I caught the West Coast tour kick-off for Filthy Friends (and Eyelids) last night at Neumo’s. The show hit all the right marks for the age and style of fan that I assuredly have become. Both bands delivered accomplished sets. Recognizable icons filled the stage. The crowd grooved but no one got hurt. And we all got back on the road elsewhere at a very agreeable time. As my wife just commented when I gave her my morning coffee recap, “sounds like the perfect Dad rock evening.” Yes, indeed.
Before you take that as snark, dear reader, allow me to add a few deets. Filthy Friends are a true supergroup made up of Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney, and various side projects), Peter Buck (R.E.M., ditto), Kurt Bloch (Fastbacks…), Linda Pitmon (Zu Zu’s Petals…) and Scott McCaughey (The Young Fresh Fellows…). They live in Seattle, Portland, and NYC. They concentrated on their new album (“Emerald Valley”) released last week. Add up the amount of performing years experience on the stage and the tally would reach well into a second century. In other words, they’ve each forgotten more about rock ‘n roll than any of us will ever know firsthand. They do their jobs and look like they’re having fun up there.
Admittedly, I was there to see Scott McCaughey first and foremost. He’s one of the often uncredited icons of the exponential growth in Seattle’s music scene through the mid-’90s. By the time I’d rolled into town back in ‘93, The Young Fresh Fellows had already earned an honorary emeritus professorial position locally. Do yourself a favor if you’re not acquainted with them and give a listen to “The Fabulous Sounds of the Pacific Northwest” (1984) on Spotify. While you’re at it, check out Fastbacks “Very, Very Powerful Motor” (1990)…but I digress. The point being that I always loved McCaughey’s unpretentious swagger on stage. Which made the news that he’d suffered a stroke back in 2017 all the more jarring. The good news is that he’s doing great. He now looks like Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown in the “Back to the Future” movies. And while the interplay between the players may not be as natural as a group who’ve been together for years in the van and on the stage, they made me just plain feel good about being out to see a show at my favorite club on a Thursday night. Even when a group of well-soused, much younger club goers weaseled their way in front of me prior to the encore…including one oversized dood who appeared to be as over-wide as he was over-tall and over-served…I couldn’t help but laugh at myself for even getting a slight bit annoyed at the pluck on them. It is rock ‘n roll, after all. Long may it live. Especially if it gets me out, inspired, and then home not long after 11pm on a weeknight.
Spring arrived in stellar form here in Seattle. We’ve actually been sweating through record temps - with record temps near 80-degrees for three days running. 3/19/19 was even the warmest Winter day EVER recorded in Seattle. This comes little more than a month after an equally rare snowy stretch dumped a foot on us and canceled a week worth of school. What better time to shine some light on a few noteworthy dates as the days lengthen and brighten.
April Fools Day is the true anniversary of Sub Pop Records’s official founding. They turn 31 this year. After last year’s “can you believe we’re 30?” parties and countless features, this birthday may prove easily missed. There’s still much to celebrate. Like the return of Sub Pop’s famous “Singles Club” in its 4th Volume (sorry - no longer open for new subscriptions). They tell me that the first two 7-inch vinyl records will ship in April. I’m certainly not alone in my stoked-ed-ness.
Which reminds me to mention something that is still available - Gillian G. Gaar’s new book. World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story sheds beams of new light on their history (as the first in the “RPM Series” of titles from BMG Books). Gaar got plenty of access to Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman, and a full roster of insider perspectives. I saw her talk about the book a few months ago at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Company. There was a room full of old school Seattleites present to ask Gaar obscure and sometimes pertinent questions. Even if Sub Pop’s not officially shining a light upon itself this month, I’ll be telling some of my favorite old and new Sub Pop stories as we walk around Belltown.
A far less celebratory but certainly significant milestone comes up that same week. April 5th marks the 25th anniversary Kurt Cobain’s death. When he was found on April 8, 1994 at his home here in Seattle, I was in grad school at the University of Washington. One of the stories I share on my tour focuses upon what I experienced on the day Kurt was found, and over the melancholy days that followed. I suspect I won’t be alone in recalling in the coming weeks what I experienced and thought 25 years ago. Judging by the contact from fans I’ve recently received, this date merits a variety of worldwide observations.
The bench used as an informal memorial since April 1994.
