It's been a few months since I put up one of my periodic time capsule-heavy how-you-doin' updates. Today seems like an especially apt time to do so. Because on this date, Nirvana's first album "Bleach" was released back in 1989. While the album was well-received by critics, it barely reached the broader public still quaintly thinking of Seattle as an out of the way "noun" rather than a soon-to-be ubiquitous "adjective" (as in "Seattle sound" or "Seattle band" or the like). The relative lack of promotion eventually led Nirvana to leave Seattle's own Sub Pop Records. "Bleach" sold just 40,000 copies by the time their next album "Nevermind" fully cracked the cultural firmament two years later. However, it would go on to become Sub Pop's biggest selling album (1.9M and counting). Not bad for an album that cost just over $600 in studio time to record.
Music journalists eventually dug way deep to learn that Cobain wrote most of the lyrics for that first batch of songs in a "pissed off mood" (Kurt's characterization, not mine) the night before their first recording session with Jack Endino at Reciprocal Records in Ballard. The sound was somewhat shaped to fit what Sub Pop was looking for at the time. But the energy and the originality and the off-kilter melodic fury endures. I still spin it from time to time. In fact, that's what's playing in the background as I write this.
As I also like to point out at the start of my Grunge Redux tours, six days prior to "Bleach" dropping was an especially fortuitous date for the 2000-ish lucky people who made it into Sub Pop's "Lame Fest" at the Moore Theatre. The kind, naive people running that venue misjudged a billing with Nirvana, Tad and Mudhoney on the marquee. Hardly anyone aside from the in-the-know local fans thought it could sell out (which it did). Surely including the management of The Moore, who chose to send home early their security. And maybe not even Sub Pop, who were (reportedly) banned for a decade from that neighborhood venue as a result of the mayhem that resulted.
Shifting forward to the now-ish...two months on down the line, we'll all most likely be lamenting "where did the summer go?" Before then, I've got big plans. Travel, family fun, a pile of work that's staring me down. Not that you asked, but I like to keep y'all in the know. Regardless, interspersed until mid-August on some special dates, I'll be running more Grunge Redux tours. Then after Pearl Jam finishes up their first Seattle shows in five years and Sub Pop throws itself a 30th birthday bash out on Alki Beach, I'll be dropping the ol' tour guide record bag (aside from a few charitable outings and the occasional special request). My subtle wink wink nudge nudge point here is to say that I'd love to have you join me for one before I stop doing encores. Next Friday even. Which could be an unseasonable warm day. What better time to skip out of work early and make a few Happy Hour cooling stops wrapped up in my uniquely Seattle storytelling experience? Tickets are available. Questions, as always, are welcomed and answered as soon as I can get to them.
Or you can also check me out for a limited time on Airbnb. If you've joined me before and want to say something about the experience, reviews can be placed there. No pressure. Just another friendly nudge.
Now if you'll excuse me, time to get back to rocking out. I hope you're doing the same...or will be soon...on this room-temperature and sunny Friday.
No one should aim to dwell too much in the past. But who doesn't love an entertaining ride in the ol' time machine every once in a while? If you set the flux capacitor for 27 years ago right about now, you'd be able to make the grand opening of the Crocodile Cafe (with The Posies and Love Battery on the bill). Looking around Belltown in the Springtime of 1991 might seem delightfully primordial. Or well past prime for those locals who'd grown up going to venues well before the Teen Dance Ordinance starting shutting them down. No one, however, could have foretold that two of the biggest-selling albums of the entire decade (Pearl Jam's Ten released that August and Nirvana's Nevermind in September) would soon come from here. Who wouldn't get a charge out of skipping that rock back to before Seattle largely became an adjective and grunge became a noun in common worldwide usage?
Or what about a trip back to 1989 around the time of "Lame Fest" at The Moore (with Mudhoney, TAD, and Nirvana introducing their first and only Sub Pop album Bleach). Or the turbulent watershed year of 1994 when Seattle's Big 4 (Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden) all hit #1 on the then-still-important Billboard Album chart. You could easily wear out the dial flipping back and forth between the dates that could showcase Seattle's unlikely rise and evolution as a music City of sizable awesomeness.
