MISCmedia MAIL for 11/12/15
Nov 11th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

In Thursday’s MISCmedia MAIL: Remembering another practical li’l apartment building; a posthumous arts bounty from the Kingdome; the predictable truth behind the anti-Starbucks ranter; can KeyArena be rebuilt without taxpayer funds?
MISCmedia MAIL for 11/11/15
Nov 11th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

Remembering “Remembrance Day;” heroin deaths rise; Pronto bike renters are mostly young & male & white; we’re not as parched as we were this summer. All this & more in Wednesday’s MISCmedia MAIL.
MISCmedia MAIL for 11/9/15
Nov 9th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

Things you can learn in Monday’s MISCmedia MAIL: 
  1. Don’t pour cooking oil down a storm drain.
  2. Having your city’s biggest bridge collapse can hurt civic self-esteem.
  3. Sounders fans are heartbroken today.
  4. Håagen-Dazs still exists.
Oct 8th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

ex bill's off bway construx

In December 2013, I wrote in this space about Bill’s Off Broadway, the legendary Capitol Hill pizza joint and bar.

It had just closed earlier that month. Its building at Harvard and East Pine was going to be replaced by a fancy new mixed-use development.

Now, Bill’s is back.

It’s got the same owners, much of the same staff, and the same menus.

It’s got the same interior color scheme.

It’s at the same corner.

But it’s not the same place; and it’s not in the same space.

Only the street-facing outer brick walls remain from the old building. Everything else, including the Bill’s interior, is all-new. Above the brick front, modern steel and glass construction rises six stories up.

exterior 1b

This sort of thing is going on all over Pike, Pine, and Union streets on Capitol Hill. Everything from printing plants to luxury-car dealerships has been removed except for the skins. A few blocks away, even the beloved Harvard Exit Theater is being razed-and-rebuilt like this.

It’s going on all over South Lake Union. The massive Troy Laundry building has already been hollowed out. The former Seattle Times building, its interior recently defaced by squatters, will probably also vanish except for its art-deco frontage.

In these and other places around town, you can see forlorn exterior walls of brick and terra cotta, artificially braced up, standing in front of nothing but construction holes.

In the frontier towns of the Old West (including pioneer Seattle), main streets were full of “false front” architecture. Grand, pompous storefronts stood proudly as signs of civic ambition, drawing people into the little one- or two-story stick structures hiding behind them.

Today’s “façadism” (yes, that’s a term some people use for this phenomenon) attempts an opposite aesthetic goal.

It seeks to mask the harsh, brutal, hyper-efficient modernity of a structure by offering a make-believe connection to the funky old building it replaced. Long-time residents can drive past it and imagine that the historic old building is still there, as long as they don’t look too closely.

But that’s about all it does.

It doesn’t preserve the spaces within, or their diverse uses.

Eugenia Woo, a local historic-preservation advocate and current director of preservation for Historic Seattle, writes about “What Price Façadism?” in the latest issue of Arcade, the local architectural/design journal.

Woo decries the practice, as an aesthetic travesty that fails to preserve the old buildings’ “authenticity”:

Stripped of everything but its facade, a building loses its integrity and significance, rendering it an architectural ornament with no relation to its history, function, use, construction method or cultural heritage. With only its primary facades saved, the original structure is gone, including the roof, interior features and volume of space.… Further, the scale and massing of the new building change the rhythm and feel of a block and neighborhood.”

Crosscut.com’s Knute Berger recently noted that property owners have sometimes manipulated the façades they’re supposedly preserving.

Berger writes that preservation advocates “have accused developers of damaging the historic integrity of building exteriors to ensure their building won’t be made a landmark, yet preserving the building’s skin as a ploy to win approval for more height for a new project. In other words, façade protections could actually be undercutting true preservation.”

Berger also notes that, at least in the Pike/Pine Corridor, current regulations have the effect of encouraging façadism instead of true preservation: “If an old building’s exterior is deemed to have architectural and contextual character, a developer can get additional height for a new structure in exchange for saving the façade. In other words, extra density and square-footage is dangled as an incentive to save an original exterior.”

