A five-Wednesday month means an extra visit from Misc., the pop-culture column that’s just as tired of people wanting to tell it the good news about hemp as it is of people wanting to tell it the good news about Amway.
WHICH MAG D’YA READ?: New Republic cover blurb, earlier this month: “The Decline of the Black Intellectual.” Atlantic Monthly cover blurb, same week: “The New Intellectuals… Suddenly They’re Back, and They’re Black.”
THE FINE PRINT (the only subtitled closing credit in the video release of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blue): “We wish to thank Alfa Romeo for authorizing the scene of the accident of the Alfa 164, the dynamics of which were purely ficticious.” (The scene involved a brake-fluid leak.)
UPDATE: For those who wanted to reach the Seattle Volunteer News, plugged here a few weeks back, its address is P.O. Box 70402, Seattle 98107, or email SeattleVol@aol.com. Speaking of helpful zines…
`WAVE,’ GOODBYE: Fourth Wave: Disability News and Views is an outspoken and borderline-courageous local quarterly newsprint mag published by the Disabilities Research and Information Coalition with funding from the state’s Developmental Disabilities Council. Or rather, it was. For six years FW communicated directly with 23,000 statewide readers about, as editor Victoria Medgyesi noted in a last-issue editorial, “such issues as love, sex, institutions, oppression, housing, discrimination, abuse, alcohol and drugs, misuse of funds, parents with disabilities, foster care, funding inequities, education, health care reform, `mercy’ killing, and self-advocacy.” It also “questioned the agencies and organizations that deal with disability concerns by asking them the kinds of questions they ask the community-at-large: How many people with disabilities do you have on your paid staff? On your board of directors?”
Eventually, challenging the bureaucracy that fed it caught up with FW. The state canceled the last year of the mag’s funding contract, feeding the money instead to a PR campaign aimed less at fostering self-empowerment for people with physical, mental or developmental disabilities and more at getting resource listings and positive-role-model messages into the mainstream news media. This spring is the first quarter without an issue of FW.
Medgyesi says of the cutoff, “Mostly it’s an impression of keeping disabled people quiet and out of sight of most people. Most of these (media) programs have been developed to make able-bodied people feel better about how they’ve treated people with disabilities. But we looked how the system oppressed and exploited people with disabilities, how it promoted images of pity regarding them in the media. I’ve gone from `why did they cut our funding?’ to `how did we get away with that for six years?’ ” Medgyesi’s willing to correspond with people interested in starting similar ventures, c/o Whole Note Media, 911 Western, #555, Seattle 98104. Speaking of mainstream media…
THIS JUST IN: The network-switcheroo has one positive byproduct: the new KSTW news. It’s fast, info-packed, straight-no-chaser, almost free of happy-talk, little tabloid trash (aside from the requisite O.J. doses), like a local CNN Headline News instead of the drawn-out, filler-filled old KSTW news or the anchorperson-as-celebrity tedium of the other stations.
MISSING THE TRAIN: The transit vote was actually fairly encouraging. The 53 percent no vote was partly influenced by (1) natural suspicion against big public-works projects; (2) suburban rugged-individualists who mistakenly think they’re not part of the larger community; (3) the usual backlash against alternatives to driving; and (4) city-supported opposition in Everett, which got cut out of the light-rail portion of the plan in a last-minute budget cut. When the RTA resubmits the plan, preferably later this year, they should bring Scoopville back in, get out more urban votes, and work better at turning outlying residents onto the possibility of not just commuting but living without having to haul your personal ton of steel everyplace.
‘TIL NEXT WE STRAIN EYES TOGETHER, first- and second-day Stranger readers oughta consider attending the Sheryl Wiser folk gig Thursday night at the OK Hotel bar. Proceeds from Wiser’s tip jar (there’s no cover) will benefit “The Church of Lingirie,” a local ministry providing new underwear to homeless women. Nice music for a good cause, proving the ol’ slogan “Support Can Be Beautiful.
UPDATE: In our In/Out List a few weeks back, we listed “tribute albums” as an Out. More evidence: Duran Duran’s recording a CD tribute to bands that “inspired” them, including a cover of Public Enemy’s “911 Is A Joke.”
THE FINE PRINT (at the bottom of a billboard on a Snohomish County Community Transit commuter bus, selling houses in my ol’ hometown of Marysville by showing a whitebread yuppie nuclear family picnicking in all-white clothes): “Models do not represent any race or family formation preference.”
DAY OF DISCOVERY: I finally realized why I have so much trouble understanding post-adolescent obsessions. It’s because I never really had a post-adolescence. I can love cute childish things, silly adolescent things, and certain mature adult things. But there’s a certain stage of development some people pass through, some people never get over, and I skipped–the stage of the “educated fool” (the dictionary definition of “sophomore”). It’s the moment of a romanticized first awakening to the complications of grownup existence. Not real understanding, but just the initial shock. My late adolescence and early adulthood were times of constant emotional and frequent financial turmoil. I didn’t move from a sheltered suburban upbringing to a swinging college town and suddenly discover how complex life was. To me, life always was complex. So I didn’t get, and still don’t get, a lot of post-adolescent (or post-adolescent-retentive) compulsions, such as (in no particular order): Terrence McKenna, Anais Nin, Naomi Wolf, Charles Bukowski, Hunter Thompson, the yuppie Hendrix cult, the Grateful Dead, Timothy Leary, neopaganism, “serious” science fiction, raves, pot, acid, semiotic analyses of Madonna, J.D. Salinger, Allen Ginsberg, Joni Mitchell, &c., &c. It may also be why I still love the ’60s Batman but am bored by the ’80s Batman.
RE-TALES: Chain stores are dropping on Broadway while indie merchants survive: first Burger King turns off its broilers after Xmas, now Crown Books has suddenly shuttered without even a clearance sale. In the District, Cellophane Square’s experiment with an all-vinyl store at its old 42nd St. location failed; now the original Cello2 is gone (ah, the memories…) and everything’s being consolidated at the new site.
Meanwhile, Seattle’s other surviving original-punk-era record shop also shutters this month. Time Travelers was to have been demolished for the new library that failed on last November’s ballot; the current owners decided to close anyway. In recent years it’s been less of a record than a comic-book store, a hard business with nonreturnable merchandise of very unpredictable popularity, with two much larger competitors downtown.
ARS GRATIA ARTIS DEPT.: ArtFBI (Artists For a Better Image) is a Maryland-based group devoted to preserving arts funding by attacking perceived ideas about the arts and artists spread by politicians, the media, and by artists themselves. The group’s Internet site (gopher.tmn.com) includes articles and other materials about the necessity for artists to reclaim their role at the center of the community.
I and other Stranger writers have written in the past that federal arts funding has too largely served to subsidize formula entertainment for the rich. The entities doing most of the real creative endeavors here and across the country still live and work on the fringes, while the biggest cries to stop the NEA’s demise come from institutional theaters and museums that serve the Haves with slick nonthreatening material. While I still believe the upscale should be able to support their own leisure pursuits, I also oppose Newt’s crusade against arts funding–because it’s really a crusade against art, against what art ought to be. The Right is trying to silence all opposition, real or potential, to its societal vision of greed and obedience. To fight this, we’ve gotta do what ArtFBI suggests, and reassert the role of art at the heart of society. Art has to communicate a meaning to people, and not just to liberal-arts grads either. Part of the legacy of modernism is the way the upper classes used newfangled “sophisticated” art forms and genres to define its own difference from the masses. This alliance between modernism and elitism gave Stalin and Hitler their excuses to wage war against expressionistic, surrealistic, nonrepresentational, or oppositional artists, while mandating life-denying kitsch art (cf. The Unbearable Lightness of Being). Newt doesn’t want to kill artists or destroy their works; he’ll settle for isolating them into the margins of discourse by smear campaigns disguised as political funding debates.
WEB FOOTING: I wish I knew who first wrote “I apologize for the length of this message; I did not have the time to make it shorter.” The reason you’ve been seeing fewer, longer items in Misc. lately’s ‘cuz I’ve been busy with (1) my book (now retitled Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story; current ETA: April); (2) my live talk-variety performance event (Fri., 1/20 at 911 Media Arts, 117 Yale Ave. N.); and (3) my current addiction of the month, the World Wide Web.
For once, there’s something worth the Cyberhype. The WWW’s a Swiss-invented software protocol for sending cross-referenced texts, graphics, sounds and other files thru the Internet. Sign up for a local Internet access service, get the appropriate software (my pick: Netscape), and start following the hypertext links to assorted files at assorted sites in assorted places around the world.
The WWW is nothing less than a generalist info-browser’s wet dream. You’re just a click or two or twelve away from scientific and technical info, sampled bits from new bands, scans of new and historic art and photos, classic and PoMo literature, attempts at collaborative art and fiction, episode guides to your favorite sitcoms, online-only music and culture zines, and online editions of your favorite print mags, including that stoic German newsweekly Der Spiegel (the latter has just the articles: no cute ads for Euro-only products like mayo-in-a-tube, no gratuitous nudity like the topless skin diver DS used to illustrate a story about water pollution).
But among my fave WWW places are the personal home pages set up by communicatively-minded individuals with data-storage privileges at their access providers. They’re like personal zines without the Kinko’s bills. There are hundreds of them already, ranging from plain-text first-person narratives to complicated multi-page hypertexts with sound files and original and/or sampled pix. Topics range from travelogues and hobbies (model planes, sci-fi) to essays on the big issues of the day (politics, corporate America, female masturbation techniques). Some pages have BBS-like write-in features, like opinion polls or add-on stories. It’s all chaotic, unregulated, wonderfully DIY (despite the rising number of ad-based sites) and a needed alternative to top-down, elitist commercial media. Speaking of which….
DON’T TAKE IT FOR GRANT-ED: Another of my favorite WWW sites is the online version of Extra!, the journal of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, a watchdog group documenting how conservative-biased America’s allegedly “liberal media” really are.
The online Extra! currently includes an exposé of Bob Grant, the New York-based talk radio host soon to appear on KVI. Grant isn’t merely another of those tasteless boors who excuse their grossness under the now-sacred rubric of “Political Incorrectness.” He’s an admitted blatant racist. Here are some things he’s said on WABC-AM, New York (as compiled by FAIR and New York magazine): “We have in our city, we have in our state of New York, we have in our nation, not hundreds of thousands but millions of sub-humanoids, savages, who really would, would feel more at home careening, careening along the sands of the Kalahari or the dry deserts of eastern Kenya — people who, for whatever reason, have not become civilized.”…”I can’t take these screaming savages, whether they’re in that African Methodist Church, the AME church, or whether they’re in the streets, burning, robbing, looting. I’ve seen enough of it.” Grant has also advocated the discredited pseudoscience of eugenics (which Hitler used in his “master race” allegations), and has advocated, if only as a pie-in-the-sky-someday hope, that non-whites be legally forbidden from having children. KVI loyalists wrote tons of nasty letters last year when Times columnist Jean Godden called the station “KKKVI.” Adding Grant to the station just shows how far-from-wrong Godden was. It relates to something I wrote a couple of years back, that demographics is the death of democracy. Many of last fall’s victorious Newtzis won by slim margins furnished by talk-radio listeners. Our country is being run on the political ideas that attract the upscale, middle-aged male audiences talk-radio advertisers seek.
Meanwhile, Jim Hightower, Austin populist and one of the few non-demagogues in syndicated talk radio, is now on in Seattle, 10 am-1 pm Saturdays on KIRO-FM (100.7). So far, Hightower’s only attracting bargain-rate, run-of-schedule ads (Ovaltine, Bromo Seltzer).
(Montreal has its Winter Carnival. Seattle has its first annual Midwinter Night’s Misc.-O-Rama, 8 pm Friday at 911 Media Arts, 117 Yale Ave. N. All ages are welcome to an evening of readings, games, weird videos, and general frolic.)
As has been our practice since 1988, this year’s list reflects what will become big over the next 12 months, not necessarily what’s big now. If you believe everything already big will just keep getting bigger forever, we’ve got some Northern Exposure and Barney merchandise to sell you.
12/94 Misc. Newsletter
(incorporating expanded versions of four Stranger columns)
MICHAEL O’DONOGHUE, 1940-94:
LET’S IMAGINE IF ELVIS
HAD A MASSIVE CEREBRAL HEMORRHAGE…
MISC.’S WALKING TOUR this month takes you to Madison Park Greetings at 11th & Union. Outside, you can see rack upon rack of beautiful friendly greeting cards thru the window, right above a tasteful sign noting that “This Building Is Under 24 Hour Video Surveillance.”
UPDATE: The Computer Store won’t be sold to Ballard Computer after all, preserving competition for full-line Apple products in Seattle. Alas, TCS is gonna abandon its longtime Apple-only policy and start carrying Windows clones–or so said a particularly confusing Times piece that claimed Apple was in deep deep trouble market-share-wise, that the company was on the verge of being permanently marginalized in a Windows-ruled computer universe. Then back on the jump page, the article acknowledged that Apple isn’t having trouble selling its newest products at all, but in fact can’t build enough of ‘em to meet demand.
HEADLINE OF THE MONTH: The cover of the 11/7 New Republic has this huge banner, THE REPUBLICANS COMETH, followed by the smaller blurb line INSIDE. Gee, I was wondering why we hadn’t heard anything from Packwood lately…
BRAVE OLD WORLD REVISITED: The election debacle confirmed several trends I’ve often cud-chewed about in this space. Chiefly, the right-wing sleaze machine’s got a grip on the late-modern (not yet postmodern) political economy, efficiently funneling cash and influence from both eastern Old Money and western New Money into smear campaigns, stealth campaigns, one-sided religious TV and talk radio operations, etc. They’re good at convincing voters that they’re Taking Charge when they’re really getting them to suck up to the forces that control most of the real power and money in this country.
The middle-of-the-road Democrats, having shed most populist pretenses in the futile dream of winning corporate cash away from the GOP, is trapped in limboland; while too many left-wingers still think it’s a statement of defiance to stay out of the electoral process and let the right win. The GOP effectively controlled Congress the last two years anyway, but now it’s gonna create Gridlock City, getting nothing done in a big way and blaming the “liberals” for everything. At least it might, just might, force Clinton into the spin doctor’s office for an emergency backbone transplant.
How to change this around? Like I said at the end of ’92 and again this past April, we’ve gotta rebuild a populist left from the ground up. “Progressive” movements that refuse to venture more than a mile from the nearest college English department aren’t worth a damn. We’ve gotta persuade working-class people, rural people, parents, and ethnic minorities that corporate ass-kissing is not people power. The right’s effectively played on voters’ justified resentment at centralized power structures, only to rewire that energy back into those structures. We’ve got to reroute that wiring, to lead people away from the right’s faux-empowerment into real empowerment. We’ll have to do it against deliberate apathy from corporate-centrist media and hostility from right-wing media. And we shouldn’t depend on help from mainstream Dems, who might revert to their Reagan-era coddling (the equivalent of S&M’s “consensual bottom role”).