I should note for those just tuning in that by design I don’t take people by Kurt Cobain’s former home. I’m actually somewhat uncomfortable with that location being used as an informal memorial, although I certainly understand the need it serves for some. My walking tour around parts of Seattle functions more as a tribute to where the scene lived in the mid-1980s through the 1990s. All of us who feel a connection to the music that came from Seattle and the Pacific Northwest during that era can and likely do have something to say about what occurred here. With all due respect to other forms of memorial, I hope you’ll join me in observing not just where the tragedies happened. Maybe then we’ll have a better sense of where we’ve traveled since. And possibly where we’re we should be looking for what’s next.
Unlike so much else that came from the grunge era, the fashion of the those times remains popular. Or at least continues to be marketed and discussed as grunge. My tour intentionally follows a path that includes stories of the so-called fashion of the grunge era. For those who shopped in thrift stores especially during the 1980s and ‘90s, it wasn’t about the look so much as the price of what was available. And the continued marketing of the grunge-y look undoubtably causes some mocking awareness. What’s always been worthwhile talking about is how flannel shirts and combat boots became such identifiable cliches. The bottom line being in part that the “acres of flannel” (a term I’d like to copyright) found at the Goodwill stores and Value Villages and less identifiable second-hand stores of Seattle fielded the cheapest crop of looks for those with the most limited budgets. The look of grunge, for lack of a better term, wasn’t invented in the Pacific Northwest. Punks all across the world can scream that fact at you. But good luck telling that to the larger world that assumes it was required for entry into the scene here in Seattle.
It’s perhaps not surprising that the look hasn’t gone away. And what got me thinking about the fashion of the era yet again this week came from the NYTimes’s amazing chief fashion critic, Vanessa Friedman. She reported from Milan’s Fall Fashion Week shows about the continued presence of “grunge” fashion on the runways of Versace and Agnona (among other fashion lines). Friedman even pondered in print what to call the current trend of “luxury grunge” looks for next Fall - whether “lunge?” or “gruxury?” - while offering her trademark dissection of where it all comes from while analyzing where the winds may be blowing. Marc Jacobs has by far the most scandalous mix of such retreads. He even called his 25th anniversary line of grunge looks “Redux Grunge.” For anyone who knows the backstory of his brilliantly disastrous 1993 Perry Ellis grunge line, his attempt at “redux” surely shouldn’t shock. The Cobain family and surviving members of Nirvana beat me to the punch of filing suit against Jacobs for trademark infractions. One look at the logo he stole from Nirvana and you’re sure rule for the plaintiff. Next up - my grievance for stealing and trashing the good name of my tour.
I simply believe that continuing to re-fashion grunge amounts to creative laziness. I would like to think that most fashion consumers are aware when they are stepping over the line into self-mockery. Or are they? Jacobs got destroyed (lost his job, mocked for decades) for designing flannel shirts that would sell for hundreds of dollars back in the early 1990s. What about those same basic designs selling for much more today? Nobody struggling to pay rent or afford a night out in the clubs could ever hope to afford one of these new faux grunge looks from a fancypants fashion house. Nonetheless, I still love a good flannel. Especially those with provenance like the ones being made in the U.S.A. for the first time in decades by American Giant.
That’s a whole other layer of dissection of form and function…don’t get me started on my broader work on where fashion comes from…and certainly not the point of this no-longer-so-simple post. I just wanted to mention that we spend some time out on the streets of Seattle pointing to places like the Army/Navy Surplus store on First Avenue in Belltown as places with legitimate history dating back far beyond the grunge era.
As I wrote here in my most recent post, I’m going to lob more subjects on this ongoing blog to broaden the overview for my Grunge Redux tours. Along with the podcast (!) I’m developing. If you have questions about what I cover out on the streets of Seattle, holler back. Or just join me for a tour. I promise we’ll have a good time revisiting a fascinating era of the region’s cultural history. And there’s no dress code required.
February’s almost over, which means that my Grunge Redux tour schedule kicks back into gear. I’ve recently led some special tours (including one awesome group of high school age music fans from Seattle on a particularly rainy January day). I’ve done some special advance scouting travel for an August overseas move (more on that later). But for those interested in regular walking tours around Seattle’s fascinating cultural geography, I’m happy to announce that I’m getting back out on the streets.
