pearl jam

Getting ready for that final mic drop

If you’ve paid attention to any of the blog posts or updates on my “socials” about Grunge Redux tours, you’ve probably noticed a tendency to cry wolf about the end of this side project. Put all of that aside. Because now I’m really serious. I’m hanging it up. But if you get to this in time, maybe you can join me for one of the last storytelling loops around Belltown. Before I do, however, a few notes on the historic importance of this time of year seems in order.

30 years ago, Sub Pop held Lame Fest at The Moore Theatre. That show on June 9th, 1989 came before most people turned their ears and eyes to the Pacific Northwest. That’s certainly not to invalidate the hard-working bands of all stripes who’d long since been working to create a distinctive blend of punk, metal, garage and amalgamated fuzz. It was just long before it seemed the sounds from Seattle (and the greater Pacific Northwest) would take over the airwaves. One epic sold out show with three local bands on the bill didn’t change the world. It did, however, give us a signpost to reflect back upon if people ask when the hype actually got serious.

Fast forward from Lame Fest less than five years later and you’re looking at the “best of times/worst of times” conundrum that was 1994. That was the year that four bands who called one city home (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains) independently topped the Billboard album charts. It had never happened before. Nor since (especially given how success is now quantified). That was also a year of foundation-shaking tragedies, as evidenced best by Kurt Cobain’s suicide in April.

As I lead people along a path that points out landmarks with backstories from The Moore Theatre to KEXP’s forward-leaning Gathering Space, far too often the connective tissue worth seeing firsthand is being balled up and tossed aside. The point of this side project for me isn’t to fixate upon the sadness of the era. This was a vibrant, rockin’ place, nonetheless full of contradictions and murky as an alley mudpuddle. For every $50M+ mixed-use construction project newly added to the cityscape, there lurk in the shadows countless stories of artistic evolution and sonic inspiration. I’ve tried to point out some of what I remember, sprinkled liberally with what I’ve learned along the way from others. For all those people who came along on one of my tours during their first trip to Seattle, I’m forever humbled by the role. And to each story shared from another’s perspective on what the Seattle scene meant to them, I pay homage with my utmost appreciation.

The bottom line for me is that another door is opening. A few months from now, I’m moving overseas for a year. Big adventures await and I’m very excited to have the opportunity. I’ll be back in the late summer of 2020. Will I pick up my record bag again and head out with the same mission in mind with respect to Seattle’s music history? I simply don’t know. At the rate that things are changing around The Town, there might not be anything left to point toward. When I hear, for example, that the stretch of Second Avenue between Bell and Blanchard is up next for redevelopment, I’m far from alone in wondering what will be gained. Just as I wonder what will be accomplished by the redevelopment of that stretch of Fourth Avenue where Studio X/Bad Animals and other recording studios thrived until as late as last October. I find solace in the belief that storytellers find ways to connect the past with the realities of the present and hope for the future. Maybe I’ll be one of those storytellers performing the function for visitors or longtime Seattleites who simply want to be reminded of what had been there before. If so, I’d be honored. If not, maybe someone better will figure out a way of explaining what happened to the grunge era’s legacy in Seattle. Either way, I believe a whole gaggle os someones should do so. Because nostalgia isn’t just a way to sell things. It’s a duty to keep alive what’s real and good and worth remembering.

Don’t presume that I’m melancholy about this transition. I’m just adding a bit more backstory, in case you were curious about why someone would pursue the folly of keeping grunge era memories on life support. My kernel code has always been to steer lovingly into meeting new people and to talk openly about an era that continues to reverberate with Seattle’s heart and soul. Maybe I’ll see you out there, sooner or later. Maybe you’ll find it on your own. Rock on, regardless.

It's been fun, but the time has come to end this chapter.

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.

Grunge Redux Happy Hour tour this Friday...Brunch tour on Saturday, 4/14

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 showsMudhoney 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 AugustTickets 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.

Seeing Treepeople well outside of the forest

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.