The current tech-office boom, a legacy of city officials promoting urban development at almost any price (except in “single family” zones), and popular trends that see urban life as more attractive than suburban life have combined to create a “perfect storm” of development fever. This has put pressure on  the continued existence of old commercial and industrial buildings, throughout Seattle.

Growth, say pro-development “urbanists,” is inevitable.

But façadism needn’t be.

There are other ways to keep Seattle’s built history alive, while accommodating new residents and new uses.

Instead of false façades, Woo would rather see a form of “smart planning” that either preserves historic buildings whole or replaces them whole with “new projects that are well designed, perhaps the landmarks of tomorrow, cohesively knitted into the streetscape.”

ex bauhaus facadism

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)

Jul 26th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

dragon dance 1

Most of my hip art-world friends have long sneered at Seafair.

Too square.

Too hokey.

Too small-towny.

Too “Family” with a capital F.

Too unlike anything that would be done in NY/LA/SF.

clowns 2

pirates 1

As if those were somehow bad things.

hydro 2

But nowadays, this city needs all the legacy, all the history, and (yes) all the squareness it can keep out of the gentrifiers’ Rolex-wristed clutches.

We need our own homegrown racing sport, rooted in tinkerers building boats around surplus WWII airplane engines.

husky band 1

We need public education, and spectacles that celebrate it.

seattle utilities 2

We need honest shows of support for even the most basic of community functions.

poulsbo viking float

We need to remember the human groups that first made this place what it is.

duwamish tribe 1

We need to publicly honor all the peoples that make up this city and this region.

af am drill team

vietnam float

So don’t knock Seafair.

Love it.

(Except the Blue Angels. Feel free to bash them. They’re just too damn militaristic.)


Jul 24th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

desperate times cover

I know I’ve been taking however many of you are reading this back to memory lane a lot lately. But indulge me a few more times, please, including this time.

This time, it’s back to a weekend day in June 1981.

I went straight from my UW commencement ceremony, still possessing my cap and gown, and went to a planning meeting in a Wallingford rental house.

Also there were Daina Darzin, Maire Masco, and Dennis White.

We were starting a punk rock zine, to overcome what we all thought was The Rocket’s excessive commercialism. (Yeah, I know.)

The result was called Desperate Times.

It lasted for six tabloid issues, before Darzin effectively ended it by returning to New York, where she’d previously lived.

(And yes, like so many New Yorkers, she absolutely KNEW how everyone ought to think and behave. And if they thought or behaved in a non-New Yorkish way, then that thought or behavior automatically sucked.)

I had at least one piece in each of the six issues. The most affecting, albeit in a very indirect way, was in the first issue. I asked readers to write in mentioning the band they hated the most. (A cheap “comment bait” trick, it would now be called.)

It got a response all right.

That response came from one Mark McLaughlin, then a student at Bellevue Christian High School. He wrote that he loved the simple repetitive music of Philip Glass, and hated Mr. Epp and the Calculations. (“Pure grunge. Pure shit.”)

This, I continue to insist, was the first documented use of that six-letter word to describe a Seattle punk band.

And it was the first print mention of Mr. Epp, McLaughlin’s own band (of course).

One night shortly after that, Masco found McLaughlin on the streets downtown, pasting up flyers for a fictional gig by Mr. Epp, which at the time was mostly a fictional band (named after a favorite math teacher). Masco persuaded McLaughlin to stage real gigs.

For the next three nearly three years, Darren “Mor-X” Morray, Jeff “Jo Smitty” Smith, and Mark “Arm” McLaughlin gigged and recorded under the Mr. Epp name.

Arm, of course, went on to Green River and then to Mudhoney, famously performing on top of the Space Needle for Sub Pop’s 25th anniversary in 2013.

Darzin became a scribe for Billboard and other high falutin’ rags.

White and Masco started the short-lived Pravda Records label (not the Chicago firm of the same name).

White now runs another indie music label, “dadastic! sounds.”

Masco took a long hiatus from “creative” endeavors.

But now she’s back with a book collecting every issue of Desperate Times, from full-size high-quality digital scans.

Some thoughts on looking at these pages nearly 3.5 decades later:

The music discussed, well a large part of it anyway, still stands up.