As always, you can drop me a quick line if you have plans to visit Seattle when you don’t see a tour on my schedule. More often than not, I’m open to thoughtful pitches and special requests. There’s really nothing else out there like what I do for those obsessed or at least curious about the Pacific Northwest’s grunge era history. As I’ve often said on my tours, “I’m not trying to ‘out cool’ anyone.” This is a labor of love and my (self-appointed) ambassadorial duties have introduced me to an expanding atlas of far-flung tour takers. So far, people from a few dozen countries and more than 30 American states have toured with me. Why not jump into the mosh pit yourself? It’s a friendly, invigorating way of seeing a slice of Seattle - both past and present.
I need to add some links to some recent media that has featured Seattle Grunge Redux. I’ll preview them with a link to a recent conversation on Seattle’s NPR station (KUOW) that I was honored to join. Host Bill Radke’s from “The Record” brought a few of us into the studio - Ean Hernandez (from Seattle band Sicko and many other bands with a signature pop punk ethic) and Gretta Harley (writer, musician, educator with a new album coming out this weekend from her latest band, Love and Fury). and yours truly. The segment used the 25th anniversary of Green Day’s “Dookie” being released as an intro to ponder when the grunge era and Seattle’s presumed dominance came to fade away. I had recently come back from a trip to Africa, so my jet lagginess took the edge of my insights. I did the chance to voice my opinions that marketing shaped much of the world’s view of Seattle and that nostalgia is actually a worthy lens through which to view the music from the grunge era. Give it a listen and let me know if you have any thoughts to contribute.
I’m going to expand upon my usual sparse posting here to reinvigorate the conversation. Let me know if you have any questions. Sign up for a tour. Or just check back. More to come…
The rumor(s) spread (by me…) about the extended hiatus of my Grunge Redux tours have been quashed. Due to popular demand, I’ve added some new scheduled tours starting on Valentine’s Day (with more to come). I’ve actually been out rockin’ and rollin’ on the streets of Seattle often enough recently that I should offer a fuller update. That will come soon, I pinkie swear. But the bottom line for anyone curious about when you might be able to book a storytelling journey into Seattle’s fascinating past/present/future is the band is back together! If I can call myself a band (I can’t) as a solo artist (loosely speaking, of course) out on the road (here in Seattle) trying to entertain and educate the crowds (generally limited to less than 10 people).
I should mention a special tour I ran earlier this week for a cool, thoughtful bunch of local high schoolers. Plenty of musicians in the group, with a super-cool adviser who got our “field trip” approved with the administration of their Seattle-area high school. If you’re also angling at a special group event, feel free to give me a holler. No promises. But I definitely love the chance to tailor the research I’ve done to audiences with special interests.
As visual evidence, here we are outside MoPOP. Good looking crew, I must say.
Without spending on advertising…aside from a few days of testing out Google Adsense and realizing that clicks mean next to nothing in terms of connecting with actual people…some pretty awesome people found their way to my walking tours during the past handful of months. I’ve done a few tallies to illustrate the dynamism of who’s come along (here’s a brief snapshot). I’ve met visitors to Seattle from 18 countries. I’ve had along journalists from right here, a German “Rolling Stone” reporter, and a documentary TV film crew from France. I showed around as many as 15 people in one group (a hopeful mistake) and as few as just one woman visiting from South Korea (a total delight). There were boundlessly positive waves of Pearl Jam fans especially around the time of the Home Shows in August. So often there were tough questions asked that drew me obsessively deeper into the research of Seattle’s cultural history. We’ve experienced the sudden loss of Paul Allen, watched the unfolding debate over The Showbox, awaited the evolution of the former Galleria Potato Head/Black Dog Forge space into something new and exciting, appreciated MoPOP’s Pearl Jam exhibit and the unveiling of the Chris Cornell statue, celebrated with Sub Pop their first 30 years of going out of business, and prepared for places like Studio X/Bad Animals to leave behind their Belltown digs. The list of discussion worthy points along the way through Seattle’s landscape and history goes on.
And now it’s time for me to drop to mic.
I have one more tour scheduled for this week. Given the current warm and sunny weather, it should make for yet another lovely walkabout. I even have a few more fun details to share that I recently learned from both the Andrew Wood documentary (available from Seattle’s awesome Public Library) and the obsessed folks behind Northwest Passage’s reporting on the story behind the Deep Six compilation by C/Z Records back in 1986.
