EMP (“Are You Experienced?”)

Is rock music truly an art?  This question has never met with a straightforward answer, either by the musicians themselves or the many who venerate them, and it hangs over the massive bulk of the Experience Music Project and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame here in Seattle.  The EMP is a 140,000-square-foot campus, designed in lurid hues of sheet metal.  With all its roller-coaster contortions and polished lumps, it certainly commands the attention.  Many seemingly well-adjusted and intelligent people have convinced themselves that the building itself is an art form, and a strangely beautiful one at that.  It is not beautiful, though neither is it ugly.  It is merely absurd.  It is a 60’s rock-music confection, straight out of the type of psychedelic poster that once would have extolled Seattle’s own Jimi Hendrix, whose detritus is much in evidence inside.

The earliest exhibitions on view offer the strongest argument for a distinct rock-music art, partly because the hand-written lyrics of the likes of Hendrix, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan make clear how these academically modest young men so thrillingly exploited the turbulent Western youth culture produced by affluence and the Vietnam War.  It is affecting to see the little scraps of schoolbook paper with their blotted slogans that, in the case of Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” went on to be numbered...

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