Eventually, the right’s hypocrisies should collapse as an emerging decentralized culture supersedes today’s centralized culture–if we stay on guard against those who would short-circuit the postmodern promise into the same old hierarchical system. Speaking of which…
FRAYED: Wired magazine’s two years old next month. While it’s still the smartest (or least-stupid) computers-n’-communications mag, it already seems to have fallen toward the rear flanks of the computer-aided social revolution it covers. While the Internet, the World Wide Web (more on that in a future column) and related technologies are rapidly empowering people everywhere to create, connect and think in new ways, Wired stays stuck in its Frisco provincialism, its relentless hype for already-lame technoid fantasies (masturbation with robots? No thank you.), and most importantly its vision of the new media as tools for Calif. and NY to keep controlling the world’s thoughts and dreams. It salivates at special-effects toys for Hollywood action movies, and sneers at anyone who dares challenge the culture cartel (like the French).
One remarkable example: the backwards logic with which the mag exploited Cobain’s hatred of being a rock star in a piece hyping techno-disco. They took the passionate feelings of a man who wanted to decentralize culture, to create a world where anyone could create, and used it to laud one of today’s most centralized music genres, canned in studios according to trends dictated in the media capitals.
But I now understand the magazine’s pro-corporate-culture stance. Turns out its publishers belong to the Global Business Network, a corporate think tank started by ex-Shell Oil strategists (you know, the company that used to be so pro-German that Churchillstarted BP so Shell couldn’t cut off Britain’s oil supply in WWI) and dedicated to keeping multinational elites on top of things. The Whole Earth Catalog guys and other Hipster Chamber of Commerce types also belong to it. This explains the mag’s other pro-corporate stances, like its tirades against “universal service” (govt.-mandated cheap phone and cable rates). But back to techno-culture…
140 COUGHS PER MINUTE: Last year I told you about Rave cigarettes. Now there’s a brand that even more explicitly targets techno-disco culture. Wheat-pasted posters for Buz cigarettes promise “industrial strength flavor.” The packs, cartons and ads have ad-agency re-creations of techno-rave flyer art. Even the Surgeon General’s warning is in fake-typewriter type. Remember, dance fans: tobacco is no “smart drug.”
YOU MOVE ME: Ooh, we’re so urbane now, we’re even getting a subway beneath Capitol Hill! ‘Tho only if it passes three counties’ worth of bureaucrats and a referendum vote, and even then the system won’t be all built until 2010. Still, I wanna be the first to ride each built segment of the system (to involve lite rail, regular rail, and new buses). But how would this affect the initiative drive to build a citywide elevated light-rail under the name of the beloved Monorail? Or how would the initiative conversely affect the big regional scheme? Let’s just hope that the whole scheme, in whatever its final form, doesn’t get derailed by the pave-the-earth troglodytes now ascendant in political circles.
(latter-day note: The transit plan failed in a public vote, with only Seattle voters approving.)
AD SLOGAN OF THE MONTH (from a commercial that aired on the Fox Kids’ Network): “What do you want in a plastic power shooter?” “Balls! More balls!”
WE ARE DRIVEL: Ford’s been running commercials stoically reciting a corporate mission statement attributed to founder Henry Ford Sr., proclaiming that “We live by these words every day.” The commercials don’t include any of Mr. Ford’s noted anti-Semitic remarks.
A SWILL BUNCHA GUYS: Budweiser recently ran a commercial during Monday Night Football: “Sure, in 1876 we were a microbrewery too. But then we got better.” How bogus can you get? We’re talking about a product born at the dawn of national distribution and advertising, that used the now-discredited pasteurization process to turn beer from a local agricultural product to a mass-market commodity… By the way, how d’ya spot a New Yorker in a Seattle bar? He’s the only guy protectively clutching his Bud bottle amidst a group of micro-guzzlers.
WHAT A DISH!: Home satellite receivers have been a fixture on the Eastern Washington landscape for a decade. Nearly every tiny farmhouse between Ellensburg and Spokane has an eight-foot dish, supplying isolated ruralites with the latest crop-futures trades on CNBC as well as last year’s cop movies on pirated HBO. Now, GM-Hughes and Thomson-RCA want to bring that experience to anybody who’s tired of their cable company and has a spare $700 or so (plus $30-$65 a month for programming). Magnolia Hi-Fi will gladly show you how it works.
The picture looks great, especially on a fancy-schmancy TV with surround sound. You need your own home (or a landlord who’ll let you install the 18-inch dish) and an unobstructed sky view to the southwest (tough luck, valley-dwellers). RCA’s flyers promise “up to 150 channels,” though only 60 are named (including 24 movie channels); the rest, for now, are pay-per-view movies and sports. You get most of the famous cable channels, including channels most local cable viewers can’t get (Sci-Fi, Comedy Central, C-SPAN 2, ESPN 2, but not the arts channel Bravo). You get the local sports channel, but for broadcast networks and local stations you’ll need a regular antenna.
The one thing you can’t get on home satellites is public access. Cable companies have treated access as a municipally-mandated obligation, to be minimally begrudged. Now if they’re smart they’ll put money, promotion and support toward public access, the one thing (besides better broadcast reception) they’ve got that the dishes don’t. Satellites might offer a wider trough of Hollywood product, but only cable can give you your own town. Speaking of local imageries…
EYE TRANSPLANT UPDATE: KIRO continues its evolution into a non-network station (CBS shows move to KSTW next St. Patrick’s Day). The station’s painted over the big rooftop CBS eye that used to serve as the Chopper 7 helipad, and recently gave away a lot of old-logo pencils and keychains at Westlake Center. Its daytime talk show Nerissa at Nine did a long segment about “soap opera addicts,” subtly criticizing people who watch some of the shows KIRO soon won’t have.
DRAWING THE LINE: Fox TV’s nighttime soaps have long sold a glamour-fantasy LA, at a time when practically nobody else (except porno and Guns n’ Roses videos) professed any remaining belief in the image of La-La Land as all sand, swimming pools and silicone. The parent company’s practices reflect a different attitude, however. First, they threatened to hold off on an expansion of the 20th Century-Fox studios (address: Beverly Hills 90212) unless they got special zoning and financial considerations. Now they’re building a new cartoon studio, to be run by animation vet Don Bluth, in a Phoenix office park. The Screen Cartoonists’ Union complained that Fox was building in a right-to-work state in order to keep the guild out. Bluth’s lawyers sent a letter to the union’s newsletter, asserting Fox wasn’t trying to shaft future animation employees but indeed was doing them a favor by giving them a chance to move out of that icky, polluted, high-rent, full-of-non-white-people LA.
PHILM PHACTS: The Pagemaster, a new animated feature released by 20th Century-Fox (but not made by Bluth in Arizona) about a boy lost in a universe of old children’s books, is a 90-minute extrapolation of the library-poster imagery of reading as a less-efficient medium for outmoded notions of action-adventure escapism. The only place you see pirates anymore is on posters exhorting kids to “live the adventure of books.” You still see knights and dragons in paperback fantasy trilogies, but that’s an entirely different interpretation of the myth than you get in the Once and Future King/Ivanhoe iconography on library walls and in The Pagemaster.You’re not gonna turn kids into bookworms by promising the same kinds of vicarious thrills they can get more viscerally from movies and video games. You’ve gotta promote the things writing does better than movies: the head-trip of imagination, the power of the well-turned sentence, the seductive lure of patient verbal storytelling that doesn’t have to “cut to the chase.” The Pagemaster, like the earlier Never-Ending Story, couldn’t do this. It’s possible that the Disney fairy-tale films could lead a few kids toward the original stories, especially when the originals are more downbeat or violent than the cartoons.
THE FINE PRINT (on the back of a Rykodisc CD): “The green tinted CD jewelbox is a trademark of Rykodisc.” Next thing you know, 7-Up will claim it owns anything made from green plastic and threaten to sue Mountain Dew and Slice.
LOCAL PUBLICATION OF THE MONTH: Freedom Club is a slick new newsletter promoting local counselor Jana Lei Schoenberg’s specialized services in “Re-Empowerment Resources” for traumatized people. How specialized her work is is evident in her subtitle: “Ex-Alien Abductees Unite.” As her opening editorial says, “Our focus is to get beyond the story telling of personal abduction experiences… The questions we need to be asking ourselves are not ‘Do aliens exist?’ or ‘Is our government covertly working with them?’ but rather, ‘What can you do to heal your life from their control and intrusion?’ and ‘What steps do you need to begin the process of recovery from their control over your life?’ ” Free from 1202 E. Pike St., Suite 576, Seattle 98122-3934, or by email to email@example.com.
URBAN TURF WARS: With the Seattle Downtown News gone, two parties have launched rival freebie tabloids for the condo-dwellers and commuters. The Times Co.’s Downtown Source is plagued by that trademark cloying blandness some like to call “Northwest Style,” down to a person-in-the-street segment on the question “Do you drink too much coffee?” Much less slick and slightly more interesting is Pacific Media’s Downtown Seattle Forum, highlighted by this quip from UW prof and third-generation Chinese Canadian Tony Chan: “Seattle people are really Canadians in drag.”
‘TIL NEXT WE VIRTUALLY MEET in the snowcapped (I hope! I hope!), short days of winter solsticetime, be sure to stay warm, don’t get any of the gunk that’s going around, be nice to people (in moderation), and ponder these goodwill-toward-whomever holiday greetings from Alan Arkin: “I don’t love humanity. I don’t hate them either. I just don’t know them personally.”
IF THE WORLD SHOULD STOP REVOLVING…
Like Hewlett-Packard, ’70s easy-listening singer David Gates (no relation to Bill), and some public-domain poet whose name I forget right now, Misc. never stops asking, and sometimes even gets around to answering, that simple yet profound question, IF:
Some universal advice from PBS’s favorite Af-Am-Neo-Con, Tony Brown: “Never offend people with style if you can offend them with substance.”
There will be some sort of celebration of the 100th (and possibly last?) Misc. newsletter in mid-January. Details as the date approaches. In the event the newsletter does get dropped, all current subscribers will receive credit for other fine Humph rey literary product.
Due to the demands of book production and other tasks, I cannot accept any unpaid writing work until further notice. Don’t even ask.
Where the Suckers Moon
Book review for the Stranger, 11/13/94
Portland ad agency Wieden & Kennedy is one of your classic Northwest success stories. Its Nike spots established it as the agency that knew how to give a hip, wiseguy image to an inanimate object. It became the sort of agency ripe to be sought by a company down on its luck–especially if that company wanted to change an unhip public image, like Subaru of America.
Where the Suckers Moon (Knopf) is former New York Times business writer Randall Rothenberg’s extremely long but laff-a-minute account of the resulting misadventure. Rothenberg follows W&K’s go-getters (some of whom openly hated cars and car ads) as they spent other people’s money to create slick, oh-so-clever artistic statements about how Subaru makes back-to-basics cars for back-to-basics people. At a couple of points, Rothenberg implies (but doesn’t overtly allege) that the ads may have been intended more to increase the agency’s rep inside the ad world than to move units.
Rothenberg uses 463 pages to discuss the making of a handful of 30-second commercials and another handful of print ads. With that much available verbal roadway, he covers every conceivable angle of his topic, from the lighting and editing tricks used in modern commercials to the ideological roots of W&K’s trendy approach to image-making, from the history of Japanese automaking to the corporate-culture clashes between Subaru in Japan, Subaru of America (until recently a separate wholesale company started by a Philadelphia furniture salesman), and their branch offices and dealers. Add a recessionary, industrywide sales slump and some Oregon ad whizzes smugly telling everyone that everything they’ve heretofore done to sell cars was wrong, and you get a fascinatingly-described series of turf conflicts among people who often don’t seem to be trying to do the same thing (i.e., push the sheet metal off the lots). You also get a great glossary in the back for further reading about the wacky world of marketing.
You also get a few tidbits of regional history — how Portland’s business culture of New England Brahmin descendents differs from Seattle’s ex-Minnesotans, and how there’d been a dark side to Oregon’s pure-living ideology long before anti-gay crusader Lon Mabon (it was once a center of Klan activity, and passed a law to prevent blacks from moving to the state).
Rothenberg doesn’t, however, mention the ad that most completely encapsulated W&K’s desperation to be hip, the infamous “It’s like punk rock, only it’s a car” ad that aired a few months before the carmaker fired the agency.
Now, Subaru’s gone back to low-budget, low-profile advertising with clunky slogans like “The Beauty of All-Wheel Drive.” The cars are selling not significantly better or worse than when W&K ran its pretentious “Lack of Pretense” ads. W&K went on to make self-referential PoMo ads for Black Star beer (another campaign now discontinued) and OK Soda (ditto).
7/94 Misc. Newsletter
PRAY FOR PEACE IN KOREA.
OTHERWISE, WE’D RUN OUT OF SIMPSONS EPISODES
Welcome back to the Henry Mancini memorial edition of Misc., the pop-culture newsletter that’s the only thing wilder than a Vancouver hockey riot.
UPDATES: For those who called about the Hanna-Barbera sound effects library but didn’t want to pay $495 for the professional-studio edition, a popular-price set will be out on Rhino this fall…. I wrote that KING-AM has been bleeding red ink for eons; a staff producer there writes to claim the station finally turned a modest profit last year…. A Wired article traces the currently-popular notion of “The Other,” that art- and lit-crit cliché I wrote about some months back, to French postmodern philosopher Julia Kristeva. She’s apparently the one who first thought of collapsing sociopolitical class analysis into an oversimplified two-tier model of The Dominant Order and The Other, a model that so narrowly defines society’s insiders that it allows many affluent white English majors to classify themselves as outsiders.
FEEDING FRENZIES: Our thanks to those who graciously attended our Misc. 8th Anniversary party and junk food film festival at the Pike St. Cinema. Among the beautiful old Frigidare promo films and Tony the Tiger commercials was a serious issue: Why should you care about junk food (a broad name for things people eat and drink for enjoyment, rather than sustenance)? Because it’s the sure sign of a culture. You won’t find the real Britain on Masterpiece Theatre; you’ll find it in cucumber sandwiches, room-temperature beer, and fish and chips wrapped in newspaper. American junk food represents everything this nation stands for: advanced technology and efficient distribution, under the direction of clever marketing, satisfying people’s wants instead of their needs. Take the new Bubble Beeper, an orange plastic box with a pocket clasp and a metallic front label. Inside the flip-top, the 17 sticks of rather ordinary bubble gum (made by Wrigley’s off-brand division) come in wrappers decorated with LCD-style type reading I’LL CALL YOU!, CALL ME, SORRY LINE BUSY, URGENT, or SEE YOU LATER! It’s a “value-added” (costlier than it absolutely has to be) version of what’s already an entertainment food product, with no nutritional purpose. But it’s an expression of many things–our fascination with personal tech, kids’ love of gadgetry and telephony, and corporate America’s drive to commodify the accessories of gangsta rap for suburban consumption.
