Soon to be back from Feral House.
The Real Seattle Music Story
Obviously, the biggest pop culture story in Seattle in recent decades was the emergence of the Seattle music scene on the world stage.
But most of the existing documentation of this phenomenon, from Time magazine to MTV, sucked.
Despite what clueless media said, there never was one single “Seattle Sound.” But there was an overall Seattle attitude. The best of our bands weren’t trying to break into the corporate rock pantheon but to demolish it.
Like the Web, the Seattle Scene was all about decentralizing culture, about putting the means of production and distribution into more hands, about honest heartfelt expression. You don’t have to be from NY, LA or SF to make music or art. “You’re the superstar,” as Krist Novoselic says.
This is the tale I relate in LOSER: The Real Seattle Music Story.
Achingly detailed and lavishly illustrated, it chronicles two decades of prepunk, punk, postpunk and neopunk music in Seattle and the Northwest.
It includes all the bands who made it big and plenty who didn’t but are still worth remembering.
Read all about the interconnected origins and spectacular rise of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Hole, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, TAD, the Posies, Love Battery, Gas Huffer, Seven Year Bitch, Flop, the Supersuckers, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Built to Spill, Bikini Kill, Sky Cries Mary, the Young Fresh Fellows, Beat Happening, the Presidents of the United States of America, and all your other early-’90s Seattle music favorites.
Originally published in late 1995 by Feral House, LOSER was updated and reissued in 1999 by MISCmedia.
Now, Feral House is bringing it back in a fifteenth anniversary edition in 2010.
Like the first edition, it will have got over 240 big pages with over 800 illustrations. The new version will have even more pix and stories, an updated discography, and many “whatever became of” listings.
Loser remains the most lavish and detailed account of a phenomenon that rocked the world.
Special deal!: We now have a limited supply of slightly-hurt second-edition copies, a mere $14 (including shipping and handling). Email me for details.
- The spirit of the Seattle scene: If there’s a common message among these bands, it’s that your life and your culture count. You’ll find this message in almost everything done here, from Sir Mix-A-Lot’s tales of young black men who don’t sell drugs or shoot each other, to Bikini Kill’s anthems about surviving abusive relationships with pride intact, to Nirvana’s elliptical pop songs about emotional confusion.You don’t have to be from a media capital, you don’t have to belong to the proper demographics, to have something worth saying. Make your own scene; don’t conform to anybody–not even us.
- The Bird, Seattle’s first punk club: It was a dark, narrow, warehouse-like space with a makeshift stage and a second-hand PA. As many as 200 crowded into the room, whose official capacity was 99. Graphic designer Art Chantry later speculated that “the entire audience on opening night eventually formed their own bands.”
- The U-Men, perhaps the first true ‘grunge’ band: They were slow, harsh, and (in the early days) clumsy players. They invoked a Dionysian orgy of mutual aggression and abandon that no cartoon-devil metal band could match.
- Kurt Cobain’s early days: The early [’50s] rockers had been white guys appropriating the hip-outcast status of blacks; Cobain was a straight guy appropriating the hip-outcast status of gays. He took the glam fascination with gay culture into the realm of teen vandalism, spraypainting “God Is Gay” and “Homo Sex Rules” around town just to infuriate the local rednecks.
- Sub Pop Records’ early days: [Founders Bruce] Pavitt and [Jonathan] Poneman boasted publicly about making Seattle the music capital of the world. It’s no exaggeration to say few people believed them at the time.
- Secretions, an LP of art-rock bands released the same time as the now better-known Sub Pop 200 collection: Secretions’two-page insert… moaned on about how the scene was dying, there wasn’t anyplace to play, cops kept trying to shut everything down, censors were trying to ban things, and the bands on the record had to hold benefit concerts to get the thing out. Sub Pop 200’s booklet insert, bold art, and box-set packaging promoted a “Loser” image but did so with unapologetic pride, promoting Seattle as a hotbed of rockin’ action. The former more accurately portrayed the real scene; the latter created a more lucrative myth.
- Nirvana’s Nevermind album: A slickly-packaged CD whose superficially simple sound masked a wide array of influences from the Sex Pistols to the Pixies. The band turned the rage of classic punk into a pure, crystalline entity. It turned despair into defiance, depression into urgency. Its ugliness was beautiful.
- Indie-rock moralism: In Seattle, it was OK to seek commercial success as long as you didn’t “act like a rock star.” In Olympia, you weren’t even supposed to think of music as a career. To these folks, playing your own music to your friends was the only real reason to start a band.
- The media’s narrow ‘Seattle Scene’ image: The major labels skipped most of [Seattle’s black and mixed-race bands] over, just as they’d skipped over most of our female-led bands. The outside world saw Seattle rock as a bunch of all-white-male bands complaining about white male society.
- The first onslaught of ‘grunge tourism’: What we got was an influx of young people from Europe, Japan, and the U.S.; pounding the downtown streets in their new Doc Martens and searching upscale-oriented guidebooks in vain to find clubs the guidebook writers hadn’t heard of.
- The first backlash: Saying what was now referred to as “the G-word” in Seattle instantly identified the speaker as an ill-informed wannabe from the outside. Like Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches rushing to the Star-Off Machine, locals en masse mended their jeans and cut their hair to disassociate themselves from the hype.
- From Cobain’s final note, describing his major-label-rock-star existence: “All the warnings from Punk Rock 101 courses over the years since my first introduction to, shall we say, the ‘ethics’ involved with independents and the embracement of your community have proven to be very true.”
- The Collapse: A Seattle scene that had begun as a reaction against industry-driven fads had been reinterpreted AS an industry-driven fad, as if to try to kill the spirit behind it…. Once “alternative” had been codified as a single fomulaic sound, ever-restless audiences grew tired of it.
- The Aftermath: Bruce Pavitt claimed, way back when, that “a decentralized cultural network is obviously cool. Way cool.” It’s also what American society’s turning into, as it enters the century of the Seattle World’s Fair’s utopian visions. The Seattle scene’s real legacy isn’t one “Seattle Sound,” but an approach to music, art, and life that continues to rock the world.