I’m not a Music Museum Curator, but I’ve worked with Music Museum Curators. — At Seattle, Washington’s Experience Music Project. In the 2000’s, I was employed as a lowly Visitor’s Services Representative (VSR) — a guide, instructor, ticket-taker, coat check boy. And sometimes, I provided technical assistance to visitors who used our Compaq Digital Lab.
Our VSR mission was to help our guests have a great time – as simple as that. I led hundreds of tour groups comprised of students, and the first thing I learned was this: if they had a great time, they would learn. — Sneaky!
I was where?? Oh, I remember – I wasn’t a Curator, and I assure you: I didn’t get paid like a Curator. But I recall the time I tried to bail one out. He wouldn’t let me. His ego got in the way. I mean, how could a 55 year old, veteran musician know more than a college-educated Music Museum Curator? After all, what does a musician know about music, or music history?
Well, I knew the difference between “Hamp” — vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, and the legendary “Satchmo” — trumpeter Louis Armstrong. But that’s another story, which I’ll relate in another post.
And now, to today’s story, subtitled, “Dylan Goes Electric!”
When you visit a museum, and you’re in an exhibit space, have you ever thought about which direction you should travel while viewing the exhibit? Sometimes, it matters….
The 1965 Newport Folk Festival was the site of something horrible! — If you were an extremely narrow-minded trad folk music fan. On July 25, the Newport crowd of music lovers was divided into two factions: those who wanted to stay in their “good old days” comfort zone, and those who were ready to hop aboard the electric train, to see how far folk music could go. You see, Bob Dylan had chosen his Newport ’65 show as the occasion to premier his electric band. Yes! Dylan, who’d become a star by singing and playing his Martin acoustic, had changed! And he presented his electric sound to both applause and boos on that fateful day. Fateful in a sense; because folk music had already been amplified by other performers. But this was Dylan’s turn.
Looking back, “Dylan Goes Electric” was a watershed moment in music. To this day, when I perform folk-rock concerts all over Puget Sound, people are electrified when I do the folk-rock songs of Bob Dylan. And! Ironically enough, I am performing them acoustically. But going electric seemed to change the way he wrote the songs; not just the sound of the songs.
Near 2001, EMP presented a photography exhibit composed exclusively of photos of Bob Dylan. The point of the exhibition was to illustrate Dylan’s transformation into an electric music artist. The photos, by fantastic photographers whose names I was unable to nail down for this story, were arranged on the walls, so that, as you walked around the room, you first saw Dylan working as an acoustic performer, with his Martin guitar and his signature harmonica and holder, which he wore around his neck. But as you walked around the room, you arrived at the point where “Dylan Goes Electric”. Well-written text which accompanied the photos allowed you to read all about the Newport crowd’s mixed reaction to this big turn of events. It made for a very compelling exhibit. It wasn’t just a group of photos – it was a group of photos which told a very important story.
As an employee, I was among those afforded a preview of the exhibition. We heard the usual story from the Curator, about how difficult but rewarding it was to put the exhibit together. The ups and downs, highs and lows, struggles, snafus. – If you think a museum exhibit is something you just throw together, while having a blast doing so, you are mistaken. Every “i” must be dotted; every “t” must be crossed. — The Curator finished his presentation, and then he led us around the room, where we enjoyed seeing, via the beautiful photos, Dylan Going Electric. I found it very interesting and illuminating to see Dylan’s transformation laid out so expertly, using the best photographs possible. I hoped for the chance to work in that particular gallery as soon as possible.
As it turned out, when the exhibit opened to the public, I was scheduled to work it. My job was simply to walk around, say “Hi”, answer questions, and ensure that crowd size did not exceed the fire department’s limits. – An easy job. Basically, help keep the party flowing. I anticipated no problems. However, I soon noticed something very funny happening. — I was always on the lookout for something funny happening at EMP. Because it always did. In this case, I noticed that a lot of people entering the gallery were taking a wrong turn! Therefore, they did not see the exhibit as the Curator intended it to be seen. This bothered me a lot.
So, the very next time I saw the Curator, I approached him and said, “We need a little sign, either above the door, or in the room. It can have a few words on it, or it can just be an arrow. But we need to indicate to the visitors, that they need to take a left as soon as they enter the room”. The curator said something like, “No way, puny museum guide. We’re not going to clutter up the exhibit, water-down the exhibit, or detract from the appeal of the exhibit, and put up some kind-a sign, just because you think we should.” So I said, “OK. You’re the Curator. It’s fine with me if you want to have people watch DYLAN GO ACOUSTIC”. — And that’s what half of ’em did.
I would be so remiss not to throw in some of “Dylan Goes Electric” here!
And, for a super-bonus, here I am (before I regrew my hippie hair after about 20 years), doing “The Times They Are A-Changin'” for the Occupy Movement kids in Seattle:
I hope you like all of this extra stuff. Trust me: I curated it for your enjoyment!