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10 places a music-lover must visit

Artists' homes, legendary recording studios, and high-octane rock music festivals, ten destinations that deserve a spot on your bucket list

The John Lennon memorial in Strawberry Fields. Photo: iStockphoto
The John Lennon memorial in Strawberry Fields. Photo: iStockphoto

I spent the last decade following the musician Tori Amos around the world whenever my savings would permit me to. I did this not because I’m a stalker, but because a large number of people have, every now and again, put their lives on hold to follow an artist. In the 1970s, for instance, fans of the psychedelic rock band Grateful Dead followed them around for years. People called them Deadheads, and their presence—a cult, as some would eventually put it—was an intrinsic part of every concert by the band. These superfans had their own codes and hierarchies, sometimes marrying within the community and evolving into a more literal family.

I am not part of any such cult, but many continue to follow in the footsteps of the Deadheads. It’s why The Beatles had their Beatlemaniacs, Beyoncé has her BeyHive and Justin Bieber his Beliebers. The one thing that binds them together is a love of music or an artist, which compels them to do what every fan always wants to do: pay their respects. The world is full of places, events, sites and corners that hold special significance for some people. These can be macabre, like the house in Seattle in which Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain shot himself, or joyful, like the Burning Man gathering that attracts thousands of artists and musicians to a temporary city in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert every year. Here are 10 places everyone who claims to be obsessed with music ought to visit. I have been to a few, and hope to be able to tick the rest off my list.

Abbey Road Studios in a 2010 photograph. Photo: Oli Scarff

Hotel Chelsea, New York City

Mark Twain lived here for a while, as did Dylan Thomas, Arthur C. Clarke and Tennessee Williams. Jack Kerouac wrote On The Road in one of its rooms. For the music-obsessed though, it will always be former guests like Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Madonna and Jim Morrison who give its now shabby exterior a continued sense of glamour. This is where Nancy Spungen, girlfriend of Sex Pistols vocalist Sid Vicious, was found stabbed to death. Guests are no longer welcome, as the property has been sold to a real estate developer, but there are rumours of the hotel opening again in 2018. It doesn’t matter if the interiors continue to be grimy either. Who wouldn’t want to rent a room where Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin lived out their brief and passionate romance?

Abbey Road Studios, London

The worst thing for people who live in this quiet corner next to Lord’s Cricket Ground is that they can’t drive past the crossing. Fans of The Beatles from around the world spend all daylight hours attempting to replicate the iconic cover photograph of the band’s Abbey Road album. Pink Floyd, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Iron Maiden, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga and Oasis recorded here too, but the only declarations of love on the graffiti-covered wall outside continue to be for John, Paul, George and Ringo. The wall is painted over every few weeks, but don’t let that stop you. It didn’t stop me.

Jim Morrison’s grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery. Photo: iStockphoto

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

This is where millions of the living have stopped by for decades to pay tribute to millions of dead people. It’s also where Georges Bizet and Frédéric Chopin lie buried, along with Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf. Many come for Jim Morrison though. The lead singer of The Doors was buried here in 1971 without any fanfare, until French officials placed a plaque over the site two years later—it was promptly stolen. In 1981, a new gravestone with a bust of the singer appeared; a few years later, it was stolen too. Today, a simple stone with a bronze plaque marks the spot, along with poems, cigarette packs and the odd bottle of whisky. I left a little note too, hoping it would break on through (to the other side).

Central Park, New York

I once spent an hour outside Dakota Apartments in New York City on 8 December, John Lennon’s death anniversary, hoping to catch a glimpse of his wife Yoko Ono. It’s where Lennon lived his last years, and outside which he was murdered, in 1980. Ono didn’t appear that day, so I crossed the street and walked into Central Park West across the road, to a landscaped spot called Strawberry Fields. Named after a song, this memorial came into being in 1985 on the day Lennon would have turned 45. At the centre lay a circular mosaic gifted by the city of Naples, with the word “Imagine" surrounded by long-stemmed roses. The only other people there were Beatles fans from around the world, who had come simply because the music of this Englishman had moved them in some way. As the sun set, more fans began to arrive, all singing his songs. It was extremely cold, but I left with a warm feeling inside.

Tokens of remembrance at Elvis Presley’s grave in Graceland. Photo: Jeff Mitchell

Graceland, Tennessee

It has been 40 years since Elvis Presley left the building for the last time, but it continues to be the second most visited house in the US, after the White House. What his fans continue to pay a lot of money for—the Ultimate VIP Tour currently costs $159 (around Rs10,000) according to the official website—is a peek into his famous Jungle Room, a tour of his many automobiles and jets, merchandise, a keepsake backstage pass and a meal at Vernon’s Smokehouse. The fact that this is his final resting place makes the tour a religious experience of sorts for many who continue to worship him. If you’re one of them, the most exciting time to drop by, apparently, is during Elvis Week, held annually around the anniversary of his death. You probably know when that is.

Salzburg, for Mozart

Salzburg was not good for Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. Sure, it’s where he was born, but it was also where he lost his job, was forced to quit and move to neighbouring Vienna. That hasn’t stopped Salzburg from laying claim to his legacy though. It’s impossible to escape, anywhere you look, from the house at Getreidegasse, where he was born in an apartment his family rented, to a town square called Mozartplatz and the Mozarteum Foundation Salzburg. Boxes of a sugar confection called Mozartkugel are sold everywhere, something that would undoubtedly have annoyed Mozart enormously. He would probably have sued for royalties too.

Memorabilia on display at Queen: The Studio Experience. Photo: Richard Gray

Queen: The Studio Experience, Montreux

A lot more people know Montreux for its jazz festival; only fans of the legendary English band Queen know about the existence of this studio. Owned by the band from 1979-93, this is where they recorded seven albums. Today, it’s a museum where fans check out Freddie Mercury memorabilia, including original handwritten lyrics for some of his biggest hits. There’s also apparently a mixing table that children love to try. Finding it may be hard, considering the museum is actually located inside a casino, but I suppose the idea of visitors potentially losing all their money would have made Mercury laugh.

Newport Jazz Festival, Rhode Island

This has been the place for jazz connoisseurs since 1954. The festival is also held in New York City, which means the acts only get bigger each year. It doesn’t matter to fans of the music though—for them, wherever the festival is held becomes hallowed ground. This is where Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk gave legendary performances, where Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday graced the stage, where Dave Brubeck and Ray Charles were recorded for the seminal concert film, Jazz On A Summer’s Day, in 1960, and where this year’s event, from 4-6 August, will give you access to the sounds of Vijay Iyer and The Roots, among a host of others.

Compton, Los Angeles

This isn’t really recommended unless you have a friend who knows the place really well, considering it’s where a whole lot of people sometimes get into trouble simply for being on the wrong side of the road. For fans of rap, however, it’s where legends like N.W.A. and Dr. Dre cut their teeth, where Suge Knight created Death Row Records, and where Kendrick Lamar now holds the keys to hip hop’s kingdom. If you do decide to visit, please read responses to the question “How dangerous are places like Compton?" on before flying out.

Rock in Rio, Brazil

For one of the largest music festivals in the world, it is weird that Rock in Rio doesn’t find itself on bucket lists with the same regularity as Glastonbury. It should though, given the musicians it has played host to since 1985. Headliners at that first festival included Queen, Rod Stewart and AC/DC, and it has since hosted everyone from Prince and Guns ‘N’ Roses to George Michael, Sting, R.E.M., Neil Young, Metallica, Coldplay and Bruce Springsteen. This year’s line-up includes Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, The Who and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Get those tickets, priced at €130 (around Rs9,500) while you can.

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