The writing and the graphic design are of their time and of the milieu. That is to say, they’re brash, un-slick, and occasionally immature. But that was part of the whole aesthetic of the period. This was before “desktop publishing.” The text was created on typewriters. The headlines were created with press-type lettering. It was DIY Or Die, and it expresses the emotional states of its content better than anything in Adobe InDesign ever could.

Masco is selling the book online and at a few select local shops.



chantry speaks cover

Masco’s been living in Tacoma in recent years, with a guy who knows a thing or two about graphic design, and who’s not shy about sharing what he knows.

I’ve written several times in the past about Art Chantry. How he played a critical role in creating my book Loser (itself coming back later this year). How he did most of the grunt work in bringing “punk rock graphics” and poster art beyond the deliberately “amateur” style seen in Desperate Times and toward something that was “professional” but NOT corporate. He took his obsessive research into design schticks high and lowbrow, industrial and “artistic,” and created a whole new visual vocabulary.

In recent years, Chantry’s been spreading his vast knowledge and sharp opinions about the design profession (actually, he thinks of it as more of a “trade”) on his Facebook feed.

Now he’s collected some 50 of these essays in the book Art Chantry Speaks: A Heretic’s History of 20th Century Graphic Design.

The format of self-contained short essays, on different but related topics, works well with the disparate roots of Chantry’s visual aesthetic and career philosophy.

He finds inspiration in everything from monster-movie magazines to industrial-supply catalogs, from trade magazines to Broadway show posters, from hot-rod customizers to girlie magazines.

Unlike the late Andy Warhol (to whom he dedicates a praise-filled chapter), Chantry appreciates commercial design without feeling the need to dress it up in “fine art” trappings.

Indeed, Chantry openly and repeatedly scoffs at such trappings.

He upends the “official” history of graphic design, which treats it as a top-down profession dominated by Manhattan designers and ad agencies.

Instead, he sees it as a bottom-up, working-stiffs’ trade, originating with sign painters, printers, and other craftspeople. It’s a living tradition, re-created and adapted everywhere. It’s something that’s both populist and commercial at once. It expresses social and individual values, even as it overtly tries to sell stuff (products, politicians, religions, etc).

And, just as American pop/rock music absorbed and mutated everything that came before it, Chantry’s personal aesthetic absorbed and mutated everything he’d learned to love in the various arts of visual/verbal persuasion.

You won’t find any images of Chantry’s own works in Art Chantry Speaks. For that, look up Some People Can’t Surf: The Graphic Design of Art Chantry, written in 2001 by Julie Lasky. There, you’ll see his famous posters for bands, film screenings, and condom-awareness campaigns; his cover art for The Rocket; and his many record covers and band/label logos.

But, just as there are now drinking-age people who weren’t alive when Nirvana last performed, many of the various production techniques Chantry’s essays discuss have become lost to time, from the lead-cast “hot type” of letterpress to the photo-strip “cold type” of manual pasteup pages.

And much printed ephemera itself (magazines, newspapers, cheap paperbacks, recorded music on physical media, etc.) has declined or disappeared in the digital age.

But Chantry’s observations are still important in our current era, when even web page design is considered an obsolete line of work.

Typography, illustration, color theory, and layout are all part of the visual vocabulary of our world. There are reasons why all these arts developed the way they did.

And, just as many young adults have discovered the great music of the 1980s and ’90s Chantry’s idiosyncratic views about these can teach timeless principles about how things look (or ought to look).

Jun 15th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

mgm/this tv

Some pseudo-random thoughts about l’Affaire Rachel Dolezal, the just-resigned Spokane NAACP leader who’s claimed at various times to be black, part-black, and Native American, but whose parents claim her to be white (and who have the blonde, blue-eyed childhoood pix to support their claim):

If it weren’t for white people pretending to be black, we’d have no jazz or rock n’ roll or R&B or even hiphop as we know those genres today. American white pop music would still sound like “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” British pop music would still sound like “Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes.”

(We also wouldn’t have sorry minstrel-show acts, macho-baby-boomer blues bands, or fratboy rappers either; but you’ve got to take the bad with the good, right?)

There’s a long-running meme of college-educated white women identifying, or trying to identify, with black women of “lower” castes. It ranges from recent works such as The Help, back to the predominantly white-female audiences for Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. Walker especially depicted Af-Am womanhood as an ultimate embodiment of a specifically feminine wisdom and righteousness.

