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USC professor sings praises of LA music history

Grammy Museum exhibition
A visitor listen to various artists as part of Trouble in Paradise: Music and Los Angeles 1945-1975, an exhibition at The Grammy Museum. (Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Joining forces with The Grammy Museum, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism professor Josh Kun has curated Trouble in Paradise: Music and Los Angeles 1945-1975, the first large-scale exhibition on Los Angeles music by a local museum.

Trouble in Paradise, which will continue until June 3, culminates nearly one year of research by Kun, who received help from USC Annenberg students in his fall 2011 course “Music and Los Angeles.”

The exhibition features iconic images, album art, handbills, concert posters, newsreels, interviews and a digital jukebox filled with nearly 100 songs from four decades. One of the exhibition’s rooms is dedicated to the impact of cars, music and radio, as well as art and photography by Ed Ruscha, Henry Diltz and Robert Landau.

Surf rock, jazz, R&B, Laurel Canyon folk rock, the Sunset Strip rock scene and the East L.A. Chicano sound, all of which helped shape the most diverse and influential music scenes in America, are among the types of music highlighted in the exhibition.

Trouble in Paradise examines the contrasts between the perception of Southern California as a sunny paradise and the reality of social struggles that occurred during the post-World War II era.

“We’re focusing on the broken myths and promises of L.A. in those years,” Kun said. “We focus on things like the Watts riots, the Sunset Strip riots and the Chicano civil rights movement – key cultural and political upheavals.”

In other words, though The Beach Boys were part of the city’s music during the aforementioned years, Kun’s aim is to educate individuals about the layers of culture, politics and popular art beyond Surfin’ USA.

“My hope is that people get a different understanding of post-World War II L.A. through its music. That they come away understanding the multilayered aspects of life in Los Angeles in that period,” Kun explained. “I hope they come out thinking not only of The Beach Boys but understanding that at the very same time they were putting out records, so were leading African-American artists and Latino artists. These were worlds happening at exactly the same time.”

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