Sounds Like Preteen Spirit

A FRIEND OF mine has started attending Christina Aguilera and B*Witched shows as a way to meet women. No, not the kiddie fans (I said women, not girls--and besides, that would be illegal and you know it!), but the oft-as-not estranged and still-youngish moms acting as chaperones thereabouts. Ticketmaster fees being what they are, this strikes me as an expensive (albeit ingenious) way to court divorcées. After a recent trip to check out the "Sounds Good to Me: Music in Minnesota" exhibit, I'd recommend instead the Minnesota History Museum. It's free. It's educational. And on the Wednesday afternoon I swung by, it was overrun with young'uns screeching through the halls. And wherever there are kids, there are moms.

You forget some things about kids when you don't spend much time around them, or at least I do. First off, I have a hard time distinguishing between the different ages. Five, seven, ten--to me, they all look the same. And sound the same. And I always forget just how weird kids are. A visit to the "Funkytown" booth at this exhibit quickly reminds me. A hands-on sound-booth replica, it allows you--in theory, at least--to sing your own vocal over the Lipps, Inc., track, and then to create your own mix. In practice, this meant children in one section screaming, "Funkytown! Funky! Funky!" while their partners across the partition randomly moved instruments in and out of the mix with a conceptual irrationality that would have disoriented Lee Perry.

Everything must go: A replica of Duluth's Young at Heart Records at the Minnesota History Museum
Everything must go: A replica of Duluth's Young at Heart Records at the Minnesota History Museum

Don't get me wrong--there was still plenty to keep a putative grownup engaged as well. The exhibition is as broad a display as its title would suggest: One ethnically themed display features video clips of not just the Somali National Week Celebration but also Dinner Club 2000, a Hmong nightclub where we learn that "The Electric Slide," like all infectious diseases, recognizes no cultural boundaries. (And the Immanuel Lutheran Choir and the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus add up to as inclusive a diversity as you could ask for.) But the exhibit balances its properly multiculti air with skeptical taglines like: "Can music change the world? You will find music on both sides of almost any battle between change and the status quo."

Throughout, the emphasis of the exhibit is on music as something people make, particularly in an interactive set of homemade instruments (a xylophone constructed from wrenches, a set of rubber-coated pipes you can hammer with Ping-Pong paddles--like that). But from the "Funkytown" booth onward, "Sounds Good to Me" also acknowledges the production (and the consumption) of records, a practice that lots of folkie-minded musicologists often regard as a lapsarian fall from "pure" people's music into mass-produced commodification.

That this exhibit maintains such a varied perspective is a testament to the supple mind of curator Benjamin Filene, whose recent Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Vernacular Music (North Carolina Press) is a more intriguing relation of how the idea of "folk" music was created by wistful urbanites than its dry title suggests. In order to demonstrate how music listeners create meaning from music as well, Filene allowed a dozen high school students to dress up pretend lockers with their favorite music-related memorabilia. And "Sounds Good to Me" doesn't demonize commerce, accepting the fact that American music was tied up in sales at least since sheet music became a publishable commodity. And so, you're treated to displays that acknowledge the record industry and record stores. (A Best Buy station where attendees can purchase their very own 3 Doors Down and Faith Hill CDs may be blurring the edges a bit much.)

Also noteworthy is the way that rock and its various hyphenated hybrids are worked into the display without prioritizing it. A section celebrating the "Minneapolis Scene" stretches from Koerner, Ray, and Glover publicity shots to Prince's tambourines and the first bass owned by Karl Mueller of Soul Asylum in the space of a medium-sized museum wall. And you've got to like a G-rated exhibition that finds room even for vulgar Amphetamine Reptile. "Precious, delicate and fragile ain't @*%# terms one should ever be able to apply to rock of any ilk," reads a quote on the wall from Tom Hazelmeyer, the judicious use of symbols making AmRep's mastermind sound as gruff as Hagar the Horrible.

Of course, the ultimate test of any exhibition is how it affects your sensitivity to stimuli once you leave the museum. In this case, when I went to pull my jacket off the coat rack, the metal hangers chimed against each other. And the infant screaming on the 94B that took me back across the river sounded melodious too.

 
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