Could Dolezal, who had Af-Am adopted siblings, have envied their specific “tribal” identity, collective-struggle heritage, etc.? Not for an outsider like me to say.

It can be said that she should have known “being black” involved more than just looks and “soul,” but (as shown gruesomely in recent news items) a continuing legacy on the receiving end of repression, injustice, and brutality. (As Tavis Smiley asks, “Who’d sign up to be black?”)

Dolezal is the second Spokanian to re-invent herself so thoroughly. The first, of course, is Billy Tipton.

Tipton, a small-time jazz pianist and a bio-female who lived as a (hetero) man until his death in 1989, was essentially (in my opinion) a trans who never had reassignment surgery, but who simply tried to create a being and a life for himself and succeeded completely.

Dolezal attempted a similar life-feat, trying to create a present by rewriting her past. Our age of instant information made that ultimately impossible.

There’s nothing wrong, as Smiley’s above-linked essay notes, with being a white person devoted to helping her less race-privileged fellow humans; people who…

…have the courage, conviction and commitment to unapologetically use their white face—and their white voice, hands, feet, head and heart to make America a nation as good as its promise.

The NAACP has (openly) white local and national officers, past and present. More famously, the late Westinghouse and CBS exec Michael H. Jordan (absolutely no relation to the basketball star) was chairman of the United Negro College Fund for a decade.

In the statement announcing her NAACP resignation, Dolezal stated she won’t stop fighting for justice.

Dolezal has been a student, and occasionally a teacher, of Af-Am culture and history. She assuredly knows, both from book-learning and from those in her life, about what black life is really like.

She could have used this knowledge to work at bridging our racial divides.

If she can transcend the unfortunate image of her own “race drag act,” she still can.

Everybody seems to have an opinion or an angle on the tale:

  • Dolezal’s brothers have spoken on camera: “It started out with the hair.” (ABC)
  • The Daily Beast parses out the whole history of Dolezal’s carefully constructed identity.
  • Variety claims a Dolezal biopic “is inevitable,” and postulates whether it will be a comedy or drama or both.
  • Ijeoma Olio proposes a bargain for white people who want to be black: the ability to dance, a history of triumph over diversity, and the looks of white women clutching their purses when you walk past them. (Slog) 
  • Darnell Moore at Mic.com calls the Dolezal affair a “fiasco” and “a glaring example of white privilege in action.”
  • Twitter users are using such hashtags as #transracial and #wrongskin, as other Twitter users ruthlessly mock them. (KING) 
  • A self described “gay Black man” explains the terms “transracial” and “transethnic,” in terms of the furry community. (Fusion.net)
  • Kara Brown at Jezebel: Girl, WHAT?”
  • Explaining the “passing” as a quest for “empathy.” (USAT) 
  • Gyasi Ross at Indian Country Today compares Dolezal to decades’ worth of white folk pretending to be Native Americans.
  • Author Michael P. Jeffries calls the incident “a lesson in how racism works.” (Boston Globe)
  • As you might expect, the social sub-network known as “Black Twitter” has plenty of snarky reactions. (The Culture)
  • Vox has a think piece on how it proves “race” isn’t a cut and dried issue anymore.
  • Salon has a harsher piece by Mary Elizabeth Williams, claiming Dolezal’s “fraud is unforgivable.
  • For compare-and-contrast, here’s the story of local author Mishna Wolff, whose white father “identified” as black for many years. (KUOW)
Jun 12th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

…Especially if it’s this cartoon map of Washington from the 1930s.

It’s part of an every-state series made by Berta and Elmer Hader. It depicts the histories, industries, topographies, and agricultural products of each part of this Land-O-Contrasts place.

(Found via Vox.com.)

MISCmedia @ 20!
Jun 8th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey


One of the site’s first logos, from some time in the mid 1990s.

Twenty years ago this week, it was an age of dial-up modems, Windows 95, Internet cafés, and the media hype over an alleged “Seattle Sound.”

I hate to use the old cliché “it was a simpler time.”

But in some respects it was.

The ol’ World Wide Web was a child just learning to walk. It seemed so full of possibilities. It hadn’t yet been tamed, corporatized, or commodified.