JOINT VENTURES: We weren’t at the Grateful Dead shows. Hard to attach counterculture street-cred to a band that has a PBS pledge-break special (complete with yuppie phone operators in tye-dye shirts) and its own merchandise show on QVC.
LAVA LITE: We’re not too worried that Mt. Rainier could blow any day, according to a recent National Research Council report. There’ll likely be enough advance warning that any blast zone could be evacuated in time. And maybe it could blow away Southcenter, or the Boeing site that replaced Longacres, so we could start land-use planning in the area over again, only doing it right this time.
`METAL’ MELTDOWN: Adams News, Seattle’s dominant magazine wholesaler, refused to carry the July Heavy Metal, whose cover depicted two robotic stormtroopers (labeled “Tom” and “Jerry”) holding an S&M babe wearing a few strands of leather and a blindfold. Stores serviced by direct-market comix distributors are getting it and some are selling out, even though it’s indistinguishable from anything in the “adult” comix mag’s tradition of gory violence mixed with leering sex.
CYBER SPACES: With the U Book Store cutting back on sales to non-UW personnel, Ballard Computer (which bought The Computer Store) is now the only full-line, all-takers Apple dealer inside the Seattle city limits. Some electronics stores carry some Apple products like the Performas, but only Ballard sells PowerMacs, hi-end laser printers, et al. If you don’t like their prices or their service, you’ll have to go to the suburbs or to mail-order.
LOCAL PUBLICATION OF THE MONTH: The KIRO Radio News Fax is Seattle’s first new daily print publication in our lifetimes (not counting suburban papers). Wish I could say its content was equally momentous. It’s a five-page newsletter (the first is wasted on a cover sheet) with about two dozen brief news, sports and feature items (most shorter than this paragraph) and a few ads, phoned in free every weekday morning to any fax machine whose owner asks for it. A cute idea, but poorly executed. The items are too superficial to be interesting; you get more depth (and a lot more advertising) in a half-hour of KIRO-AM. It might’ve been better if KIRO were in charge. Instead, it’s run by an independent media firm in Bellevue; the station licenses its name and local news briefs to it. The Daily Journal of Commerce used to publish an afternoon “Newsgram” page of tightly-written financial items, distributed in downtown office towers; that was a much better example of condensed info of practical use to its readers.
STREET SEENS: Just because I oppose the Seattle Commons, don’t think I’m against all developments. I say a rousing Yes! to a symphony hall at 3rd & Union, and to moving A Contemporary Theatre into the Eagles Auditorium at 7th & Union. Next: turn the triangle between those two sites and Westlake Center into an all-night strolling and hanging-out area. Seattle needs something like Granville Mall in Vancouver, an all-hours, year-round, open-air gathering place. It’s too late to save the old movie-theater district; and our finally jump-started nightlife is scattered across a half-dozen areas, none feeding into downtown retail. But we can take advantage of real estate possibilities to put nightspots, live theaters, bowling alleys, pool halls, etc. in the Pine-Pike zone. Speaking of great hangouts…
SPACES IN THE HEART: I spent many a lonely evening at Andy’s Cafe on Broadway, home of honest food at honest prices; even got my heart broke by a waitress there. Now it’ll be an expanded version of Belltown espresso haven Septieme (“7e”). The last places to get unpretentious food on the Hill are Dick’s, the Jade Pagoda, Emil’s and IHOP. Why’s it seem that the more streets like B’way strive to become “arty” or “funky,” the less diverse or interesting they get? Speaking of homogenization…
HOPPING MAD: Redhook brewery products will be distributed by Anheuser-Busch, in the brewing equivalent of an indie record label going to bed with the majors. So much for the mystique of microbrew as a bastion of independence from the big boys (expressed in a rival microbrewer’s slogan, “Think Globally–Drink Locally”). Now when you doff a Ballard Bitter, you’ll contribute to the guys behind Spuds McKenzie, the Bud Dry “Alternative Beer” ads, and the capture of killer whales for Busch’s theme parks. (If I didn’t like the stuff I wouldn’t care this much.) Speaking of great independent foodmakers gobbled by “the majors”…
IN THE CHIPS: Tim’s Cascade Chips recently merged with Nalley’s, the Tacoma-based regional food legend, which in turn is being split up into two companies. The potato-chip operation, including Tim’s, is going to Dean Foods, while the rest of the company (chili, sloppy joes, enchiladas, mayonnaise, salad dressings, pickles, et al.) will go to Hormel. You might remember recent ads in which Nalley favorably compared its chili to Hormel’s; we probably won’t see those again. Let’s just hope the new owners don’t mess with the products too much or pay for the purchases by firing people (cf. the Oscar-winning documentary American Dream, on Hormel’s wage-slashing and union-busting). And let’s hope they keep Nalley’s Picadilly Chips, the last salt-and-vinegar potato chips left in the area now that Lay’s version is being discontinued.
(latter-day note: The Nalley/Hormel deal fell through.)
THE WORD: The arrest of Seattle Black Muslim preacher James Bess shocked me and probably other public-access fans. Bess, who allegedly shot and injured another ousted Nation of Islam leader in LA for reasons unknown at press time, was perhaps the most visible face on channel 29. While other volunteer producers found their shows shifted and bumped in the channel’s semiannual lotteries for scarce time slots, Bess always seemed to have from two to four shows every week. He entered each time-slot lottery with multiple applications under multiple program titles, to make sure he’d always stay on the air. His sermons were fiery and assertive, but he held himself with such an air of confidence and stand-up-straight persuasion that it’s hard to imagine him resorting to armed assault, a tactic of the weak and desperate.
SLIPPED DISCS?: After several years of relentless growth, are indie-rock labels overextended? Not only has C/Z cut back on its personnel, eMpTy has moved from its own office to a shared space. Label boss Blake Wright took a day job at Aldus; assistantTammy Watson took a PR job at Fantagraphics (replacing Larry “call me an Iconoclastic Visionary” Reid, now starting his own promo firm). The label reports good sales of its new Sicko CD and hopes to be back at full strength later this summer, even though its top-selling act, Gas Huffer, just signed with the larger indie Epitaph.
There are now between 20 and 75 record companies in Washington, depending on whether you count band-owned and vanity labels. Can they all survive? In theory, if you could get record buyers to support 50 20,000-copy albums instead of any one million-copy seller, you’d have a healthy indie scene.
It’s not that easy, of course; indies sell among the in-crowd fine, but still aren’t accessible by casual consumers in many areas (despite KNDD and the Insomnia and Tower 800 numbers). There are 16 stores in Seattle that sell appreciable amounts of non-major-label discs (plus seven others with limited selections), and four on the Eastside. But just try to find the Spinanes in Moses Lake (Ellensburg yes, but…). Heck, even Bellingham doesn’t have a decent indie store. There’s no quick-fix to this growth ceiling. We’re talking retail infrastructure here.
We can only hope that the underground-rock mystique stays hot long enough that a demand for the real thing filters through across the vast American landscape. That’ll require fans, zines, college and “alternative” radio, clubs, booking agents and bands to hold stronger loyalties to the indie scene, remembering that the media conglomerates are not necessarily our friends. Speaking of which….
COLD TYPE: Are major labels financing “independent” rock zines? So sez Maximum Rock n’ Roll. The self-proclaimed punk bible claims the majors are secretly investing in zines “in exchange for unspecified favors.” You can imagine what those might be–cover stories on bands the label (or “sham indie” companies controlled by the label) wants to hype. It sure explains why certain “alternative” zines have run big stories to plug bland but heavily promoted acts, movie soundtracks, and even TV tie-in discs.
VIRTUAL MATERIALISM: I’ve often felt sorry for poor little rich Barbie; just ‘cuz the character’s got a big chest people think she’s a bimbo, even when she’s a doctor or an astronaut. What she is, is an unabashed celebration of certain traditional feminine values that help drive the consumer economy. She doesn’t teach girls to be passive and dumb; she teaches them to make and spend all the money they can.
This training for life in corporate America is evident in the Barbie video games by Hi Tech Entertainment. In the Barbie game, she (you) searches for what a USA Today report calls “fashion treasures.” In Barbie Game Girl (for Game Boy, natch), you navigate “a mall maze” with Ken at the other end. And in Barbie Super Model, you’re “on a quest to become the hottest of supermodels in Aspen, New York, Hawaii and Hollywood.” There’ll soon be an interactive CD-ROM tour of Barbie and her Magical House. The makers claim they’re performing a service by getting girls interested in computers. But it won’t hurt society if one gender doesn’t get hooked on the left-brain opiate of passive-aggressively manipulating screen objects under pre-defined rules. We don’t need more female gamers, just more female programmers. Speaking of models out for money…
COME ON DOWN DEPT.: Darrington-born MC Bob Barker‘s lately called The Price Is Right “the highest-rated game show on network television”–a sly acknowledgment that it’s now the only game show on network television. But his triumph as last survivor turned sour when Dian Parkinson, the former “Barker’s Beauty” who became a Playboy model at 47, slapped him with an $8 million sexual-harrassment suit. Barker, now 70, countered that they’d had a voluntary affair in the late ’80s, at her instigation.
In an Internet message, a former contestant in beauty pageants he’s hosted claims his straying hands were infamous on the pageant circuit. But modem users love to wean gallows humor from the most serious issues, as in these jokes from America Online: “Would this have happened had he been spayed or neutered?” “The lawyers should have to guess the final settlement amount without going over.” “Hope he made sure he didn’t get Parkinson’s Disease.” “Overheard backstage: `Higher, higher, lower, lower–Plinko!’” And best/ worst of all: “I guess he really does like fur.” Speaking of controversial daytime celebs…
CATHODE CATHARSIS: Having meditated long and hard, I’ve decided I no longer hate Barney the Dinosaur. There are good reasons kids like the Purple One: (1) Parents hate him, so he’s a secret club for kids with none of that “sophisticated” humor that the grownups go for, going against everything boomers expect kids to like; (2) he’s purist television, a long-attention-span show on two obvious studio sets, unlike those disconcerting cut-up video shows like Sesame St. that their parents watched as kids. The show is as calming and reassuring as its star. Beneath its veneer of smarmy cheese it preaches civility and honor in an age ruled by selfishness and rudeness from gangsta rap to Rush Limbaugh, from left-wing elitists to right-wing boors. My only fear is that the Barney generation might grow up to be a reincarnation of the Victorians, who reacted against the decadence of 18th Century England by promoting extreme moralism. Either that, or they’re going to be just as irritatingly perky-bland as some of their elders. Speaking of which…
THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE SMUG: One thing that bugs me about San Francisco writers is that they seem to think the entire world’s just like San Francisco–an isthmus of self-styled “civilization” surrounded by vast fascistic deserts of heathen polyester-clad Sunset magazine readers. A worldview of hip liberals vs. square conservatives is impractical in Seattle, where so many of the closed-minded bourgeois squares fighting to stamp out original expression and true diversity claim to be political liberals. A square liberal loves “The Arts” but doesn’t want anything too new or harsh. Square liberals mistake Dave Barry for outré social comment, Linda Ronstadt for rock, and Chiluly for cutting-edge art. Squre liberals support Hollywood location shoots in town, but ignore indigenous local filmmaking.
Seattle politics is run by square-liberal boomers, by a Democratic machine in cahoots with high-powered attorneys and construction magnates. This machine’s progressive reputation is now cracking, as its obsessive-compulsive ideal of “A Clean City” (all-affluent, all-boomer, almost all-white) becomes more irreconcilable with reality and also with basic ideals of social decency. We’re witnessing an end to the premise that whitebread 1968 liberal arts graduates know what’s best for everybody and have everybody’s best interests at heart. With the poster law, the sitting law, the Commons plan, and the concerted drive to subsidize a bigger Nordstrom without bothering to replace Woolworth’s, it’s clear that the square-liberal boomers, and the politicians who strive for boomer appeal, aren’t always on the side of what’s best for the whole city.
MEMO TO THE MEDIA: Please stop using that dorky name “Generation X” to describe modern-day teens and young adults. Nobody likes it except stupid journalists. Generation X was a British punk band that broke up when today’s high schoolers were still in kindergarten. Speaking of which…
TONY! TONY! TONY!: The media mavens have been going agog over Tony Bennett’s well-received MTV Unplugged special last month, acting like it’s just so totally weird that a guy that old could appeal to their stupid stereotype of the younger generation. The reporters saying this are, of course, working for the same media industry that perpetually defines young people as A Market to be reached by whatever boomer-age marketers currently imagine to be Hot, Wild and Now. This approach invariably leads to such pathetic excuses for hipness as rapping cartoon animals, Details magazine, suntanned square-jawed surfer dudes in New York-designed “grunge” wear, and Marky Mark. The media business (and various related marketing businesses like restaurants) don’t get that many young adults don’t want to be force-fed patronizing simulacra of trendiness. They want things that are actually good, including things that evoke a sense of connection to some artistic tradition. That’s why the old Coke bottle’s so in now, along with vintage clothing stores, old magazines, and classic funky home furnishings. That’s why you see 20-year-olds at Dead shows, or reading Bukowski and Burroughs. That’s why great old restaurants lose all their coolness when they start trying too hard to be hip. Most recent case: The new owners of Vito’s Restaurant on First Hill trashed the place’s great old juke box full of Peggy Lee and Hank Williams for a CD player equipped with the requisite recent rock hits. Speaking of mistaken attempts to be hip…
RETURN TO THE OK CORRAL: The Coca-Cola Co. isn’t placing all its now-generation marketing bets on OK Soda. It’s also test-marketing its faux-Snapple line of fruit drinks, Fruitopia. Thsee strange-tasting sweetened beverages come in 16-ounce bottles with labels in ripoff World Beat label designs, with the flavor names “The Grape Beyond,” “Strawberry Passion Awareness,” “Citrus Consciousness” and “Fruit Integration.” At least one of the varieties uses taste-neutral pear juice to manipulate its sweetness, a trick used for years by Tree Top mixed juices. (For an independent taste of the same premise try Arizona Ice Tea and Cowboy Cocktails, made in Brooklyn, in big 24-oz. cans at the Gollywog Grocery on 1st and Blanchard.)
