North by Northwest
19 May 2008
The ease with which “Pacific Northwest” is abbreviated to PACNOWE made us feel unwelcome before we even got here, but we were able to resist obeying that imperative long enough to have a very fun day in Seattle.
Most of the day was spent at the Experience Music Project, a museum housed in the first Frank Gehry building I’ve gotten to see in person. The building’s effect was much what I imagined it would be: I was a tiny person in a model city, looking up at the one structure that frustrated the model builder enough to make him crumple it up and leave it in a prominent spot (in this case, right next to the Space Needle) as a lesson to any of its siblings thinking about acting up. Gehry’s work is polarizing. On one hand, I’m put off by its brash ostentatiousness; the form seems so arbitrary, self-indulgent, and divorced from function. On the other hand, it begs to be photographed, to have abstract imagery extracted from its flaps and folds, bumps and dimples, nooks and crannies.
The museum’s contents were less contentious. Though it was relatively small, I could have easily spent another full day inside, largely thanks to the Sound and Vision exhibition, an oral history of twentieth century music comprised of hundreds of interviews with a wide spectrum of musical luminaries. Other exhibitions focused on Jimi Hendrix and the history of the electric guitar were less dense but packed with mouth-watering artifacts. As someone who has been struggling recently to maintain his credentials as a big music fan, this place may have been exactly the shot in the arm I needed.
Later, we met Mike Davidson (our generous host), recent Philadelphia expatriates Rachel and Josh Kopel, and a handful of other Seattle friends for some good conversation over the tasty Mexican edibles of La Carta de Oaxaca.
If you spend only one day in Seattle, I think you can do a lot worse than we did. And since our primary measurement of success from the outset was avoiding Candlebox, today can be called a triumph.