10 travel ideas for music fans

I spent the last two decades following a musician around the world, whenever my meager savings permitted 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 The 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 a 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: 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 Mangathering 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 check out. I have been to a few, and continue to save money in the hope of being able to tick the rest off my list.

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 Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin made love in?

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The legendary Hotel Chelsea in New York City

Graceland, Tennessee
It’s been 40 years since Elvis Presley left the building for the last time, but that building itself continues to be the second most-visited house in America, after the White House. What his fans continue to pay a lot of money for — the Ultimate VIP Tour currently costs $159, according to the official website — is a peek at his famous Jungle Room, a tour of his many automobiles and jets, merchandise, 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 is during Elvis Week, apparently, 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 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 to a temporary apartment his family rented, to a town square called Mozartplatz and the Mozarteum Conservatory and Research Centre. There are also boxes of a sugar confection called Mozartkugel sold everywhere, which would undoubtedly have annoyed Mozart enormously.He would probably have sued for royalties too.

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The Salzburg apartment where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born

Queen 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 to 1993, it’s where they recorded seven albums and is now a museum where fans check out Freddy Mercury memorabilia, including original handwritten lyrics to some of his biggest hits. There’s also a mixing table, apparently, 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 him laugh.

Abbey Road Studios, London
The worst thing for people who live at this quiet corner next to Lord’s Cricket Ground is how 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 to 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.

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Beatles fans from around the world continue to scrawl their names at Abbey Road

Newport Jazz Festival, Rhode Island
This has been the place for jazz connoisseurs to be since 1954. It 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 whom anywhere the festival is 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 August 4 to 6, will give you access to the sounds of Vijay Iyer and The Roots, among a host of others.

Central Park, New York
I once spent an hour outside the Dakota Apartments in New York City on December 8, hoping to catch a glimpse of Yoko Ono. It’s where her husband John 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 opposite, 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, had he lived. 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. It was the anniversary of Lennon’s death and, 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.

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The Dakota, opposite New York’s Central Park, where Lennon was shot

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 get shot for simply 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 TripAdvisor.com before flying out.

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 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 shield over the site two years later, which was promptly stolen. In 1981, a new gravestone with a bust of the singer appeared, and was also stolen a few years later. Today, a simple stone with a bronze plaque marks the spot, along with poems, cigarette packs and the odd bottle of whiskey.I left a little note too, hoping it would break on through, to the other side.

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Tributes to Jim Morrison of The Doors at his grave in Paris

Rock in Rio, Brazil
For one of the largest music festivals in the world, it is weird how 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 while you can.

First published in Mint Lounge, India, June 2017

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