SOCCER TO ME: I confess I had a long couple of days and passed out on the sofa while trying to watch my first World Cup match. Still, it was great to see the entire US sports press go agog over the first American World Cup victory in 44 years, burying deep in their stories the fact that the game was won on a fluke (an opposing player mistakenly deflected the ball into his own team’s net). And it’s cool to see the games without commercial breaks, just corporate logos in the corner of the screen. Other kinds of programs oughta consider this device. Let’s see uninterrupted movies, shown in widescreen letterbox format with AT&T ads scrolling across the black bars. Or run the soaps with little logos denoting the toothpastes and hair-care products of the stars, alternating with subtitles explaining every character’s convoluted past for the benefit of new viewers. Just expect some actresses to make demands in their contracts that their big dramatic scenes not be accompanied by Massengill logos. Speaking of global broadcasting concepts…
NAFTA NASTIES: The trade papers claim Fox is going to finally start having daytime soaps, sorta. They’re contracting with the Mexican network Televisa to produce English-language versions of Televisa’s infamously sappy, 100-episode telenovelas. They’ll be made like the Spanish-language versions of early Hollywood talkies were made, with a separate cast taking over the same sets after the regular cast is done for the day. Somehow, it just won’t be the same to see these shows and know what they’re saying.
JUNK FOOD OF THE MONTH: Craisins, recently given out in half-ounce bags downtown, are the Ocean Spray grower co-op’s attempt to find yet another non-winter-holiday market for the tart little red bog fruit. As the name implies they’re dried cranberries with juice added back in and pumped full o’ sugar (the leading ingredient). They look like regular raisins with red food coloring. They taste like the lumpy bits of holiday cranberry sauce.
KRISTEN PFAFF, 1967-1994: Yet another creative free spirit destroyed by the global drug cartel, an even more sinister institution than the major record labels. I’m no straight-edger but I know there’s nothing even remotely “rebellious” about getting hooked on smack. It makes you less capable of assertive action. It greatly increases your need for money while decreasing your ability to earn it. It makes you an even bigger slave to the system than you already are. Which may be one reason why neo-fascist dictators and the US “intelligence” establishment love to be part of the business of selling it to you.
‘TIL OUR NEXT VIRTUAL GATHERING, be sure to visit the new Costco on the big concrete cavity that used to be Aurora Village, and heed these prophetic words from a 1970 Esquire fashion spread about the “Pepsi Proletariat” look: “It consists of overalls, flannel shirt, and heavy work boots, the traditional accoutrements of the working class…. To adopt the Pepsi Proletariat guise is to express one of the more euphoriant pipe dreams of the counterculture: the hope that a coalition may someday be fashioned out of workers and freaks.”
An anonymous Searle pharmacologist, quoted in that spiritual guide for our times, Listening to Prozac: “If the brain were simple enough for us to understand, we’d be too simple to understand it.”
Again, thanks to the select few of you who attended our little film screening/soirée in June. Another might be held this fall; watch this space for details.
Am currently heading into the slimy depths of production on my local-music history book. I really need two things right now: (1) Pictures, including band photos, record covers/sleeves, posters, tickets, ads, and old zines; and (2) Your recommendations on which current Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia-Bellingham club bands should be in the book.
5/94 Misc. Newsletter
(incorporating five Stranger columns)
Here at Misc. we can’t wait for the longtime local label K Records to start a joint venture with the new local label Y Records. The connection between the two would undoubtedly go very smoothly.
THE MAILBAG: Thanx to all the Aldus people who E-mailed words of reassurance after the piece here about the software giant last time. One guy said not to worry about Aldus’s future, that the firm’s forthcoming merger with Adobe Systems would be more like a “marriage” than a corporate takeover. (I think we’ve all seen marriages that were like corporate takeovers, but that’s beside the point…)
FOR LOVE OR $$ DEPT.: For shameless audience manipulation, nothing could compare to KCTS‘s weekend marathon of Getting The Love You Want, a home-video marriage counseling series. The facilitator picks a couple from the audience, has them reveal their issues and conflicts, then leads them in working out their differences. He closes the segment by getting the couple to hug and avow their continued empathy. This moment of tenderness and generosity closes, and then we see another pledge break.
THE NEW LITTER: The P-I reports that the much-hyped closure of the legendary Dog House restaurant was just a ploy by its owners to get out from its lease and its union contract. But it backfired; the eatery’s landlord decided not to sign a new lease with the Dog House people, but instead to let the owners of that other legendary 24-hour hash house, Beth’s Cafe, take over the space. The newly-christened Hurricane Cafe doesn’t have a bar, organ player, murals (its walls are newly painted in the same plum color as Linda’s Tavern on E. Pine), or such old-time menu items as liver and onions, but it does have big food at reasonable prices at all hours. The Dog House folks are reportedly looking for a new downtown site to open a non-union cafe, which may or may not have any of the old Dog House iconography.
FOUL TIP: The Mariners opened another season amidst new hype about the team actually maybe winning a division this year (a new mini-Western Division shorn of the powerhouse White Sox). And as usual, a new season brings out the usual media hype of “Whither Baseball?” Here’s what I think’s wrong with the game: 1) a new TV contract worse than hockey’s, with half the national cable games, no network games until July, and regional-only playoff telecasts — a setup that won’t help promote the game to new fans; and 2) its reputation as the sport of writers and other dullards, who blather on about such esoterica as the dimensions of the field (I’ve never seen ponderous essays on how a basketball court’s 96 feet long, a multiple of the sacred numbers 8 and 12). When they’re not doing that, writers use baseball to conjure up images of that Bygone Innocent America, that nice all-white-middle-class wonderland that never was. Face it: a game marketed to exploit grandpa’s selective memories isn’t gonna attract enough kids to maintain a decent supply of players, let alone a decent supply of fans.
PUFF PIECES: The King County Council may vote this month on a plan, drafted by the county health department, to ban smoking in restaurants. If approved, the ban would first take effect in the suburbs, then spread to Seattle in ’95 when the county takes over Seattle’s restaurant regulation. You could still smoke in taverns, lounges, and in restaurants that were willing to serve adults only, at least until they pass a broader ban. I think smoking is a wretched habit; but everybody I meet these days smokes, especially the vegetarians. This is Big Brother-ism at its most persnickity.
INK STAINS: Fourteen months ago, some dudes in Lynnwood started Face II Face, a free monthly newsprint magazine with equal emphasis on fashion, art, music and fiction. The Face II Face team split up un-amicably last November, with several members relocating to Seattle and re-starting under the name Month (though the cover flag said “November,” “December,” etc.). That crew just had another falling out. Jim and Jodi Madigan continued to publish Month, unveiling a slightly revised graphic design in their April issue, while their ex-colleagues Bill Maner, Tom Schmitt and Roger LeBlanc just put out something called Monthly, whose premiere April issue is billed as “Vol. 1 No. 6″ and looks just like the first five issues of Month except it’s not stapled. To add to the confusion, neither publication mentions the family feud in its pages. We’ll see if they start up fistfights over press credentials to runway shows.
WANKING ON PARADE: That professional egotist and artistic has-been John Lydon, in town on a book tour, was scheduled to appear on The Spud Goodman Show. Goodman had outlined half an episode to the Lydon interview, the most he’d ever alloted to a single guest. KNDD’s Norman Batley, who’d took on a volunteer producer position on the Goodman show, was in charge of bringing Lydon from his hotel room to the studio. But somebody, either on the local PR team handling the tour stop or one of the print-media reporters keeping him busy, dissuaded him from going, charging “that’s not even a real TV station.” Goodman and his normally scripted cast had to improvise a new show on the spot, shuffling in segments written for other episodes and making introductions for location segments that don’t exist yet, that will have to be shot and edited into the episode before it airs.
THE MARGINAL WAY: There’s been a big media blitz over the county’s plan to revive the beautifully rusty Industrial District between the Kingdome and Tukwila. The stories quoted officials claiming that unless We Act Now, the zone could become a “rust belt” a la the abandoned factories of Michigan and Ohio. The top paragraphs of the stories mentioned all-well-n’-good stuff like fixing roads and cleaning up toxic waste. But if you read further you find out that there really aren’t many vacant sites in the area, that it’s well-occupied by small and medium businesses. Most of the horror stories cited in the articles about companies leaving the ID turn out to be about firms that wanted bigger tracts than they could get.
It doesn’t take much between-line reading to wonder whether the politicians are really seeking an excuse to condemn and consolidate tracts down there, evict some of the little guys, and turn the area over to bigger operations by bigger companies — the sort of companies that employ proportionately fewer people, but make bigger campaign contributions.
MISC.’S LOOPY LEXICON defines “race-blind casting” as the courageous risk of daring theatrical directors to award all major roles, no matter what ethnicity the characters may be, to white actors.
THE LAST WORD ON GANGSTA RAP: When hiphop was ruled from NY, it was an explosion of creativity with a social conscience. Then the Hollywood showbiz weasels took charge and, as usual, ruined everything. If I believed power, money, intimidation, sexism and egotism were the answers to everything, I would’ve become a Republican.
LITERAMA: Clever people across the country are discovering a real use for the Apple Newton Messagepad, that overpriced electronic Rolodex that’s supposed to read your handwriting but usually can’t. It may not be able to make an exact digital version of what you write on it, but it can turn it into computer-assisted cut-up poetry! Yes, you can make your own faux-Burroughs without having to shoot anybody or get addicted to anything. In my own experimental-fiction days, I used to be in a group that played the “writing games” devised by the French Oulipo group (Raymond Quaneau, Georges Perec, Harry Mathews, et al.). One of them was “n + 7″: take an existing passage and replace each common noun with the noun seven dictionary entries past it. Similar discoveries await when you Newtonize a familiar saying. Here’s some vintage “Abe Newton” as posted on the Net: “Foyer scrota and severe heavers ago our flashovers brought force on thy cosmetician a new notion conceives in lubricate and deducted to the prosecution that all men are crated quail.”
JUNK FOODS OF THE MONTH: Thomas Kemper Weizen-Berry might be America’s first raspberry-flavored beer. I wouldn’t say it was particularly good, but it might qualify as an experience in learning just how bizarre foreign-inspired food-and-drink recipes can really be…. Wheaties Dunk-A-Balls is the first basketball-shaped cereal! They’re wheat/corn puffs, sorta like oversize Kix with alternating pink and brown basketball seams dyed onto them and an odd brown-sugar taste. Better still is the hype on the side: “Hey Mom & Dad! Tired of putting on the full-court press to get your kids to eat a wholesome breakfast? Introducing new Dunk-A-Balls, the one-of-a-kind breakfast cereal that will have your kids fast breaking for the breakfast bowl. Dunk-A-Balls is the perfect tip-off to the whole day…. Score a slam dunk with your kids, sky-hook them a bowl of Wheaties Dunk-A-Balls now, before the buzzer sounds on this limited time offering!”
LOCAL PUBLICATIONS OF THE MONTH: My Spokane is Evergreen student Jon Snyder‘s oversize photo-essay book on the sights, sounds and dreams of his beloved Inland Empire hometown (though he does complain in an insert that he couldn’t find an Eastern Washington printer willing to run it, due to a chapter on adolescent sex fantasies). Of special interest to west-side readers is his ode to the Spokane Dick’s Drive-In, a completely separate enterprise from the Seattle Dick’s chain (and servers of superior flesh-n’-grease products, or so he claims). $7.50 at Fallout Records or from 214 S. Coeur D’Alene St., Spokane 99204….
Sell Yourself to Science is, at first glance, just another Loompanics Unlimited tome of quasi-demimonde self-help access; in this case, about how to make small sums of money by participating in medical experiments or by selling your blood, semen or other bodily products. What sets it above the Loompanics norm is the oft-hilarious writing, by local kid Jim Hogshire; especially when he asserts that you should be allowed to sell post-death rights to your organs to the highest bidder. Even better is the collected set of Hogshire’s zine Pills A-Go-Go, which studies pharmaceuticals (legal and otherwise) the way Spin studies music (available at Pistil Books on E. Pike, that handy place to go mag-shopping on a Fri. night while avoiding an opening act at Moe).
THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT?: You don’t have to be in Ulster to get harsh treatment at an Irish cultural event. A couple of bouncers at the Moore were overheard vowing to “get” some kids at the Pogues show a few weeks back. And they did, grabbing people (particularly the small and/or female) from the pit, forcibly removing them. One frustrated attendee tried to leave voluntarily, only to get grabbed and tossed outside herself; she reports still having sore limbs and muscles. The bouncers in question are reportedly no longer at the theater; its new owners were already planning to hire new security.
BOOZE NOOZE: Dewar’s Scotch, whose youth-appeal magazine ads we’ve discussed, isn’t the only distilled liquor trying to capture a younger generation weaned on cheap beer. The trade mag Market Watch: Market Intelligence on the Wine, Spirits and Beer Business just had a special issue about it. The opening note from the publisher, pictured as a plump moustached old guy, declared, “They’re diverse. They’re young. And they have decidedly different attitudes about alcoholic beverages than do baby boomers. Just who are these new consumers, you asked? Generation X, that’s who.” Inside, we learn the market strategies aimed at pushing spirits, extra-sweet chardonnays, ice beer, and mass-produced pseudo-microbrews to under-30s. But the most telling parts of the issue are the ads, boasting to retailers of the youth-market atrategies of Southern Comfort (“One small age group buys enough spirits to empty your store every hour”) and Black & White Scotch (“They’re passive-aggressive vidiots who grew up too fast and have no faith in the system and think holes in jeans are cool and that party is a verb and will never buy anything in your store anyway. Congratulations. They’re your new Scotch customers”)….
Meanwhile, that new desperate-to-be-hip malt beverage Zima has reportedly been casting locally for commercials, seeking out models who are 25 or older but look younger. Encouraging underage drinking, you say? Heavens no! Just looking hip and urbane! Speaking of which…
SNOWED UNDER: I’d hoped that springtime would bring a seasonal end to articles about snowboarding, full of all the requisite MTV Sports-style hyperbole, neon-drenched graphics, “unfocused” typefaces, and Prince-esque spellings (“D Place 4 U 2 B”). But instead there are now at least six year-round snowboard magazines, all more or less drenched in “grafique XS.” The art aside, there’s a bigger issue at work: the case of a countryside athletic activity attracting an urbane-hip mystique. I’m meeting intelligent, club-going, artistically-minded young adults who play the sport, who either don’t mind the hype about it or like it.