Thankfully, you don't have to. You can instead sign up for one of my Grunge Redux tours.
As we leap into May, I've got three tours on the calendar, and another 5 scheduled in June. I'll be on the road in July, but then back in August with a prescheduled slate of tours the week of Pearl Jam's "Home Shows" and Sub Pop Records's sure-to-be epic 30th Anniversary Party. Nothing's rock solid, however, since even the most beloved side projects get shelved when the proverbial band gets back together.
This is, nonetheless, a rather long-winded wink wink nudge nudge way to say that there are available spots on my Happy Hour tour this Friday, 5/4, starting at 4pm. As usual, we'll walk an approximately two-mile path through Belltown and finish up at KEXP's Gathering Space in Seattle Center. The many stops along the way make this a two-hour-plus-a-skoch storytelling journey. Tickets are $50/person, although cheaper as pairs or even more so in larger groups. I'll happily reply with timely answers if you lob back questions. Or I'll send along all the logistical details you'll need if you pick out tickets that appeal to you.
In the past month alone, I was been delighted to lead around folks from Germany, Denmark, Scotland, England, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit and the Great Pacific Northwest. As always, people ranging from the most casual of music fans to the randomly obsessed lobbed back new insights along the way. Snippets from those conversations and other newly discovered grunge-y gems factor into the storytelling I'll be doing along the way. If you've not yet heard my backstory on this, my love for that era's music developed both prior to and after making my own way out West in 1993. As I like to say (on purpose), "grunge is people." One of these times on this evolving loop around Belltown, I'll figure out just what I mean by that.
But in all seriousness if you're looking for a more tangible sense of what gets covered on my Grunge Redux tours, I've dug deeply for places where the essential music of the mid-1980s through later-1990s was both created and consumed. The course of a few hours gives us time to explore a workable overview of the grunge era in Seattle and beyond. More material will come your way later to inspire additional exploration. I'm happy to proclaim that this ain't no sucky suicide and sadness tour. Although I certainly don't shy away from giving those chapters their due inclusion. I'm just firing up the wayback machine, and hopefully connecting some of the dots you might have missed along the way. With more than a few yucks thrown in. Hopefully.
Whether or not you can make it on a tour, feel free to pass this or future friendly promos along. There are no guarantees of how long I'll be offering this. Passion projects are like that. I'm nonetheless happy to accommodate y'all and any special requests that arise so long as I do.
Regardless, here's hoping we cross paths at a show sometime soon. Be well, and rock on always.
30 years ago this month, a series of curious events occurred that would eventually shift the plates of Seattle's seemingly sedate cultural bedrock. Sub Pop Records signed a lease on office space in Belltown on a metaphorically significant April Fools Day. Nirvana played their first two Seattle shows. Mudhoney also played their first show, seven years after their lead singer, Mark Arm, unintentionally coined the much-loathed yet essential term "grunge" in a letter to the long-since defunct punk zine, "Desperate Times." To go further down that rabbit hole, Mudhoney formed from the split nucleus of the band Green River, which also led to the formation of Mother Love Bone. For the non-geeks out there and/or anyone else still reading, Pearl Jam formed in part from Mother Love Bone, after the tragic death of their lead singer, Andy Wood, in 1990. As one might say in a deep, movie-trailer quality voiceover, "in a world where few bands dared to believe they could succeed...now there were many...and soon there'd be many many more."
Whether or not its obvious, I've continued to polish the chrome and tweak the carburetor on my Grunge Redux walking tour through parts of downtown Seattle. And without being a noodge...too late...I want to point y'all toward my revised calendar for upcoming tours.
This Friday, 4/6, I'm doing another Happy Hour tour starting at 4pm. And then the Saturday after next, 4/14, I'm doing my first Brunch tour starting at 10:30. In both iterations, we'll walk an approximately two-mile path through Belltown and finish up at KEXP's Gathering Space in Seattle Center. The many stops along the way make this a two-hour-plus-a-skoch storytelling journey.
