Experience Music Report #3: Patti Smith, Joe Jackson Speak At Museum

Architect Frank Gehry defends his design of Seattle's Experience Music Project during its opening weekend.

SEATTLE — Rocker Patti Smith expressed her hope that the Experience Music Project doesn't turn into "a f---ing tourist attraction" during a talk at the interactive museum Saturday, the second day of its opening weekend.

Also, while massive crowds lined up for the funky James Brown Artist's Journey ride, new-wave singer/songwriter Joe Jackson discussed some woozy early career highlights and the $240 million museum's architect, Frank Gehry, defended the structure's peculiar appearance.

"I think it could be a really cool thing," Smith said, during a forum in the museum's JBL Theater. "I just hope it doesn't turn into just a f---ing tourist attraction. We have enough of those. I hope it's something where people can come and think and learn, but not something that talks down to us. We have to allow this place to evolve with our culture."

Smith, who performed a free show Friday night, said museums and educational projects often become tainted because of financial issues. "But the person behind this obviously isn't hurting," she said to a roar of laughter, referring to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who dreamed up — and funded — the EMP.

Several seminar attendees continued to ask Smith questions about Allen and the museum, ranging from, "Why did you decide to play here?" to "Do you think the $2,000 price tag to rent the Sky Church [a huge, visually superb room inside the museum] is unreasonable?"

Smith said she was not paid an outrageous amount to perform and described Seattle natives as "real watchdogs."

"I'm from New York City, so $2,000 is pretty cheap," she said. "If you're just throwing a party, then pay the f---ing fee. But I'm not really qualified to answer questions like that."

Talking The Rock

Smith also discussed Jimi Hendrix, Allen's inspiration to build the EMP. She told a story about meeting the guitar god, and she described how he inspired her performance styles. She also touched on his early death.

"You know, [musicians] are just regular people," Smith said. "If we take too much sh--, too many drugs, it can ruin us. And sadly, that's what happened to Jimi. He had some really great ideas about exploring music. It's sad."

Jackson also hosted a question-and-answer session Saturday, though he mostly discussed his own career.

Jackson — who is releasing a live album later this year, a follow-up to his May release, Summer in the City: Live in New York — entertained the crowd with a story about his early days "playing clubs without stages."

"There was one night, it was like a bad Western," said Jackson, who shared a stage Friday with Rickie Lee Jones. "We were playing this Scottish medley, and I was wearing this kilt and some drunk women kept trying to see what was underneath. Things got ugly."

Meanwhile, Gehry defended his structure's peculiar appearance, which has been the butt of jokes, including those from the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis, who called the museum "orgasmic."

Gehry, who signed copies of his new book, "Architecture Process: Gehry Talks," on Saturday in the EMP's gift shop, said the cavernous, multicolored EMP structure has a rock 'n' roll attitude.

Rock 'N' Roll Inspired

The architect, who also designed the curvy Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain, said he has designed other music-related edifices, such as a concert hall in Los Angeles. Gehry said the varied colors of the EMP stem from different rock icons.

"The purple comes from Hendrix. The blue is from a guitar I saw in an old book," he said, referring to a baby blue Fender Stratocaster.

Gehry said some prominent people have told him they like the design.

"Sheryl Crow loved it. I didn't know who she was, my wife had to tell me she was important. And Robbie something, he loved it," Gehry said referring to rock songwriter and The Band founder Robbie Robertson. "He's not a rock star, but Steven Spielberg loved it. He understood."

Upstairs, music fans struggled to figure out how to use the mini-computer/headsets that all visitors are encouraged to pick up. Many kids dragged the devices on the floor or played with them as toys, while their parents pointed and clicked at exhibits to hear songs and commentary on the artifacts.

EMP appeared to host many more visitors Saturday than Friday, as hour-long lines surrounded the Artists' Journey, the Sound Lab and the Hendrix Gallery.