To many old-line punkers and wavers like myself, athleticism was the suspect domain of the Evil Jock Mentality, or of anti-intellectual adults (cf. “Get High On Sports Not Drugs” programs in school, which posited that the only alternative to being a mindless junkie was to be a hopeless jock). Artistically-aware people weren’t into sports; they were more likely to be beaten up by the guys who were into sports. But in recent years, some free-thinking youths have begun to accept that the human body might be useful for activities besides dancing, fighting, fucking, and dressing (cf. Vedder‘s surfer-dude acrobatics). Speaking of sports…
FROZEN IN TIME?: The New Times, that monthly new-age broadsheet, offers a specialist perspective on recent events: “Tonya and Nancy: An ECKist’s View.” That’s Eckankar, “The Ancient Science of Soul Travel.” Author Robin Adams McBride claims Harding’s misdeeds and/or lapses in judgment resulted from her personal development over successive reincarnations over the centuries, “as the soul sets up its scenarios for learning and then forgets that it had anything to do with planning her experiences….Tonya Harding can experience the ultimate transformation of an evolved Scorpio personality if she responds to this wake-up call positively. The phoenix arising from the ashes of personal humiliation and defeat can replace the scorpion which stings its enemies to gain advantage.”
THE FINE PRINT (from promo copies of the Sister Psychic CD Surrender, You Freak!): “Advance CD — Instore-airplay promo only. Will explode if sold.”
MISC.’S LOOPY LEXICON defines “classic rock” as the work of radio station managers wistfully looking back to a more innocent age, before the radio was controlled by people like them. Speaking of which…
LIVE AIR: Here’s all I know about Free Radio Seattle, the new pirate station advertised on flyers around Capitol Hill this past month. It was scheduled to go on the air at midnight 4/30 for a 90-minute broadcast, transmitting somewhere in the vicinity of 88 on the FM dial. Further broadcasts are tentatively scheduled on a weekly basis. Content will include community news and commentary, club listings, and freeform music (“like what KCMU used to be,” according to an anonymous communique sent to me). Because this whole thing’s somewhat illegal, the broadcasts will be recorded at one undisclosed site and transmitted from another; to avoid (or at least delay) FCC detection, the portable transmitter will be set up at a different place each time. If these guys are putting their butts on the line to do this (and there’s a strong chance they’ll get caught before long), they’d better have a good reason, like having something important to say.
CATHODE CORNER: A recent wire service item placed Married… With Children as one of the top 10 TV shows among African American audiences. (The only white-cast show with more black viewers is Blossom, which until recently shared a time block with the black-starring Fresh Prince of Bel Air.) My theory: Married‘s black co-creator, Michael Moye, clearly set out to devise a family that would affirm the stereotypes some hard-striving black middle-class families have about lazy, privileged white trash. It’s either that, or the utter failure of Bud Bundy’s attempt to play-act as “Street Rapper Grandmaster B.”
BAN, ROLL ON: Yes, the Washington legislature tried again to revive the Erotic Music Bill, a misguided attempt to shore up the morals of Those Kids Today by restricting selected rock records (Gov. Lowry vetoed the “anti-porn” package of proposals that included the music bill). In the short term, control-freak schemes like this can be dangerous to free expression and personal privacy, and must be fought vigorously. But in the long term, the tide is starting to turn against the forces of cultural suppression, because it’s bad for capitalism.
In the pre-industrial age, censorship was a tool of economic as well as social control. When only the upper classes were taught to read, the number of potential rivals for prestige positions was kept within means. The class system was kept in place by restricted information.
In the industrial age, supporting censorship was a convenient way for big business interests to forge convenient political alliances with more populist right-wing elements (note Michael Milkin, Jesse Helmes, et al.). The Republicans of the rural west proved particularly adept at using the religious right to help elect politicians whose real loyalty wasn’t to churches but to big ranchers, miners and real estate developers. Censorship was also a convenient way for the corporate power structure to deny responsibility for some of the social upheavals its own machinations had caused. Corporate America could say: “We’re losing our technological edge to Japan? Don’t blame us; all we did was encourage slashes in education spending so the government could reduce business taxes. Blame the decadent liberals — yeah, that’s the ticket! Sexual permissiveness did it! That, and the devil’s rock music, and those naughty TV shows!” Or: “Urban crime? We didn’t cause it; all we did was move all our jobs to the suburbs! Blame the homosexuals, or the immigrants, or the lack of family values!” Or: “Child abuse? Don’t look at us; we merely promoted a culture where selfish aggression was treated as a virtue. No, just get rid of those magazines with the pictures of bad women in them. That’ll solve everything!”
But in the Information Age (which spread into the realm of politics about 18 to 24 months ago), censorship is a threat to what is becoming big business’s most prized asset — intellectual property. Free expression is the new frontier of post-industrial capitalism. The Viacom-Paramounts and the Time-Warners will begin to fight against the principle of censorship in the same way the timber industry has fought designated wilderness areas, or the way GM has fought pollution controls. A key connection of the old Reagan coalition has been severed, perhaps for keeps. The religious right, having outlived its usefulness to much of the business community, just might find itself sent back into the shadows due to a slow drying up of big-money support, destined to become just another of the many isolated subcultures in today’s fragmented society.
But it won’t go away quietly. There will be more kooky drives like the Erotic Music Bill and that initiative to legalize anti-gay discrimination. These campaigns will become blunter, shriller and more divisive, as their instigators strive to hold on to their own core support base.
UNTIL NEXT TIME, root for the Sonics and for single-payer health care, and ponder this sign outside Catholic Community Services on 2nd: “Depression Support Group, 8:30 a.m. Wednesdays.” If you can get up that early, do you really need to go there?
Words of love from the animated, syndicated, underrated 2 Stupid Dogs: “The world is our pancake house, and you’re my flapjack stack with a scoop of butter and maple syrup and a side of hash browns and some toast and a large orange juice.”
A small publisher of cult-appeal books has expressed serious interest in my book, The Real Seattle Music Story. Once I sign a contract, I probably won’t be able to sell any more printout copies of the text. So if you want a Preview Edition, you’d better order it now.
LET YOUR KIDS SEE ANY MOVIE THEY WANT. JUST DON’T LET `EM NEAR THE POPCORN
3/94 Misc. Newsletter
(incorporating four Stranger columns)
WHEN POSTERS ARE OUTLAWED,
ONLY OUTLAWS WILL HAVE STAPLE GUNS!
Here at Misc. world HQ, we celebrated yet another lonely-guy Valentine’s Day by scarfin’ down those Brach’s Sour Hearts candies.
UPDATE: Patrick Purdy says I shouldn’t have been so harsh a few months back about the hand-carved Zuni fetishes offered as promotional trinkets by Time-Life Books: “They’re (the tribe) developing a cottage industry for themselves so that they may upgrade their standard of living without having to leave their home. The fetish carvings have proved so successful that they’ve opened a few fancy galleries…That they must have signed a fairly lucrative contract with Time/Life is not a matter for despair, but for congratulations.”
ONE OF THE FEW negative aspects of this gig is that people come up at parties and demand that I be angry for them on cue. They seemingly expect me to always have some shoulder chip, some fresh beef ground daily. But as Johnny-one-note expectations go, it’s easier than if people asked me to be funny for them on cue, ‘cuz I can always fall back on being angry about being expected to be angry.
MY $.02: As some of you know, Misc. is at least partly an homage to the great prewar columnists. The only similar columnists in modern dailies are Army Archard in Daily Variety, Irv Kupcinet in the Chicago Sun-Times, and of course our hero Larry King in USA Today. Just for fun, let’s start out with some Kingisms: “When it comes to great ear-poppin’ tunes, you just can’t do better than Built to Spill… To this pair-O-eyeballs, nobody wrote page-turners like that past master Donald Barthelme… Has anybody ever made that Mock Apple Pie from the recipe on the Ritz cracker box?… As that local sage Dick Balch used to say, if you can’t trust your car dealer, who can you trust?… New name to watch: Combustible Edison. Hip enough for the kids, and parents like ‘em too! They’re gonna be big; trust me.”
THIN ICE: The “media-beat” analysts on C-SPAN and in NY opinion journals are predictably aghast over Tonyamania. The commentators seem to think all newspapers used to be like some idealized memory of the pre-1974 NY Times, that only in today’s dark times would papers put scandal and sleaze on their front pages. Not so. Newspapers always were as exploitive as they are now, only they used to be a lot better at it. The old Hearst papers or the old NY Daily News would’ve done a much hotter job on it than today’s wimpy rags.
THINNER ICE: As the nation awaited the Nancy/Tonya faceoff, it faced the usual abundance of commercials and sponsor-ID announcements. Again, as in previous Games, some advertisers were able to boast that they were “proud sponsors of the U.S. Olympic Team,” while other companies, that had opened their wallets to nothing Olympic-related beyond their own commercials, tried to fudge their commitment to Our Kids by plugging themselves as “a proud sponsor of CBS’s coverage of our Olympic heroes.”
CIVIC VALUES: So the Dog House restaurant is now Closed 24 Hours a Day. Woolworth’s is an empty palace of bargains. And the city government talks only about attracting more rich people’s retail. Between the Commons, the poster ban, and the big downtown development proposals, Seattle threatens to become a city by the upscale, of the upscale, for the upscale and to hell with everyone else. Hey Norm: How ’bout getting some stores the rest of us can afford to shop at? Support the plan to put a Marshall’s discount clothier in the Magnin spot. Next, we need a Freddy’s where Woolworth was, and an all-nite restaurant on 7th where you can get a good $6 pork-chops-and-mashed-potatoes dinner. Planet Hollywood? Who needs it! (Also note: KCTS’s Dog House closing-party special was technically well-done but suffered from that upscale-media disease, smug boomer condescension; much of the narration could be rewritten into “Look, Muffy: Ordinary people! Let’s gawk!”).
MISC. RULES FOR LIFE: another exciting ennui-filled column, how ’bout some Misc. rules for life: Don’t trust anybody who nevvuhwatches teh-levision. Don’t trust anybody who calls a car “an investment.” Don’t trust anybody who only talks about how “hot” a movie or a band is, not about how good it is. Don’t buy diet pills from an infomercial with the fine print “No Orders Accepted From Iowa.” Don’t buy anything advertised by white guys in Dockers dancing to James Brown‘s “I Feel Good.” And don’t move into a former slaughterhouse or brothel that’s been “restored to its original elegance.”
BRAVE NEW WORLD DEPT.: A few weeks ago, KING reported that the state’s highest youth suicide rate was on the Eastside. I could believe it, after having gone for a job interview in the heart of darkest Redmond. Once-lovely farmland, ploughed under and paved over with winding roads to nowhere, abutted by finished and unfinished cheap poured-concrete lo-rise office park buildings, some with gaudy entrances tacked onto their otherwise hyperbland facades, all recessed from the road by moats of parking and/or dirt where grass will eventually be. No “public space,” no pedestrians, just people working in isolated cubicles writing software that presumes that we’ll all someday be working in isolated cubicles. A sterile landscape of silent dread that only author J.G. Ballard or filmmaker Atom Egoyan could properly fictionalize.
HOUSE MUSIC: Tuff times have hit C/Z Records, the scrappy li’l label with perhaps the strongest current stable of Northwest bands. Honcho Daniel House rushed five CDs into the Xmas season, but his distributor RED (half-owned by Sony) only sold 200 units in December (after subtracting returns from stores). He’s putting three employees on two-month layoffs (“We need that time to get back on our feet”). House’s right-hand-dude Tim Cook is one of the casualties; he says he might look for permanent work elsewhere, having had managerial differences with House lately, but doesn’t have anything specific to announce yet.
House still plans a slate of 10 albums this year (down from 14 in ’93), including most of his top acts (7 Year Bitch, the Gits, Treepeople, Alcohol Funnycar, Dirt Fishermen, Engine Kid), the just-out In the West by new signees Silkworm, and a women-in-rock collection. He’s also negotiating for a retrospective of Seattle’s top new-wave-era band, the legendary Blackouts.
An indie-label purist might use this case to claim that labels don’t necessarily get top service from pseudo-indie distributors with major-label backing like RED (or Caroline, with whom Sub Pop parted ways, citing similar frustrations). (House has been negotiating for some sort of major-label alliance with Sony; nothing’s been signed yet.) The real problem’s more complicated than just big guysvs. little guys. Distribution remains the weak link of the music biz (and of the print biz, but that’s another tale). There are only so many slots in store bins (even at the 1,500 or so new-music specialty stores). Getting a new act into those stores, and promoting it to customers once it’s there, remains a pseudo-science. Articles in Musician and Wired look forward to proposed in-store downloading stations, where you could special-order any recording and get it transmitted onto a CD while you wait.
The major labels, natch, don’t want any part of a technology that might threaten their market share. Music-by-info-highway would be great for oldies and classics, and would destroy the fetish-object aspect of record collecting (thankfully), but wouldn’t solve the promotion issue. I can get umpteen thousand books from The Reader’s Catalog, but somebody still has to tell me why I need any particular one.
(latter-day note: By the end of 1994, most of C/Z’s remaining bands either broke up or went to other labels. House moved the company into his basement.)
HEADLINE OF THE MONTH (UW Daily, 2/10): “In the best of Peter Medak’s films, irreverence is something of a sacred cow.”
HARDWARE WARS: This home-store fight is getting out of hand. You’ve got Ernst promising to undercut Eagle, HomeBase vowing to undersell Price Costco. Now Home Depot has taken the battle to the next level. It’s established its own bridal registry. Now you can make sure cousin Mindy doesn’t get 24 identical Skilsaws.
LOCAL PUBLICATION OF THE MONTH: When the Washington Free Press first came out, I said it was a feisty little rag that had the potential to be better. With the latest issue, it’s approaching that potential: a great piece on Boeing workers getting sick from icky production chemicals, with the company dismissing the complaints as some sort of mass hysteria, plus a well-argued essay warning against “job blackmail” — companies’ threatening to take their jobs elsewhere unless governments scrap those pesky environmental laws. Speaking of which…
DEMO DERBY: A couple of readers have asked me to stop constructively-criticizing the failings of “progressive” types, player and just stick to slamming Republicans. I still do that when appropriate; but our president, governor, mayor, most of our state Congressional delegation and most of our city council are Democrats who at least profess to some degree of progressive ideals. It’s important to note when they stray from or compromise these ideals in the name of “creating a climate for business” or whatever; and when the popularly-accepted definition of “progressive” thought might not be the best way to solve our problems. That’s why I sometimes question some of the unquestioned premises behind urban-bohemian ideology, premises that some other publications have taken as Gospel truth. Speaking of which…
SPY, 1986-1994: Gee, maybe the Reagan Era really is over. The magazine’s entire humor was predicated on opposing the Reaganites while accepting the Reaganites’ terms of debate. Spy completely bought into the notion that the Right held a monopoly on political/social popularity, that the only people not enthralled to the GOP were a few big-city artist types. Spy reveled in its self-righteous posturing, in its concept of lower Manhattan as the lone outpost of wit and civility amidst a nation of heathen predators.