The “free”/”sharing” ideology of Grateful Dead bootleggers hadn’t yet taken completely over. There was still hope that journalists, musicians, and other “content” people might one day make a buck from this medium. (I know, crazy, right?)

I was in what turned out to be the middle of a seven-year writing stint with the Stranger. The paper itself had little interest in going online at the time, but allowed me to put my own material up on my own site.

I’d already been a regular at the Speakeasy Café in Belltown, essentially Seattle’s first Internet café. I’d been customer #23 on its then-novel home broadband service (which outlived the café, eventually becoming a business-to-business operation owned by something called MegaPath).

The Speakeasy people helped me learn rudimentary HTML and get a site up. I created some simple .JPG graphics, and reformatted (and, in some cases, retyped) columns and zine pieces I’d written over the previous nine years.

I didn’t call it a “web log” or “blog” at the time, but rather an online version of a classic “three-dot” newspaper column format. It originally wasn’t dependent on links to other websites, and it was only updated once or twice a week.

But it was one of the first sites anywhere to have a little bit of this and a little bit of that, curated and compiled from assorted info sources local and worldwide, based on an individual sensibility.

It allowed me to keep writing MISC after the Stranger fired me the first time.

For a while, it got me enough freelance work to live off of, at least until the first dot-com crash in ’01.

And I’ve kept at it ever since, more or less.

There have been times (such as most of last year) when I haven’t really felt like adding to it.

Times when I didn’t even want anyone to think of me as “a writer,” especially if that meant I was expected to gladly work for for-profit companies for free.

(I am not, nor have I ever been, independently wealthy, despite occasional rumors to the contrary.)

Even more than in the past, I’ve been obsessed with finding something, anything, that I could do specifically for money. Not for coolness, and certainly not for that dreaded term “exposure.”

And having the public image of “a writer” meant many people thought I couldn’t do, or wouldn’t want to do, anything else.

But the Seattle corporate world isn’t a fully welcoming place these days for someone who’s neither young nor a programmer.

And reinventing myself at my age (yes, it’s my own birthday today) would be possible, but perhaps more trouble than it would be worth. Especially if that reinvention involved student loan debt.

So I looked into what I could do that would exploit what I’m already known for doing.

Blog ads don’t earn a lot any more, unless you’ve got a really high readership in a national “market niche.”

And asking people to contribute money to a personal, occasional blog wasn’t much of a proposition.

But, perhaps, an information service that would contribute to people’s lives might be something people would want to support.

In 2007-8, I was involved with a group trying to start a local news site.

The project fell through for several reasons.

But the initial notion, of a single handy source for the day’s Seattle-area headlines, stayed with me.

There have been several attempts, but nothing that came close to the type of service I’d like to see.

So I’ve made my own.

It’s MISCmedia MAIL, and it starts today.

Each weekday morning, your email box will be filled with a brief, breezy summary of what’s going on around here.

It’s everything you’ve learned to love about this site, only in a much more useful form.

You can sign up for it at the handy box in the upper-left corner of this page.

Over the next few weeks and months I’ll be looking into ways to monetize it.

But for now, I’m working on building its audience.

Won’t you join us?


May 27th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

pike place market foundation

When KIRO-TV posted architectural drawings for a “new entrance” to the Pike Place Market in early March, a lot of social-media commenters were outraged. Why, they asked, would anyone rip out such an historic Seattle landmark?

“Why the hell are Seattle (and Tacoma) so hell bent on destroying their history and character?” one commenter wrote. “It is the most short sighted move imaginable.”

“I wish they’d just leave it alone” wrote another commenter. “Tourists can go see modern shopping malls in any town, but our Market is unique. Leave it alone!”

These commenters were at least partly mistaken.

The drawings KIRO showed on TV and posted on its social-media feeds didn’t depict a replacement to the current Market complex but an addition to it.

The Market everyone knows and loves, to the tune of 10 million visits a year, is staying put.

The new buildings will go to the west of the current Market buildings, between Western Avenue and the doomed Alaskan Way Viaduct. A surface parking lot is there now. (The last structure on that site, the Municipal Market Building, was demolished in 1974 following a fire.)

Besides new retail and commercial spaces, the project will also include a community center, 40 low-income-senior apartments, a 300-car parking garage (replacing parking spaces that will be lost when the viaduct’s removed), and a new pedestrian promenade, leading down to the new waterfront project that will eventually replace the viaduct.

