are artifacts. Why can I not take a photo of Captain Kirks chair home with me? In an art museum, I could take photos of priceless works and try to sell postcards. But what the hell am I going to do with a photo of a CHAIR? Go home and replicate it and try to sell it on Ebay? Given that 90% or more of the artifacts are owned by Paul Allen personally, this says to me "I (Paul Allen) covet my stuff SO MUCH that you can only look - I cannot tolerate any of you peons capturing an image of stuff that I own because I'm so much richer than you and you do not deserve to own a photo of my things." What an elitist attitude! For God's sake - it's just a CHAIR. Good thing Boeing's Museum of Flight (which I also attended yesterday) doesn't have this snobby, elitist snotty high-brow attitude - take all the photos you like. Apparently they aren't concerned that I might try to build a 707 in my garage and try to sell it on Ebay.

So EMP and Paul Allen - get out of the music business. I'm sure he'll get the message eventually, and the liberal saps that run Seattle will take it over with tax dollars (thankfully not MY tax dollars) and buy him out - he surely cannot afford to lose money. In the meantime, I highly suggest if you are thinking of attending EMP or the Sci Fi museum, save your money. Paul has all he needs.