If Reagan and Bush invoked a romanticized social past where authority was seldom questioned and resources existed to be exploited, Spy invoked a romanticized cultural past where New York was the only place that mattered. Both notions are now more widely seen as the ancient relics they are. Readers turned away from a magazine that kept rehashing the same tired gag formats attacking movie stars and local NY celebrities as if they were worth the attention. The last Spy editor, Nat. Lampoon vet Tony Hendra, announced a new-look magazine that would take a fresher, funnier look at postmodern America, but the money ran out before he could implement the new format.
(latter-day note: Spy returned later in 1994, with mostly the same format as before.)
AD VERBS: Dewar’s Scotch has a magazine ad with an Alice Cooper/Peter Criss lookalike, complete with boa constrictor as scarf. The headline: “Your tastes in music have changed. Your taste in drinks should too.” Yeah, I know just what they’re saying: When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate acts like that. Now I do.
THE INFORMER: KCTS has been running “public service” spots from the King County Police, asking folks to keep their eyes on their neighbors and report any activity that might be potentially drug-related — visitors at odd hours, darkened windows, et al. Somebody on a computer bulletin board called the spot “Gestapo TV” and wants anyone who doesn’t like it to tell the station they won’t give it money. I won’t go that far, but I will use the case to note that in the nascent Information Age, not all information’s gonna be shared freely or used benevolently.
CATHODE CORNER: In a welcome surprise, MTV’s 120 Minutes played the new Sage video, albeit deep into the show’s 1-2 a.m. hour. Too bad the show’s latest clue-deficient host, Lewis Largent, had to introduce the clip with that now-chichéd line, “They’re from Seattle, but don’t get any preconceptions; they’re not grunge.” Aargh! The next person who thinks all local bands are alike, please tell me just what Flop, Mix-A-Lot, Amy Denio, Alice in Chains and Sister Psychic have in common.
The media turned “grunge” into a stereotype so exact that no band really matched it; then they used that to dismiss our diverse music as if the stereotype were true. Largent’s seemingly well-intended statement really perpetuated the false myth. He oughta say, “Yes there are lots of bands in the NW, lots of different bands, and here’s another.”…In a more positive homage, an episode of NBC’s off-again Homicide included murder-suspect characters named Layne Staley and Crist Novoselic.
SLOGAN OF THE MONTH (on Safeway Mrs. Wright’s Sesame Cheddar Snack Crackers): “Baked For Your Enjoyment!” Ever see a snack baked for your seething frustration? If you find one, let me know.
THE FINE PRINT (fortune cookie-like slip of paper inside a Sears CD player): “Warning: Protection Rubber must be removed before using.” Unless you’re playing one of those sounds-of-lovemaking CDs. Speaking of which…
LOSS-OF-ERECTIONS DEPT.: Leno joked that after the MLK Day Quake, LA had become “a community united behind one shared goal: to move to Seattle.” A week later, an AP article noted that many LA porn-video companies were in heavily quake-hit buildings. Some outfits might move rather than rebuild among the So.Cal. radical right. One unidentified exec said, “Our people will find another place where the climate is more liberal, and the ground more stable. Someplace up north maybe, like Seattle.”
We’re not all that quake-safe ourselves (if you believe the mass-media scare stories). And any hetero (or sex-positive-gay) hardcore producers would face our PC censorship advocates, who can be as obstinate and closed-minded as any Fundamentalists. But we’ve got a strong community of trained video technicians (with the Art Institute supplying more every year), and hundreds of underemployed actor-dancer-model types who don’t have to worry about tan lines. It’ll be even more fun if the producers apply for the tax breaks politicians usually love to offer to relocating companies.
(latter-day note: I’m now told there are already at least two hardcore adult-video producers regularly shooting in Seattle. I don’t have any names to refer you to. They haven’t provided much of an economic boost to the local production community, since they use small crews and maintain their own in-house post-production units.)
MOUTHS-O-BABES (overheard gleeful shriek of an 8-year-old girl on a bus, passing the Bon’s Chihuly window promoting ArtFair ’94): “See mom, I told you! Big cereal bowls!”
SHRINKING VISION: Seattle’s “public art” establishment has long been known for its private privileges. Jurors pick friends and/or lovers for top grants, organizations tailor project specs to favor their favorite artists, programs are publicized just before (or even after) their deadlines. Now comes word that the visual-art programs in this year’s Bumbershoot festival will be awarded by invitation only; tho’ if you’ve got an idea for something, you can send in an informal suggestion and maybe they’ll look at it. We’re going in the wrong direction, folks. We need arts people whose top loyalty is to art, not to specific artists. We need truly open processes, where a total unknown can come out of left field and bowl people over with a spectacular idea. We need to encourage art that blows minds, not art that kisses butts. (If it’s any consolation, one of the exhibits will be culled from the city’s “Portable Works Collection,” one program that does sometimes buy from non-insiders.)
MY SOAP BOX: When an ad agency designed the Tide box in the ’50s, it never knew that its concentric patterns would look just like the computer-animated psychedelic visuals of the ’90s. The orange box has become an icon of rave graphics. It’s on countless techno-party flyers. Portland’s Sweaty Nipples used it on a CD label; a Seattle band was going to use it before the Nipples used it first. I’m told that the brain can perceive the circles as moving in and out at the same time, making the image a “mandala” that can send the mind into another world. I’m also told that the orange circles look great under blacklight, and that Liquid Tide makes a great medium for making black-light paintings that can’t be seen in normal light (the “bleach substitute” ingredient contains a fluorescent dye). What’s next: acid-trip costumes based on the playing-card guy on the ol’ White King box?
‘TIL WE NEXT CROSS INK STAINS, recall these words of Wm. Faulkner: “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”
Gregory Hischak in the new issue of the lovely local zine Farm Pulp: “The planet is an unstable being. Little earthquakes rumble up and down our coast. The earth has a lot of bottled up stress…pent up aggression. The earth really needs to get out more. Spend more time in the woods. Feed the ducks. The planet needs to stop operating on that second shift mentality.”
Uncorrected, autographed proof copies of my book, Here We Are Now: The Real Seattle Music Story, are now available for a $10 donation plus $2 postage from the address below. Be among the first to get a piece of local cultural history! Tell your friends.
Either next month or the month after, this newsletter thang’s gonna get twice as big: a whopping 4 pp. of ennui and unwarranted assumptions clogging your first-class mail the last Friday of each month, including weird fiction and non-Stranger material. Larger print not guaranteed. New sub rates will be announced then; current subs will be adjusted accordingly.
12/93 Misc. Newsletter
WITH NAFTA, OUR JOBS GO TO MEXICO.
WITHOUT IT, THEY GO TO KOREA
This month’s Misc. is humbly dedicated to Fellini (the lord of dreams), Price (the lord of nightmares), and Phoenix (the dude of “Whatever, wherever, have a nice day”).
REAGANISM REDUX: Initiative 602 went down to a decisive defeat, with the biggest margin of difference coming from the depressed timber towns of southwest Wash. that now depend on state social services. The less-immediately-devastating Init. 601 narrowly won; future public investment could be limited to little more than its current insufficient level.
Don’t think the election wasn’t important just ’cause it was only local, or ‘cuz the mayoral race pitted a golf-course gladhander with a businessman-turned-flake, neither of whom seemed very concerned for non-yups. Inits. 601 and 602 were being hyped like crazy by business interests and the talk-radio goon squad. They wanted to force big state budget cuts and restrain the state’s ability to raise future revenue. The audio demagogues used the tiresome anti-thought bombast about gettin’ tuff, kickin’ butt and “sending the politicians a message.” But the goal of the measures’ biggest backers, the liquor/tobacco lobbies and big employers, was to halt implementation of the new state health-care reform plan, which would be partly funded by liquor, tobacco and payroll taxes. The campaign’s been full of the usual lather about “government waste.” In real life it’s not that easy to spot real inefficiency, and the ones who do it best, department middle managers, are among the first to be fired in budget cuts. If the big boys get their way, they could end up demolishing education, environmental enforcement, the tattered social “safety net,” and our already pathetic arts support. This isn’t “cutting fat,” it’s chopping the public sector’s limbs, ensuring corporate veto power over Washington’s future. Do all you can to stop this.
COOKIN’: I just had a horrible thought that the Hollywood people who lost their hillside mansions will all move here. Calif. was settled by people who treated any problem by moving away from it. Things getting touchy in LA? Let’s move out to a “nicer” (i.e., whiter) area. Malibu turns out to be a firetrap? Look up the prices of beach property in the San Juans.
ARREARS: In one of its few astute passages, that wacky Time cover story on Pearl Jam asserted that pop fans had become annoyed by such music-industry nonsense as “MTV close-ups of George Michael’s butt.” As part of his big contract-breaking suit against Sony Music, Michael now claims it was a stunt butt, hired when Sony image experts decided his own moves weren’t hot enough. Michael, as you know, no longer appears at all in his videos (letting channel surfers imagine that the songs are really being performed by a black person or at least by someone less dorky looking).
COOL PLACE DEATH WATCH #3: Nobody to my knowledge has tried to save the downtown Woolworth. Folks say they like my call to save the Dog House, but nobody wants to participate. But one preservation issue caught the city’s imagination like mad. Seven Gables Theaters moved the Neptune’s repertory movies around the corner to the Varsity. The Neptune will close until Dec. 17, then reopen for first-run films. Somebody sent a fax charging that the Neptune would be “gutted” and shorn of such “historic” accouterments as the fake stained-glass art and the ship’s-bow concession stand (both of which date back only to a 1982 remodel). Management claims the concession stand will stay, as will the padded interior doors with their portholes. The Plexiglas tableaux will stay, but might get curtained off. The place is being repainted (they haven’t picked the final colors), and will get new seats, carpets, projectors, curtains and speakers and a bigger screen. What remains to be seen is how the repertory shows and Rocky Horrorparties will fare in the Varsity’s less-funky confines; though it’ll be easier to fill the smaller space with “smaller” movies. But where’ll they put the “Celebrity Doghouse” bulletin board?
COOL PLACE DEATH WATCH #4: The Last Exit on Brooklyn, Seattle’s oldest extant coffeehouse (est. 1967), is closing any week now, thanks to UW development plans. Another restaurant with the same name, staff and menu will open on the north stretch of Univ. Way, by the University Sportsbar, but it won’t be the same without the cig-smoke-aged wallpaper, the big round tables, the convenient location at the campus’s edge where profs (not always male) wooed students (not always female), where grad students played all-night sessions of the Japanese board game Go, where pre-PC programmers from the nearby Academic Computing Center pored over their latest FORTRAN code, where umpteen bad folk singers attempted umpteen open mikes, where countless starving students had countless pots of coffee and cheap peanut butter-banana sandwiches.
RECLUSE DISREGARD (Times, 10/24): “Paul Allen is the shyest multibillionaire you’ll never meet.” Fact is, all our rich people are private souls. Ever since the foiled kidnapping plot against nine-year-old George Weyerhaeuser in ’36, our “prominent” families have been among the most reticent of any local elites in the country. While other towns’ tycoons hosted charity balls and funded symphonies and museums, our rich kids went home every night to their suburban estates and their car collections. It’s always been a bitch trying to get any high-culture or nightlife things started here, ‘cuz too many of our “civic leaders” wanted no part of social activity. Even now, attempts to start private clubs or entertainment concepts for rich kids usually fail, ‘cuz even young Microsoft stock millionaires will drive from Woodinville to Seattle only when they absolutely must.
POSITIVE STEPS?: The Bellevue Journal-American ran a front page piece attempting to allay middle-class Eastsiders’ stereotypes about Crossroads, the only part of Bellevue where immigrant families and blue-collar folk can afford to live. The foreign-language voices and non-liposuctioned physiques in the neighborhood have given it the reputation of “the bad part of town.” To ease this, the J-A brought out Bellevue’s police chief, who himself lives there (it’s also the only part of town where cops can afford to live). He insisted that in Crossroads it’s still “safe to walk the streets.” Who walks in Bellevue at all?
THE ‘MATS: Taco Bell restaurants have these wacky tray liners with a big “Underground” logo at the bottom of a display about “The A to Z of Alternative Culture.” It’s excerpted from an old issue of Spin, who stole the concept from the NY fashion/art mag Paper. Only 10 alphabet letters are included on the placemat, including A for Athens, Ga. (“the town that made `college rock’ a three-letter word: REM”), I for Industrial (“It’s harsh, aggressive, and, to the uninitiated, repetitive and monotonous. But that’s sort of the point — you have to be one of the initiated”), K for Karaoke (“…appeals to both the ironic and narcissistic sides of today’s hipsters”), L for Like (the word), S for Sequels (“all the movies that we go to see are the same as the movies we saw last year. That’s entertainment”), and Z for ‘Zines (“Technology has fallen into the wrong hands, and as a result, fanzines are everywhere — thousands of pointless, stapled pages of goo-goo-ga-ga, written for losers by losers”). First, this is obviously a piece of superficial pseudo-information, the very sort of corporate-media fluff that alternative culture tries to be an alternative to. Second, going to sequel movies in multiplexes and using “like” in every sentence is hardly underground stuff. Third, if you were really trying to join alternative culture, why would you be in a Taco Bell?
JUNK FOOD OF THE MONTH: Hidden Valley Ranch has a new line of flavored kiddie salad dressings — nacho, taco, and pizza! Not just for kiddies, they’re for everybody who wants (or has) to eat their greens, but can’t stand the holier-than-thou Birkenstock aesthetic currently surrounding them.
DUDS: If designer grunge seemed silly enough, just wait for designer riot grrrl. The NY Times described designer Nicole Miller‘s show with “girl gangs” roaming a cinder-block runway, “razor blades dangling from their ears, zippers slashing across the clothes” representing what Miller calls “this whole tough-girl kind of edge going on” as inspired by what she calls “all-girl bands” like Belly, theBreeders and the Juliana Hatfield Three – none of which are, in fact, all-girl. Ever wonder what the boy musicians in what clueless grownups call “all-girl bands” think? “Gee, thought I had one last time I looked.”
TRUE CRIME: Don’t tell anyone you read it here, but some weeks ago some lame copycat tried to imitate the ball-and-chain stunt on SAM’s Hammering Man art monstrosity. This lame copycat vandal’s idea: to spray-paint “socks” on the big iron guy’s legs. And they weren’t even argyles.