Indeed, state money from the waterfront project is contributing $6 million of the estimated $74 million tab for the “MarketFront” expansion. City bonds will supply the biggest chunk of the project’s budget, $34 million.

The Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority, the Market’s management agency, also hopes to raise $6 million through “philanthropy.”

The affiliated Pike Place Market Foundation is selling little doodads with donors’ names on them, to be permanently built into the MarketFront structures. There are black metal discs called “Market Charms” for $180, to be installed along a chain-link fence. And there are bronze pig hoofprints (referencing Rachel, the Market’s beloved bronze piggy bank) for $5,000, to be placed along the Western Avenue sidewalk. Both are considerably higher-priced than the $35 donors paid for inscribed floor tiles during the Market renovations in 1985.

The foundation and the PDA believe Seattle now has enough people who have, and are willing to donate, that kind of money.

And the PDA and its architects also apparently believe the new addition should also look like something that fits in with this new-money Seattle.

The PDA held the usual public meetings and “input” sessions about the MarketFront buildings’ design and uses. The PDA says the public comments at these sessions helped to influence the MarketFront design, which now incorporates hard woods and other special cladding materials to add a little more “old Northwest” flavor, but in a slick retro-modern way.

And, unlike some of the first renderings for the waterfront project, the MarketFront drawings depict a few nonwhite people among the imagined sunny-day strollers.

But the overall look of the architects’ drawings still reflects a modern, “tasteful” look, with clean straight lines, light neutral colors, and open uncluttered spaces.

The original Market, of course, doesn’t look a thing like that.

It’s beautifully, lovably cluttered.

It contrasts World War I-era structures with buildings of 1970s-1980s vintage, which all somehow fit together.

It’s got weird angles, varying ceiling heights, and ramps and stairs and concourses of different widths.

It’s got garish signage, loud noises, boisterous crowds, and great smells.

It’s both utilitarian and archaic, businesslike and freewheeling. It’s a total sensual experience.

MarketFront might eventually become like that after it’s been “lived in” for a few years.

But that, if MarketFront is built according to the current design drawings, could take quite some time.

The PDA and the City want to start MarketFront construction this year, so it (and its parking garage) can be completed before the viaduct is removed. An official groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for late June.

But with the well-publicized delays in building the tunnel that would replace the viaduct, there’s a little more time before the elevated highway comes down.

There’s time to redo the MarketFront plans. Time to make the buildings and concourses messier, less McMansion-like, more cacophonous.

Time to give it something at least vaguely approaching that Pike Place funk.

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)

May 20th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

letterman with seattle comix legend lynda barry, 1988

Either the first or the second most famous ex-Mariners co-owner (before or after Danny Kaye) ends late night TV’s longest run (almost 33 and a half years, between two networks) tonight.

Besides having been an investor in the Ms during the baseball team’s disastrous George Argyros era, he often had locally-connected guests over the years, including Foo Fighters as the official last guests on the last show, and Eddie Vedder on Monday’s third-to-last show. (Also: Lynda Barry (above), Soundgarden, Bill Nye, Joel McHale, Kyle MacLachlan, Artis the Spoonman, Sean Nelson’s band Harvey Danger, and especially the late Seattle-born comedian George Miller.)

Some commentators have pointed out that his NBC Late Night series (and especially his short-lived NBC morning show, which never aired in Seattle) were landmarks in conceptual humor (as masterminded by original head writer Merrill Markoe).

Some of these same critics complain that his act on CBS has morphed into a real version of his onetime grumpy-old-guy character, the one with the catch phrase “Get off my lawn.'”

It had been clear for some time that Letterman had accomplished all on TV that he ever would; but that he was determined to stick around until his onetime pal Jay Leno left (for good) first. Once that finally happened, Letterman announced his own retirement. That was followed in short order by the ends of Chelsea Lately, The Colbert Report (a post-“idiot”-character version of Colbert takes over from Letterman on CBS this fall), The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, and soon The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.

(All this has happened while, in the eyes of some industry watchers, online streaming is allegedly “killing traditional TV.”)