If you've not received or just not bothered to read through one of my promos previously, there's more detail on my website along with a schedule through August. Tickets are $50/person, although cheaper as pairs or even more so in bigger groups. I'll happily reply with timely answers if you lob back questions. Or I'll send along all the logistical details you'll need if you pick out tickets that appeal to you.
As has always been the case with my Grunge Redux tours, there's an element of improv drawn from the particular interests of those along for the walk. Feel free to tell me what you yearn to hear covered. Please bear in mind that you needn't be versed in the grunge era (which I bookend with stories that place the action between 1985 and 1996-ish). Or if you're a Seattle music super geek, I still believe I can add to that with deep cuts and thoughtfully researched connective logic. All ages are welcome, although there will be opportunities for the grown ups to stop briefly for beverages along the way. In which case, the all ages ticket holders get to play in the figurative street.
I believe this immersive history tour makes an essential boom era in Seattle's history return to life. Imagine the Underground Tour of Pioneer Square. But with careful research, fresh air and even fresher shtick. I'd be stoked to show y'all some of what I've learned along this path. Regardless, I hope you're well and ready for whatever new stories are being currently generated all over the Great Northwest.
I caught the first of two reunion shows in Seattle for Treepeople last night at Neumo's on Capitol Hill. You're probably already Googling the band Treepeople, which will surely lead to the subsequent work of lead singer/guitarist Doug Martsch's next Boise-connected band, Built to Spill. Maybe you already know their further connections with The Halo Benders, and the incredibly influential K Records from Olympia. Heading down the ol' band genealogy road never fails to entertain me, whether or not it does much for you.
Yet aside from more of this "six degrees of Seattle separation" shtick, I'm actually more interested in bearing down on the pleasure to be had from a spirited show on a random Wednesday. The bottom line being that I still love seeing live music.
I'm not aiming to be mean, but I was also reminded last night of just how, um, let's just say weathered so many of my Gen X compatriots appear as our median age careens toward (or beyond...) 50-years-old. The joy, nonetheless, lies in seeing the varied shades of my graying generation truly bobbing along to noisy riffs. Let's face it folks - Gen X is heading toward AARP territory. I, for one, hope we fully steer into that skid.
My thinking about last night also loops around toward a rational view of why I even dare to offer something as inherently silly as a walking tour for the grunge-serious or at least curious.
To start, let's further call out Gen X's demographic shortcomings. We're the smallest population slice on the tray here in the good ol' US of A. Surely we play well with others, but that's a point still worth mentioning as the baby boomers and millenials and whatever the hell you want to call my daughter's generation are fighting for influence over the mainstream culture with numbers we simply can't match. Of my generation's serious cultural contributions, the most influential surely must be seen as the growth in the late '80s to '90s of hip hop. But the rock mashup that's become comfortably known as grunge has (at least in my mind) become harder to trace.
From another angle, I mean it as a compliment to the fans of Pearl Jam when I say they are more akin to classic rock fans than to that of any other genre. Their concerts are huge, their audience is global, they are followed like the Dead but with much nicer accommodations expected and found out truckin'. But aside from their admirable longevity and continued output of studio albums over what will soon be three decades, there certainly isn't a caravan of bands still out there applying salve to the souls of my generation. The simple logic of aging mean that other bands from the grunge era are increasingly relegated to retooling and reunions. At best. Which means that people looking to tap into quality sharable nostalgia from the '80s and '90s have to dig a little deeper. That act can be rewarding, though, when the beloved resurface.
Digging just a little deeper on last night, Treepeople added Troy Wright on bass, to fill the gap left by the tragic loss of Pat Brown in 1999. Pat's younger brother, Scott Schmaljohn, and Martsch were a joy to watch shred and connect and just plain bloom in the familiar spotlight on the stage. I've always focused an inordinate amount of attention on the drummer, and Wayne Rhino Flower did not disappoint with the way he chokes up on his sticks and drives so passionately through song after song. Theirs was a solid hour+ of grungy glee, shared by all.