PRESSED: Out of fond remembrance or whatever, the Rocket‘s “NW Top 20″ chart (supposedly confined to regionally-made product) has recently found space for the Melvins (who moved to Calif. six years ago) and CD repackagings of Jimi Hendrix (who left Seattle at age 18 and came back only on tour). Will they find space on the chart for the new solo album by Guns n’ Roses bassist/ex-Fastbacks drummer Duff McKagan, or anything by Roosevelt High grad Nikki Sixx or Garfield grad Quincy Jones? Or the next CD by Robert Cray, who not only went south around the time the Melvins did, but soon after lost his local street-cred by marrying a fashion model?
LOCAL PUBLICATION OF THE MONTH: The Barflyer is Stephanie Emmett’s monthly tabloid about the joys of hanging out in bars, wasting one’s evenings at foosball and darts (sounds fine to me). The Sept. issue included the proclamation that “it’s cool to play pool!”, noting that “celebrities such as Michael J. Fox, David Brenner, Madonna, Eddie Murphy, Roseanne Barr and Randy Travis have picked up the cue.” The best part is the horoscope, “Playin’ With the Planets,” which advises people of every sign that it’ll be a great month for playing pulltabs.
BACK IN THE BOX: Now that KIRO has an anchor desk again, it’s using this weird graphic when anchorpeople chat with reporters. Even though both people are still seated within 15 feet of one another, they’re cut up into separate sides of a split screen above the captions “KIRO” and “Newsroom.”
SEAL OF DISAPPROVAL: Seattle’s first gift to the music-video universe is back! Sort of. Kevin Seal was a UW drama major who passed a national “talent” search and served as an MTV VJ for four years. For the past couple of years he’s stayed in New York, auditioning for industrial-video productions while trying to regain the spotlight. Seal has now retaken the airwaves as second banana to fellow MTV throwaway Dave Kendall on Music Scoupe, a weekly hour of videos and rock-star gossip that makes a viewer appreciate MTV’s comparatively thoughtful selection and presentation. How unimportant is this show, you ask? KCPQ airs it Sunday nights at 1 a.m. – after an hour of infomercials.
PLUGGED: New cable channels keep getting announced, in preparation for the promised 500-channel delirium. We’ve already discussed The Game Show Channel and the Cartoon Network, neither available in this area. Coming soon, allegedly: Cable Health Club (all aerobics, all the time!), the Jazz Channel, and the Food Channel. No all-curling channel yet, though some foreign sports events are now being offered on pay-per-view.
THE ENFORCERS: The new hoopla over violence on TV is pure-n’-simple censorship, promoted by some of the paternalistic-liberal politicians who professed to hate censorship in the Reagan era. Back then, the White House tried to silence art/entertainment containing sex, cuss words or non-rightist politics, but wholeheartedly endorsed shoot-em-up movies and sought campaign endorsements from their killing-is-fun macho stars. This new drive is at least partly a ploy by the Dems to get back at the GOP’s past folderol, partly a ploy to show pro-censorship independent voters that Dems can be just as tuff on those nasty media people.
ILL WILL DEPT.: Ever since I caught a glimpse of the Artists for a Hate-Free America benefit at the Crocodile, I’ve been obsessed with the contradictions of contemporary artists and musicians preaching against hate. Organizers made sure the people on stage at the benefit were smart rockers and folk-rockers like Peter Buck and Sister Psychic. Much of the rest of the art and music scenes, though, are addicted to the adrenaline high from sustained hatred. You don’t have to be a right-winger to be controlled by the power of hate. I’ve seen too much poetry and “political humor” based on the premise of “Hatemongers are bad. Let’s kill them all!” I’ve seen shows by TchKung!, Seven Year Bitch and the Nuyorican Poets that were exercises in righteous posturing, relishing in the dehumanization of anybody who ate incorrect food, possessed incorrect genitalia, lived in incorrect towns and/or wore incorrect clothes. The whole radical/punk tradition presupposes disrespect for anyone outside “our” pure elite. “People like you and me” arenot intrinsically superior to other Americans. “Alternative” people are subject to the same temptations as all humans, including that of fearing and hating people different from us. We all have to confront our own bigotries, not just those of other people. We have to reach outside our college/coffeehouse world to build connections of love with other classes, other subcultures. The antigay agitators cleverly built their fear campaigns in small-town churches, in direct one-on-one organizing. We have to get out there too, and we’ll have to leave our snobbery behind. Bohemian elitism is an aesthetic of divisiveness. The homophobes use divisiveness too, far more effectively. We’ve gotta fight fire with water, fight division with unity.
XMAS ’93: The biggest toy news this season is that all the Ninja Turtles junk has been replaced by Barney junk, a ploy toward a new generation of pacifist parents. In better news, Mattel has licensed an independent manufacturer to bring back two of my favorite electrical toys, Creepy Crawlers (you bake the “icky insects” yourself from molds, a Thingmakerreg. oven and Plastigoopreg.) and the Vac-U-Former (you pump a pressure mold that turns sheets of plastic into toy car bodies). Hot new stuff includes Chip-A-Way (a “pretend rock” you break up with a plastic hammer and chisel to reveal “a cave man and dinosaur parts” that you then assemble and paint) and the board game Eat at Ralph’s (with cardboard junk food and a diner billboard with an outstretched mouth; “Stuff Ralph with all your snacks. But if he eats too much, it all comes back!”). Moms who want their kiddies to learn future career skills have a few main options: lots of video-paintbox devices and electronic trivia/math games that look like tiny PCs; or the line of McDonald’s Happy Meals Makers (which let you make “creamy shakes,” “real-looking fries using bread,” “real cookies without baking,” or the scariest, “easy, tasty `burgers’” from vanilla wafers and other common household ingredients). Or, you can mail-order Road Construction Ahead, a half-hour video “recorded at actual construction sites” with shots of “bulldozers, excavators, rock crushers, bucket loaders, and giant trucks!” Awesome.
FLAKING OUT: We may be seeing the end of breakfast cereal as a modern art form. Ralston Purina has stopped its series of limited-run movie and TV tie-in cereals marketed partly to box collectors (Breakfast With Barbie, Nintendo Cereal System, Batman, Urkel-Os, the Robin Hood tie-in Prince of Thieves, and the great Addams Family cereal). Nabisco has sold its admittedly weak line-up of brands to Post. Recession-weary shoppers are flocking to house brands and Malt-O-Meal’s big bags of wheat puffs, which cost less ‘cuz they don’t support cool commercials, toy surprises or mail-order offers (let alone R&D into new shapes and colors). Girl Trouble used to toss out cereal at some of its gigs; so did the late Andy Wood. Cereal is more than the first food of the day, it’s pop culture you can eat. Its ever-changing forms and flavors make it the ultimate American hi-tech food. Its modern crass-commercial reputation belies its distant origin in a Michigan health spa, as chronicled in T. Corraghessen Boyle’s bestselling novel The Road to Wellville (soon to be a major motion picture). It’s time to do your part to keep an essential part of our culture from going soggy. Buy an extra box of Cocoa Puffs today. Future generations will thank you.
‘TIL NEXT TIME, when we bring back America’s only reliable year-end In/Out list, ponder the pseudo-profound words of the Joop! Jeans ads: “In the uterus of love we are all blind cavefish.”
Raymond Carver, now the most popular dead sage since Jim Morrison, with some advice for life I’ve tried to follow all my career (as quoted in Jon Winokur’s Friendly Advice): “Eat cereal for breakfast and write good prose.”
My history of local music still awaits publication. A rough draft is now going the rounds on the east coast; initial reaction is that publishers might have liked it if it had less music history and more superstar gossip than I want to include. I’d prefer to deal w/local people, but there aren’t any regional book publishers interested in something this non-yuppie and non-tourist. Anybody want to help start a publishing house?
Seattle’s brightest written-wd. guy’s still available for all your desktop-pub. and document-proc. needs. Leave a message at 448-3536.
10/93 Misc. Newsletter
`HAMMERING MAN’ ISN’T ART. THE BALL-AND-CHAIN IS.
Return now to Misc., the column that wished the new local fringe-drama outfit Theater Schmeater was related to the former local fringe art-outfit Gallery Schmallery.
WHAT WE DID THIS SUMMER: Couldn’t help but be amused by the preprinted Sizzler kids’-meal coupons in the Sunday funnies the week of the chain’s e. coli crisis. Thought KIRO-TV’s retreat back to the anchor desk should’ve been accompanied by Alice in Chains‘s “I’m the Man in the Box.” Noted that the station that banned two Picket Fences shows clearly showed the slogan on a new pro-Huskies T-shirt, “Puck the Fac-10.”
BOWING DOWN: For years, the Huskies struggled in the LA powerhouses’ shadows, even though the UW was far bigger than any single California campus. But in the ’80s the team grew toward three straight Rose Bowls and one of those “mythical national championships.” We now know these achievements partly came by cheating on the vague regulations that let college ball pretend to be an amateur sport. Husky players had pathetic graduation rates, despite simplified classes and elaborate tutoring. There were allegations of drug dealing in the team dorm. Some players got cushy jobs and cushier cash, arranged by rich boosters.
Now, the Pac-10 Conference saddled the team with recruiting restrictions, a two-year ban from bowl games, and other penalties. Coach Don James (who wasn’t implicated in the charges) quit. The violations had to have been known by authorities.
How could they excuse the overzealousness? I think it’s ‘cuz the UW itself has become a big-money grant factory that relegated teaching to a very low priority. It’s partly the legacy of our late Sens. Jackson and Magnuson, who funneled tons of federal research pork our way. The campus got obsessed with being “a world class research institution,” regardless of how well it serviced the state’s kids.
We’ve discussed the yuppification of KCMU in the context of the UW corporate culture. The administration thought the station could raise more donations with tamer programming; they’d funnel that into enough salaried staff positions to qualify the station for public-broadcasting grants. The men who turned KCMU into the New Coke of radio weren’t malicious; they just behaved like good UW administrators (including manager Chris Knab, who resigned after his pay got cut in half due to sagging donations). They saw no purpose higher than organizational growth.
Similarly, the football program was allowed or encouraged to grow by any means available. While tuitions skyrocketed and academic budgets stagnated, the team generated big cash surpluses. But little football money went up to the main campus.
If rich alums want to pay for football, let ‘em, within limits at least as strict as those set by the Pac-10. But funnel part of that income, and a portion of Husky merchandising money, into academic scholarships. And go further with a professed priority of new athletic director Barbara Hedges: getting the players an education. As a kid who used to get beat up by jocks, I’m not intrinsically sympathetic to their plight. But they are risking permanent injury for the slim chance of a brief NFL career. If they can’t get under-the-table cash, they oughta get a degree that might help ‘em earn some bucks in the future.
KICKS: The Seahawks used to have a 5,000-name waiting list for tickets. But after last year’s spectacular flop, they’re running commercials pleading for walk-in traffic. Between that and the Huskies’ debacle, Seattle’s football “Wave” may finally crash.
MISC.’S INDEX: Number of local bands profiled/reviewed in the Rocket since June 1992 that are described as “not a typical Seattle band”: All of them.
WHERE FRIENDS MET FRIENDS: It’s time for concerned citizens to again rally behind a preservatory call: Save the Dog House! Not only is it one of the few things in the world that my father and I both like, not only is it one of the last old-time roadhouse diners, it’s a remnant of everything that used to be cool and unpretentious about pre-Yup Seattle. We need a sympathetic investment group to take over the place under two directives. (a) Don’t “restore” it into some plastic imitation of itself. Keep the signs, keep the menu designs, keep organist Dick Dickerson, keep the low drink prices, keep the dogs-playing-poker prints. (b) Revise the food only as much as you have to. Many people love the Dog House’s murals but not its meals; the new owners will have to provide some new things to attract them, and make careful changes to existing items without imposing that gentrified faux-diner cuisine seen in some newer places.
FOR MEAT LOVERS ONLY: One local chow-down institution still going strong, Dick’s Drive-Ins will celebrate its 40th anniversary by publishing a “Memory Book” early next year. They’re asking for people’s stories and photos of life at Seattle’s classic burger emporia (top prize: $100). I know a guy from Vancouver who makes a point when he’s in town to visit all five locations (even the obscure Holman Road outlet, the Dick’s That Time Forgot). In the mid-’80s the Broadway Dick’s was the teen cruising hangout, until the parking lots were closed by the powers that be. It was the setting of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Posse on Broadway,” the first proof that an artist could reach a national audience without pretending not to be from Seattle. One important memory is gone: they stopped selling their orange T-shirts (“Dick’s, where TASTE is the difference!”) to the public, and now outfit their staff in new blue designer jobs (not available to civilians). The new shirts betray Dick’s heritage as a place that didn’t follow trends, but just made the greatest grease and sugar products anywhere.
ELECTORAL COLLAGE: Rice, Sidrin and other politicians sometimes loathed in these and other pages are up for re-election this year but are either unopposed or have only token rivals. For all the boasts people around town give me about how “political” they are, there’s damn too little real organizing going on to provide a truly progressive influence on (or alternative to) Seattle’s Democratic machine politics. To really be “political” doesn’t mean to stand around and proclaim how morally superior you are. It means to form alliances with other people (yes, even with squares, meat eaters and TV viewers) to forge a popular consensus toward rebuilding our frayed social fabric.
BE “R” GUEST: The Stouffer Madison Hotel not only stamps its logo into all the ashtrays every day, it replaces its elevator carpets daily: “Have A Pleasant THURSDAY.” An excessive service perhaps, but it is useful to business travelers who need to be reminded where they momentarily stand in the time-space continuum.
GOO: The UW alum mag Columns reports that researcher Patricia Kuhl’s got some big govt. grant to try and decode baby talk, believing it holds the key to language learning. Why doesn’t she just read some Sugar & Spike comic books or watch Rugrats?
COLOR ME BEMUSED: Why’s any sweatshirt or trinket boutique that screechingly claims to be “Seattle Style” invariably drenched in California-airhead pastels that have nothing to do with how light and color look here? A real “Seattle Style” would start with the misty hues of the Northwest School painters, then add the muted tones of bark brown, pine-needle green, and the steely gray of a lake on an overcast day. No pink, no “sky blue,” no saturated brightness, no neon violet, no harsh contrasts.
CLEANING UP: Sit & Spin, the new cafe/laundromat on 4th, apparently stands on the ex-site of Vic’s, a jazz club run in the early ’30s by local big-band leader Vic Meyers. I’ve told you about Meyers: In ’32 he ran for lieutenant governor as a publicity stunt, won in the FDR landslide, and stayed in office 20 years. S&S promises to open up a back room for performances later. One current local band would be perfect for its opening: Laundry. Past bands that oughta consider re-forming to play there: Red Dress, Skinny Ties, Green Pajamas, and Ironing Pants Definitely. They could cover songs from Nirvana’s album Bleach.
