Our Beatles Expert Tom Frangione on ‘the kit’ at the Grammy Museum in LA
HE’S THE GREATEST – AND YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT BABY !
Ringo Starr: Peace & Love
Grammy Museum Los Angeles, CA
Opening June 12, 2013
Field report by NY METRO FEST Discussion Room Host Tom Frangione
“Gonna take a sentimental journey
Gonna set my heart at ease
Gonna make a sentimental journey
To renew old memories”
– the first verse of the first song on the first solo album by Ringo Starr
In a Beatle-filled summer dominated by Paul McCartney’s “Out There” tour and series of Wings era reissues, Ringo Starr is making headlines of his own.
For starters, he’s bringing his 12th All Starr Band out for an unprecedented 3rd leg of a tour that began in the States last summer and hit the road again at the start of the new year, traveling to Japan and the Pacific rim. In the fall, the current band heads to South America before returning to the States for a two night stand in Las Vegas to wrap things up.
But the big news this summer is the Ringo Starr: Peace & Love celebration now on exhibit at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. Not unlike New York’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex exhibit dedicated to John Lennon a few years ago, it is a treasure trove of mostly unseen artifacts, media, and interactive exhibits that any Beatles or Ringo fan (count me in for both) will absolutely delight in.
That such a collection was able to be culled together at all is noteworthy, as much of the memorabilia Ringo had kept was destroyed in a 1979 fire at his home. Gathered from storage facilities his handlers managed, and even a few boxes of early mementos Ringo took possession of when his mother died in 1986, the exhibit covers the earliest Liverpool days, through each phase of the Beatles story, his careers as both a solo performer and with the All Starr Band (can they really be approaching their 25h anniversary next year?).
Upon landing in LA, I was struck by the street lamp banners lining every major street in the metropolitan area, including Hollywood Boulevard near the Capitol Records tower at Vine Street, where all four Beatles’ stars now reside on the walk of fame. While the Grammy Museum is home to numerous temporary and permanent exhibits, it was clear from the moment of entry that they rolled out the carpet for Ringo.
In the lobby was a replica Beatles stage set up, with Ludwig drums, an Epiphone guitar and a (gulp! Right handed) Hofner bass which fans are encouraged to use for photo ops. On that note, while the tickets state “no photography”, no such restriction was even remotely enforced on the exhibit floors.
An elevator deposited fans near the Clive Davis theater where a continuous 17-minute loop of video highlights is offered, containing some rarely seen concert and movie footage, as well as snippets of various promo films. (An exit escalator was itself a treat, as a hand painted Beatles/Ringo mural adorned the incline).
A chronology of Ringo’s life and career wraps around the exhibit walls, with a timeline of album releases guiding the way. The Beatles period is represented by two such lines (one each for the UK and US releases), which merge into one as the later years releases come into alignment. The chronology and album timeline continues through to the solo years, but sticks to proper studio releases (don’t look for Scouse the Mouse or any live albums). The center floor contains five huge display cases – one for the Liverpool years, one each for early-mid-and-later years of the Beatles, and one each for the solo and All Starr periods. Among the highlights:
– Letters from Rory Storm and Brian Epstein;
– A Rory Storm and the Hurricanes business card;
– Original stage costumes, including the one from the 1967 Our World broadcast, the 1969 rooftop concert and of course, the Sgt. Pepper robe;
– The suit Ringo wore for the David Frost Show “Hey Jude” taping;
– The Goodnight Vienna “spaceman” suit;
Drumheads, posters, handbills, and a host of rare memorabilia flesh out each case. It must be pointed out that any “replica” items are fully designated as such, such as the “antenna” logo drumhead from the early Cavern Club days.
Speaking of drums, three iconic kits are on display (under glass): the Shea/Ed Sullivan kit (with replica drumhead), the later years set as seen in the Let It Be movie and rooftop concert, and a latter day All Starr Band set.
Beyond the movies and music memorabilia, there are sections dedicated to Ringo’s artwork and photography, including his new e-book Photograph, which proved spectacular. I’m old school and prefer my books on paper, thank you very much, but the interactive capacity such as Ringo’s own narration describing some of the shots, was a real treat.
On the topic of things interactive, there is a sing-along booth (amounting to a karaoke version of “Yellow Submarine”, complete with lyrics monitor. First, Ringo is heard on the original Beatles track, then the vocals go away and you take a stab at it. During playback, the on-screen offerings include “play it again” and “make it stop!”.
You say drumming is your madness? Two kits are on display, where fans are encouraged to take a virtual lesson with Ringo, via a computer screen mounted atop the bass drum. My musical DNA is of the six-string variety, but I have to admit it was a total blast!
More of a behind the scenes type? Try your hand at remixing a live version of “With A Little Help From My Friends” at the mini studio.
Elsewhere, a video station with a menu of on-demand career clips is available, as are several listening stations featuring Ringo’s biggest hits. A testimonial video with artists such as Jeff Lynne and Max Weinberg discussing Ringo’s musical legacy is offered as well. Select quotes from key figures in Ringo’s life adorn snare drum heads, tastefully sprinkled throughout the exhibit area. My favorite comes from George Harrison: “Playing without Ringo is like driving a car on three wheels”. Similar testimonials from John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Martin, Jim Keltner, Max Weinberg, DJ Fontana and others round out the set.
Fans should allow 90 minutes to two hours to fully experience the exhibit (and more to see the other museum fare). The only disappointment I found was, of all places, in the gift shop. The only disappointment I found was, of all places, in the gift shop. Discounting a couple of mounted hand-signed drumheads put together by Ringo’s longtime associate, and FEST regular Neal Glaser of Celebrity Art (asking price: $1200 each, with 100% of the proceeds going to Ringo’s charity, the Lotus Foundation), there wasn’t a single item offered that was unique to the exhibit and mentioned it by name. There were Peace & Love t-shirts and other Ringo garb typical of the merch offered at his concerts, and a selection of Ringo and Beatles CD’s and DVD’s. But if you wanted something with his name and the museum, and didn’t have the aforementioned $1200, you had to settle for a glossy two-sided announcement card, available in the lobby and various music outlets around town.
Fans living in or visiting the in the LA area are encouraged to do whatever it takes to navigate the mind-numbing traffic (ya know it don’t come easy) to experience this Sentimental Journey celebrating your friend and mine, Ringo Starr.
General admission tickets cost $12.95 and are available at the museum box office or by calling 1-888-9-AXS-TIX. The museum is open daily until 7:30pm. For more information, visit www.grammymuseum.org