Although my sample of what others thought of the show is limited. The best conversation I had was with an epic-length-grey-goatee-wearing superfan named Adrian during the break after the second opener. We started in with parkour jokes about Neumo's upper level, and effortlessly shifted to shared concerns over recently mangled joints and a grudging appreciation for yoga or whatever zen bullshit works best to keep us rock solid so that we can see decades of more adventures. Including these sorts of shows. Whatever others thought about last night, I hope to join them or their ilk out for more of the same very soon. Thank you, Treepeople. Thank you, Seattle. And thank you, too, for reading.
Concert billing from the second show Nirvana played in Seattle, on April 24, 1988.Read More
I spent part of a lovely Seattle morning this week with Ana Sofia Knauf (storyteller extraordinaire with Seattle's essential The Evergrey) talking grunge history. You can find the resulting feature on their website. Whenever I'm in the position of qualifying this passion project's existence, I come back around to what's important to me. History. The music. And the friends I made while experiencing them both. During that interview, I mentioned once again my dear friend, Bob Wayman, and our shared, hilarious meandering through those crazy years in the '90s. Sadly, Bob's not around to keep me in my lane by not over-sentimentalizing what transpired as the world turned Seattle from a noun into an adjective (e.g. Seattle sound, Seattle band, Seattle style). But I know he's looking over my karmic shoulder.
If you've not noticed, I've put up other future dates for tours if you're not able to join this Friday's Grunge Redux Happy Hour tour. I'll be traveling for research on an unrelated book project in July. Still there are 16 total dates on that calendar, including the handful the week of Pearl Jam's "Home Shows" here in Seattle. I'm planning to drop the mic on Saturday, August 11th when Sub Pop's 30th Anniversary Party is held out on Alki Beach. For those fact checkers out there, Sub Pop's actual 30th anniversary is this coming April Fool's Day. Who can blame them for planning for a sure-to-be epic free festival in the summertime? I'm looking forward to it mightily.
More updates coming soon on this site, I assure you. Including better e-commerce capabilities. You can always email me, in the interim. As those who've done so can attest, I'm quick on the reply. Rock on.
Art on display at the beginning of the exhibit "Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses" by a very young Kurt CobainRead More
Today's the anniversary of the first time the Ramones played in Seattle. When they rolled through in March of '77 to promote their second album, they'd just been screwed over on ill-chosen gigs in Bremerton and Aberdeen. Thankfully, some enterprising local punks with an eye toward much greater things took a chance and suggested an all-ages Seattle show. The result became legendary. Booked in the totally posh Olympic Hotel's Georgian Room...currently advertised as the "only downtown Seattle dining option offering traditional afternoon tea service"...the Ramones pulled off an epic show. Connections were made. Everyone got paid. Halfway across the country, I was in elementary school. Nonetheless, I can imagine what an effect it had on the 400 to 500 lucky punks who were downtown that Sunday night.
Not that long thereafter...and 40 years ago this past Sunday...Seattle's gestating DIY punk scene got its first real (albeit short-lived) venue. The Bird. Even though it only hung on at 107 Spring St. for three months before getting booted into a more vagabond floating life around Seattle, promoters started thinking big(ger). It wasn't long before Seattle would get Larry "The current (Unofficial) Mayor of Georgetown" Reid's gallery/club Roscoe Louie in Pioneer Square, the U District's Rainbow Tavern (at 722 NE 45th St. next to the Blue Moon) would become a room with pull, and a Jewish bingo hall previously named the Talmud-Torah would be rechristened Seattle's most influential big room, The Showbox. Others followed. Inspiration(s) ebbed and flowed. The story continues...
That Ramones show, those evolving venues, the punks who were figuring out they could link up what had been a long-ignored cultural outpost here in Seattle with the broader national story: these are just a few of the pieces that fell into place for what would become the massively over-exposed grunge era here in Seattle. For me, searching for those layers and hunting for puzzle pieces across Seattle's landscape is an endlessly fascinating hobby. Maybe you can join me on a tour sometime soon to check out what's out there and worth pursuing? The stories themselves bring me great pleasure. But seeing where they actually unfolded? That's the best part.