It was also clear that Letterman had ceased even pretending to care about the showbiz-hype rituals that are the state religion of late-night talk; leaving a sincere (if borderline-pandering) appreciation for a certain few celebrity pals and longtime frequent guests. These people have populated the Late Show guest roster during this almost year-long “farewell tour,” an exercise in mawkishness that just kept getting mawkish-er as the finale approached.

And the whole hip-irony shtick he’d popularized back then has become one of the native tongues of marketing and advertising, in all its air-quotes smarm.

As of Thursday, the longest-serving hosts still in late night will be (1) Conan O’Brien (who’d originally replaced Letterman at NBC) and (2) Jimmy Kimmel.

Letterman’s leaving the public stage means I’ll now probably never get to ask him what, if anything, he remembered about Frances Farmer. He and the ill-fated Seattle-born film actress were each on Indianapolis local TV, albeit at different times.

I do know a guy who’d studied drama with Letterman (and future Three’s Company star Joyce DeWitt) at Indy’s Ball State U. This guy had remembered Farmer’s TV show, but alas not much about it; only that she’d been a low-rent Loretta Young introducing creaky old movies in the afternoons.

May 19th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

jack smith/ap via komo

This week marks 35 years since Mount St. Helens gave Wash. state the world’s biggest vomit launch.

It blasted some 1,500 feet of itself into the skies.

It killed 57 people, but that could have been a lot worse if it hadn’t happened on a Sunday morning (when loggers weren’t working nearby timber stands).

I remember it as an exciting time—and as a great news story.

I was on the UW Daily staff at the time. We had a photographer who had a pilot’s license. On his own initiative, he rented a single-engine plane and flew it as close to the eruption-in-progress as authorities would let him.

The UW also had seismology and geophysics experts. The main seismograph readings of the eruption were recorded in a room on the campus hastily dubbed the “Volcano Crisis Center.”

You can read about the spectacle, and view stunning pix of the mountain before, during, and after, at KING, KOMO, the Tacoma News Tribune, USA Today, UW Libraries, and the outside-blogger portion of Forbes.com.

Jul 28th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

76th and aurora, 1953; seattle municipal archive

Seems every week, something important from this once fair little seaport city is taken away from us in the name of density, development, or “disruption.”

Cool old bars and restaurants and shops, yes. But also a men’s pro basketball team, a daily newspaper, a radio host, a live theater space.

And the new things that replace the old things tend to be costlier, louder, hoity-toity-er. Dive bars get turned into upscale bistros; cheap apartments become luxury condos.

For someone who came of age loving the old Seattle, for all its faults and limitations, today’s city seems more and more like an alien land.

The Soul of Seattle is a hard thing to define, and different people have defined it differently. But this is how I define it.

Seattle’s soul is not loud or pushy. It doesn’t scream at you to order you to love it.

It’s quiet and confident; yes, to the point of dangerously smug self-satisfaction.

Yet it’s also funny in a self-deprecating way. Seattle’s sense of quirky humor can be seen in Ivar Haglund, J.P. Patches, John Keister, the Young Fresh Fellows’ songs, the comic art of Jim Woodring and The Oatmeal.

It believes in beauty, in many forms. The delicate curves and perfect proportions of the Space Needle; the slippery warmth of a bag of Dick’s fries; the modest elegance of a Craftsman bungalow.

It believes in old fashioned showmanship. The fringe theaters of the ’70s and ’80s; the burlesque troupes of the ’90s; the alternative circus acts of the 2000s.

It believes in old fashioned fun. Boat races; cream cheese on hot dogs; tiki parties; comics conventions.

Yet it also believes in schmoozing and in deal making. Boeing got on such good terms ith the airlines of the world that Lockheed never sustained. Microsoft made deals to put MS-DOS and Office on almost every desktop computer.

And it believes in civic progress, however it’s defined. It created monuments to its own “arrival” (the Smith Tower, the Olympic Hotel, the Century 21 Exposition). It built public spaces more beautiful than they had to be (the UW campus, the Volunteer Park Conservatory). It leveled hills, filled in tide flats, raised streets, lowered Lake Washington, and put up parks everywhere from freeway airspace to an old naval base.

There are several places around town where this Soul of Seattle still lives and even thrives.