Whenever I finish a tour, I scrutinize what I forgot to mention. I don’t have a script…as might prove obvious to most…even though I have some reliably retold tales and a good memory for detail. Although I shouldn’t push the analogy too far, I’ve seen this little side project take on the elements of a live show. In that light, the thing that I’ve learned above all else from this particular performance is that I respect the power of nostalgic yearning. I often say that I don’t want to ever fall into any form of “your band sucks” criticism as we conversationally amble through music history. That’s not to say I’m without strong opinions on what music then or now matters. Either here in Seattle or beyond. I’ve simply tried to offer an entertaining mix of stories tied to the places from whence the stuff came.
If you’ve found your way to this humble post and want to reach out in hopes of still scheduling a tour, I’m always open to hearing your pitch. But I’m not planning to put up anymore regularly scheduled tours for the foreseeable future. Not that you asked, but the year ahead will be an extremely busy one for me and my family. I have a book project that demands my immediate and full attention. My family and I are planning for a sabbatical year starting next August in Ethiopia. I’m thinking about developing this material further for a self-guided podcast/audio tour. Yada yada yada. We all have our plans and dreams and day-to-day distractions. I’m nonetheless glad to have met all the people I did while trying to share a small slice of Seattle.
This isn’t the end. The conversation will continue. Thanks for checking in. Holler back if you have questions. And rock on.
The summer's been hot and the news has been steamy in Seattle. A brutal report about Dave Meinert's sexually abusive actions shocked many, and the backlash has been severe from all quarters (I will continue to mention his background, but with the essential update that came from that KUOW story last week). News of The Showbox's possible demise and/or pending landmark status may be stirring people into action (I strongly suggest signing the Change.org petition as I've done to do whatever's possible to protect this essential big room venue, and putting your words into action as I'm also doing).
And this all comes as Pearl Jam prepares to play their "Home Shows" in less than two weeks from when I write this. I've sold out my Grunge Redux tours for that week, and the far flung members of the "Jamily" arriving soon have reached out with much excitement and earnestness. MoPOP long ago tapped into that energy by organizing a new exhibit set to open on Saturday, August 11th.
Sub Pop's 30th Anniversary Weekend celebration adds an equally amazing river of energy to that week's festivities. KEXP has kept them fresh in everyone's mind as they've played something off the entirety of Sub Pop's 1200+ release catalog for months counting down to the parties themselves on 8/10 and 8/11.
It's a head-spinning mix of awesomeness. To show some of my priorities...and to give a hopefully helpful cheat sheet for that week...I'll offer the following list of activities that deserve to be on your schedule. In chronological but certainly not entirely complete order:
Saturday, 7/28 @ Georgetown Records - Punk Flyer Retrospective 1979-85
Wednesday, 8/1 on-air with KEXP - The Home Shows spotlight (from 6am to 6pm Best Coast Standard Time)
Thursday, 8/2 @ KEXP's Gathering Space - Storytelling Session with members of the Black Constellation collective
Tuesday, 8/7 @ MoPOP - Member Preview Day of "Pearl Jam: Home and Away" exhibit at MoPOP
Tuesday, 8/7 @ Optimism Brewing - MoPOP + Optimism "Pop Culture Trivia Night (focus upon Pearl Jam)
Thursday, 8/9 in Magnuson Park/NOAA Campus - Chris Cornell tribute
Thursday, 8/9 @ KEXP's Gathering Space - Storytelling Session with Mudhoney
Thursday, 8/9 @ Nordic Museum - Danish music journalist Henrik Tuxen's book talk for his fascinating bio titled "Pearl Jam: The More You Need, The Less You Get"
Friday and Saturday's redonkulously interesting lineups of Sub Pop Concerts @ Seattle Center's Mural Amphitheatre and West Seattle's Alki Beach. Check the SP30th website for all the updates.
Saturday, 8/11 @ MoPOP - the opening of "Pearl Jam: Home + Away" exhibit. Expect that it will sell out incredibly fast.
Please note that I will be adding more details and/or suggested events for that whole week soon.
Plus, I've got just two more tours left before the end of the summer (Tuesday, 8/14 and Saturday, 9/1). Some other fascinating media outreach has cropped up. So there's much going on, and much to look forward to. Rock on y'all.
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.