As an aside for location nerds who (like myself) are always looking for the backstory, don't forget that the Olympic Hotel is also on the original site of the University of Washington dating all the way back to 1861 (previously called the Territorial University of Washington before statehood arrived in 1889). There's a plaque out front. And it's worth looking across the street at the ruins beneath the former Rainier Square mall and the oddly exposed base of the Rainier Tower (designed by Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the former World Trade Center in NYC). So many layers of downtown Seattle stories, so little time.
I should thank Peter Blecha's research for HistoryLink.org and Steven Tow for his book "The Strangest Tribe" for whetting my appetite to explore more of this amazing chapter in Seattle's history. It surely didn't seem like it at the time, but those few phone calls to promoters back in the 1977 continue to reverberate up through the current moment. Amazing how culture can do that for a place, doncha think?
Nevermind the clichés. Grunge Redux, my always-evolving and deeply-researched storytelling tour, returns! Peek into some of coolest corners of the over-exposed yet still somehow superunknown grunge era. Dig deeper into the dirt around this Town's musical roots. Gain insight into what led to the sonic boom that turned "Seattle" from a proper noun into an adjective (think "Seattle band"). And connect a whole lotta dots for a clearer picture of the upheaval caused by the music and culture that came from here.
Expect to walk a path where many influential bands from the mid-80s through the late-90s cut teeth, stumbled repeatedly, and earned cred. Stops will feature largely unmarked notable locations worth remembering throughout Belltown and beyond. This short-term side project will split up and go our separate ways at KEXP's Gathering Space in Seattle Center.
This will be a motivated trek...with a few well-timed pit stops...covering approximately two miles. Be prepped to walk and withstand the elements (chilly temps are forecast through the weekend). No matter how long you've lived in Seattle, expect that you'll hear funny and real stories that provide a new context for an influential era.
Send me an email (eric "at" seattlegrungeredux.com) if you'd like in. I'll respond with detail(s) of where to meet. Space is (very) limited. Payment will be up to you...this is a one-time offer before I roll this out more regularly...I typically charge $50/person. Future tour offerings will occur approximately twice monthly.
Please note that my tour isn't connected with The Croc's gathering later Saturday to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Bird (Seattle's first punk club @ 107 Spring St.). Although that gig's highly recommended.
You know you want to know more about Seattle's grunge era. So why not join me for the walk that rocks? Rain or shine, it'll be a good time.
If Kurt Cobain had survived the paired demons of addiction and international fame, today would be his 51st birthday. Instead, he died at age 27. Just like Seattle-native Jimi Hendrix, and host of other tragically-lost icons. I can only guess that he'd find any public focus upon his birthday as similar to the other intrusions into his private life. I was reminded of it by a burgeoning list of people I follow on Twitter and the usual "Today in History" snapshots that still get run in the media. Here's when I just step away (hopefully) with grace by saying, here's to Kurt. I'm certainly not alone in saying he was my favorite musician from the 90s. Skol!
Yesterday was a picture-perfect, cold-for-Seattle Presidents' Day. I took the chance to walk through much of downtown Seattle and the Seattle Center, snapping pics of some of my favorite spots to stop and tell stories along the way of my "Grunge Redux" tour. I've uploaded many of them. If you join me on a tour, I promise we'll get to see many but not all of those spots. I can't promise the weather will cooperate. This is Seattle, after all. Luckily, we stop and poke our heads inside more than enough places to dry off on even the ugliest of days. That I promise, as well.
I came up with the idea for this tour in late 2016. Or 1993. Or somewhere in between. It was always about the music, Seattle, friends, or the combination of them all. Now it's about sharing it with the broader world. Twice a month. Two hours at a time. Walking and talking and pointing at things that (in most cases) aren't there any longer. But the memories remain. The stories connect the past with the present. I'm a storyteller. So won't you join me for the next tour?
Send me a message to see when I'm next available. Or just sign up for one of my tour dates. You'll be glad you took the initiative and did so.