Here are just a few of them:

  • Aurora Avenue just north of Green Lake. The Twin Teepees, that beloved “roadside vernacular” restaurant, may be gone, but this stretch of the old Pacific Highway still boasts a pair of culinary opposites. On the east side: PCC Natural Markets, the local pioneer in “healthy” groceries (even if it’s less of a “consumers co-op” than it used to be). On the west wide: Beth’s Cafe, home of the 12 egg omelet and unabashed (and un-prettified) all-night diner.
  • West Marginal Way South, heading north. A biking/walking path keeps pedal and foot traffic separate from the semis. Container docks along the Duwamish River are now interspersed with mini parks, some restored to something approximating a “natural” state. The Duwamish Longhouse and Museum honors local native design arts while hosting ethnic cultural programs. Just uphill from the river is a sliver of a residential neighborhood once tributed by author Richard Hugo.
  • Red Square (officially “Central Plaza”) on the UW campus. The gorgeously Gothic Suzzalo Library, and the equally classic Administration Building, represent an era when public architecture could be both monumental and populist. The other buildings, dating from the 1960s and 1970s, are more simply designed and more cheaply built but still (especially Meany Theater) manage to express an understated humanism in their “big box” forms. The square itself is the lid of a parking garage, with air vents hidden inside sculptural pieces.
  • The Museum of Flight and the Living Computer Museum. One south-end landmark honors the industry that made our city’s past. The other honors the hardware that ran the software that’s making our city’s future.

(Cross posted with City Living Seattle.)

Apr 29th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey


The publication that first coined the phrase “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman” (initially referring to women’s spending power, as a lure to advertisers) is calling it quits.

The Ladies’ Home Journal and Practical Housekeeper, as it was known back in 1886, was founded by Philadelphia newspaper publisher Cyrus Curtis, and originally edited by his wife Louisa Knapp Curtis. It was run for three decades by the Curtises’ son-in-law Edward Bok, one of the inventors of the modern magazine industry. (Some old timers might have heard of the Curtis/Bok family’s other big magazine, The Saturday Evening Post.)

The Journal was a pioneer in the business model of cheap subscriptions subsidized by advertising, and thrived on it for many years. At the end it still had more than 3.2 million buyers (down from 6.8 million in 1968); but ad revenue had collapsed, as it has for so many print ventures. The name will now appear on occasional “newsstand special” editions, essentially to keep the trademark alive.

(The above image links to a review of a 1900 article in which the Journal predicted American life in the far-off year 2000. The article was a lot closer to what really happened than you might think.)

Mar 24th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

As Sears’ Seattle store dies (see this blog’s previous entry), another company here in town has led a revival of shopping from home, with a “catalog” running to millions of auto-customized web pages.

But Amazon’s original business, and its most controversial presence, remains in books.

As George Packer recently noted in the New Yorker, Amazon has disrupted, and often infuriated, the champions of traditional publishing, also known as “Book Culture.”

Some of these folks gathered in Seattle in late February/early March for the annual convention of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).

AWP’s main public event was a giant book fair on the convention’s final day, featuring hundreds of publishers big and small, for- and non-profit. It’s the one time a year, in a different city each year, when poetry is a business!

And Amazon was there, as a convention co-sponsor and as a vendor, with a book fair table advertising its self-publishing services.

One of the small literary publishers at the fair had a raffle for one of Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader devices. They promoted the raffle with a punching-bag toy, festooned with a photo of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’ face.

More recently, Mayor Murray sent a formal proposal to UNESCO’s “Creative Cities” program, to become an officially, internationally recognized “City of Literature.”

The city’s formal application included a long original essay by Blueprints of the Afterlife novelist Ryan Boudinot.

The essay lists programs (to be supported partly by local public and private funding) Seattle would implement should it get the UNESCO nod. One of these programs would involve the city buying Hugo House’s building on Capitol Hill as a permanent “literary arts center” (that would also continue to house Hugo House’s programs).

Boudinot’s essay also gushes, in adoring detail, about Seattle and the Northwest’s cultural heritage(s) and its contributions in literature and publishing (especially Fantagraphics’ graphic novels) as well as in music and the visual arts.

And nowhere in the essay’s 7,000-plus words are the words “Amazon” or “Bezos” ever mentioned.

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