FROM FLY II SHAI: A year ago I predicted that by 2002 there’d be upscale rap festivals in tourist towns, where nouveau riche couples would listen to perky Vassar grads perform a cross between scat singing and Gilbert & Sullivan patter songs. Since then, new (arrested) developments made that obsolete. We’ve already seen the (PM) dawn of soft hip-hop, and it’s different from my prediction (never trust sci-fi stories that think every present trend will keep going forever). You could see it at last month’s KUBE Summer Jam: two dozen acts (most with recorded backing tracks), who had rap names but sounded like neo-Commodores or neo-Pointer Sisters. These groups celebrate the only recent black music hip white guys haven’t muscled in on: “quiet storm” love songs of the ’70s and early ’80s. The new R&B eschews the white-hipster image of blacks as lust-crazed savages. Mall rats are still appropriating gangsta rap’s romanticized violence, selfishness and sexism (in both directions); while the neo-doo-wop aesthetic finds sexiness galore in solid black-middle-class values: good grooming, hard work, mutual support. Since the black music of today usually becomes the white music of tomorrow, those white hiphop shows of the early 21st century are now more likely to have Boyz II Men cover bands, and today’s preteen daughters of Bellevue lawyers may someday go to their first bars awkwardly crammed into En Vogue dresses.
BUDDY LOVE LOST: The French may still love Jerry Lewis but his ex-wife doesn’t, according to her soon-to-be-published memoir that lists his extramarital escapades over the years. It may be painful for some of you to imagine Lewis having sex, but I can envision him afterwards, looking the lady in the eye, pointing a finger at her face and declaring, “Did you know that this is one of the greatest humanitarians this business has ever known? Give her a big hand!”
DEAD AIR: The ex-KJET went soft again. The Z-Rock network dropped its AM affiliates, so KZOK-AM quit the Hard Rawk to simulcast KZOK-FM’s tired oldies. The sign-off brought the end of the station’s local afternoon shift, facilitated by Jeff Gilbert. For the first time in 35 years, nobody’s playing new rock records on Seattle AM radio.
`IT’S,’ A CRIME (graphic during an ad for HBO on ABC): “Has Saturday Night Lost It’s Magic?” No, but apparently HBO has lost its ability to spell.
MIXED ICONS DEPT.: The Times ran an article comparing home mortgage rates today with those during the 1960s. It was festooned with all the cliché images of hippie nostalgia: a peace sign, a VW bus, et al.; all in tie-dye-ish colors. They should’ve used images appropriate to the kinds of folks who were buying houses back then: plastic-smiled suburbanites in green pantsuits and Sta-Prest slacks holding barbecues with delightful recipes from Sunset magazine.
STAN RIDGWAY REVISITED: The greatest channel on cable these days, without peer, is Univision. Everything on that channel is utterly cool: Variety shows with sensational female performers; outrageous game shows; goofy (and obviously censored) sex-farce movies; dubbed kung fu movies; and best of all the novelas, semi-lavish tearjerker dramas of sin and betrayal that run to 50 or more episodes and then stop. In a way it’s even more fun if you don’t know Spanish; you can just absorb the energetic performers, the great clothes and the cool-camp graphics without worrying whether the dialogue makes any sense. If that’s too much trouble for you, one of the channel’s greatest stars, the utterly remarkable children’s entertainer Xuxa, now has an Anglophone show at 3 pm weekdays on KTZZ. Who else would get cabaret singer/gay activist Michael Feinstein as the first guest on her US show — a show bankrolled by Pat Robertson? No wonder Forbes listed her as the second-wealthiest entertainer based in the non-English-speaking world (after Julio Iglesias).
ACTIVE CULTURES: In a Stranger article a few months ago I called for the death of Hollywood. Now, the decentralization of American culture looks unstoppable. New means of production and distribution are bypassing (or influencing) media monarchies. With Hi-8 camcorders people can make pro video for less than the annual cost of many prescriptions. The music video format has freed a generation of moving-image makers from the tyrannies of linear narrative and feature length. With DTP and quick-printing, the last financial barrier to self-publishing is the cost of binding to bookstore specs. The revolution is here, it is being televised (at least on odd cable channels), and it’s gonna be rough. You’ll see a lot of unlistenable indie records, unwatchable direct-to-video movies, unreadable desktop-published books, and unbearable fringe-theater plays. It’s the natural stumblings of people learning painfully to make their own culture, instead of merely choosing which prepackaged NY/LA/SF/UK worldview to adopt.
GE WANTS TO BUY BOEING, according to a Wall St. Journal rumor: If this column had editorial cartoons, it’d show a pilot’s seat occupied by a six-foot weasel.
SCENE STEALING: As late as 1990, there were only a couple dinky places to hear original rock bands in Seattle. Those times may return. The Times published a map showing the Seattle Commons proponents’ plans for east downtown. You know they want a long park from Denny Way to Lake Union. That’s the sugar-coating for their real scheme: thousands of condos and apts., mostly upper-income. The Times map showed all the blocks the Commons advocates plan to demolish. The Off Ramp, RKCNDY, and Lake Union Pub are all slated for removal. (The neo-folk Eastlake Cafe and the 911 film-video center would be allowed to live; Re-Bar might also be spared.) If I were paranoid, I’d call this another plot in the 15-year official conspiracy to crush local music. But my more understanding nature believes the rich suburbanites behind the plan are disinterested in live music and don’t care whether bands have a place to play. In the ’70s, citizens saved Pioneer Square and the Pike Place Market from smaller redevelopments; those areas are now tourist traps. The powers that be don’t get that the music scene is Seattle’s new major tourist attraction. This summer, you could hardly walk downtown without spotting Euro and Japanese young adults in the finest flannel, poring over maps and Strangers. (On a recent Fox TV magazine show, Ron Reagan Jr. had to tell Mayor Rice who Mudhoney was!)
‘TIL NEXT WE MEET, go look at Seattle’s first color TV camera (now on display at Olympic Lincoln-Mercury on Aurora), tape theamazing early talkies at 2 a.m. on KTZZ, and worry about your favorite waterfront businesses getting “discovered” and ruined after the Weekly moves there.
Bonnie Morino on the Vicki Lawrence show, telling how excited she was to be hired as a Playboy model: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that doesn’t happen very often in one’s life.”
Still working on my new book. Still nowhere near selling it.
Will the person in Calif. who left a message about participating in one of my publishing projects please call again? The number given me doesn’t seem to work. Thanx.
9/93 Misc. Newsletter
NO WEATHER JOKES! NO SLUG JOKES! NO COFFEE JOKES!
Here at Misc., the only column that wonders why ads for toilet paper consistently use images of infants (the only humans who don’t use the stuff), we feel obligated to repeat a disclaimer issued earlier this summer: A concert held in the middle of Eastern Washington with no public transportation cannot by any logical definition be called a “Seattle” show. I wouldn’t even call it an Ellensburg show.
`OTHER’ WISE: Two readers have suggested that the source of “The Other,” that now-ubiquitous term used by Reflex writers to rant about how bigoted everybody outside the Art World is, was Simone de Beauvior’s classic essay The Second Sex. She apparently used it to describe how people divide the world of their own minds and bodies (“The Self”) from everything else in the universe (“The Other”). Most of the folks using the term today intend to denounce other people’s bigotries, but inadvertently reveal their own (damning entire groups of people, defined by such totally superficial criteria as their race and gender, as incapable of sympathy toward Otherness). We need alternatives to bigotry, not just alternate forms of bigotry.
NOSTALGIA REVISITED: Pop-culture recycling is completely out of hand. With every permutation of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s re-played to death, they’re now reviving gimmicks from the ’80s that didn’t make it the first time. Seventeen brashly proclaims that thefashion trend for fall will be — ready? — “The New Romantics: Fall’s fresh style takes its cue from the romantic dandy, mixing floaty white shirts with an old English beat.” Where’s Adam Ant when we need him?
Speaking of dumb fads, did I tell ya I got a designer grunge fashion spread from a March ish of the Glasgow Sunday Post? Imagine — telling the Scots how to wear plaid.
And even worse, some UW-licensed sweatshirt company’s got a “Grunge Puppy” design: a UW Husky looking like it’s high on something, in torn jeans, Docs and an open flannel shirt over a T-shirt reading “Eat, Sleep, Party.” Looks as horrid as it reads.
MUST TO AVOID: Under no circumstances should you pay money for The Seattle Style Guide, a self-published handbook for new residents. The author lives in Bellevue (the first sign of knowing nothing about Seattle), he refers to certain obnoxious yuppie bars as hangouts for the “artistic crowd,” he calls Kenny G Seattle’s proudest contribution to music, and he suggests you learn to appreciate grunge by playing a little Pearl Jam in between your Eagles records.
CURE WORSE THAN THE DISEASE DEPT.: KCPQ’s got this ad chiding all the recent turmoil, firings and resignations in local TV news departments, and offering its own nightly information alternatives – A Current Affair and Inside Edition!
LOCAL PUBLICATIONS OF THE MONTH: Teen Fag is a little zine of stories and art not exclusively for teens or fags. Its main selling point is a review of the final Seattle show by G.G. Allin, NY’s self-proclaimed “violent and obscene rock performer,” who died weeks later. There’s also an extensive piece on Naughty Bits cartoonist Roberta Gregory. Available at Sound Affects Records on E. John (home of the sign, “Hey boys and girls: Home taping is killing the music industry. Keep up the good work”)….
Also available there is Sixth Form, a stapled Xeroxreg. zine with a thickly laminated cover, devoted to the (or should I say “thee”) gothic side of things. Issue #2 documents the heretofore undocumented Seattle/Salt Lake City band connection, apparently based on the ethereal/dreamscape bands Faith and Disease, Mary Throwing Stones and Ursula Tree. The zine celebrates a tight little clique of black-shawled explorers down there in Zion. Local coverage includes Diamond Fist Werny, Self Help Seminar, and a brief piece on Common Language‘s forthcoming British CD. (Hey, Common-ers: You’re one of the greatest bands around, but import-only releases by American alternative bands sucked 13 years ago. They still suck today. Same goes for the Walkabouts: Please get your stuff out at the affordable price, even if it’s on a label the size of eMpTy.)
DEAD AIR: It’s been a while since we talked of the KCMU Konflict. The CURSE/UW lawsuit is somewhere in the digestive tract of litigation. It’s been almost a year since station management imposed authoritarian controls and bland programming. Their official reason was to keep increasing station ratings and revenues. Even by those dubious measures, they’re an utter failure. So why would they apparently rather see the station die than admit they made a mistake?
It’s becoming clear that money isn’t what they’re after. The mess now seems to really be after the one thing all good UW administrators crave above all other desires: administrative turf. In the “nonprofit” equivalent of a corporate takeover, the honchos at KUOW down the hall wanted to assert control over KCMU, to turn it from a volunteer community station to a paid-staff institution that would suck up to wealthy listeners and corporate donors in the established NPR manner. They sincerely don’t understand that KCMU thrived as a very different station, with a different audience and a different operating philosophy. If they really want to make KCMU strong again, they should gentlemanly step aside and let it be run by the people who know how to run it right, the ex-volunteers who built it.
CLICHESTOPPERS NOTEBOOK: The only thing more lame nowadays than calling your band “grunge” is to call it “not grunge.” I’ve been reading the latter label applied in the last month to everything from the cowgirl-kitsch Ranch Romance to local rappers to a compilation record of frat-party bands (see below). As early as 1990, stupid national rockzines labeled 90 percent of Seattle bands as “not your typical Seattle band.” Don’t tell me what you’re not, tell me what you are.
NOTES: Just when you thought music meant something again, the forces of mindless entertainment prepare to counterattack. I’ve seen what promoters and managers are offering as the Next Big Thing, and it ain’t pretty: white funk bands. Jocks and fratboys from Portland, Boise and elsewhere, in backward caps and butt-cleavage jeans, waving attempted guesses of gang hand signals. These guys reinterpret Funkadelic and Run-DMC the way George Thorogood reinterpreted the blues, into one-dimensional macho posturing. The sounds associated by mainstream America (rightly or wrongly) with drug dealers are being revamped into the property of drug buyers. Actually, some of it’s stupid-cute, as long as you don’t take these guys as seriously as they take themselves. Few onstage sights are sillier than accountants’ sons hunching their backs and shouting “Yo!” And as for the authenticity issue, ya gotta figure that your average ex-high school football player has probably had more black friends than your average ex-conservatory jazz player.
CAN’T YOU SMELL THAT SMELL?: One of the few pleasures of my current unemployment (you thought this column was a full-time job or something?) is living without fear of the dreaded cologne cult cornering me at my desk. At most every office I’ve worked in, even spaces separated from the public by two layers of reception desks, I’d invariably get confronted this time of year by blank-eyed young adult males demanding that I buy their cheesy impostor colognes or cheesier framed prints of floral arrangements. I don’t know who they are or where they come from. I haven’t been able to stop any of them long enough to ask.
CULTURE CLUB: With something of a budget finally passed and health-care reform a while away, the right-wing Gridlock Machine has been backtracking for targets. Among the “scandals” recently recycled on talk radio and in pundit magazines is that all-purpose nemesis, the National Endowment for the Arts. They’re giving the same ol’ blah-blah about Our Tax Dollars and flaky artist types who mock all that is pure and proper. The real scandal about American arts funding isn’t that taxpayers are supporting too much “controversial” art but too little.
A couple of people who say “fuck” on stage notwithstanding, most NEA money subsidizes formula entertainment for the rich. It’s just as bad on the local level. Washington’s reputation as an artistic center is overrated and based more on consumption than production. We rank well in the bottom half of states in terms of public arts support. And a lot of that money goes either to bland sculptures by out-of-state artists, to “major performing institutions,” or to “support services” (buildings and bureaucrats); while the citizens who make images/films/texts, particularly of the non-touristy or non-upscale kind, scrape by as always.
The rich should pay for their own lifestyles, either directly or thru corporate support. I don’t wanna see any bassoonists lose their jobs in today’s economy, but if the symphony and the Rep are gonna get public money, it should be for public stuff: free or discounted shows, in-school appearances, etc. Since we’re always gonna have inadequate arts funding, what we can spend should emphasize investment in new works, works that might or might not find a big audience, works that might or might not even be good (experiments must be allowed to fail).
NEWS THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE NEWS: About 10 Seafair parade drunks headed to Broadway near midnight 7/30, presumably to fag-bash (baseball bats in hand), but were rounded up by a herd of police and State Patrol cars sent up the hill from the parade site.
COP OUT?: Twist Weekly claims to be the real reason Police Chief Patrick Fitzsimons resigned. The gay tabloid ran some articles about Paul Grady, an openly gay police sergeant who resigned in May. He said it due to harassment by fellow officers; but only Twistreported Grady’s claim that Fitzsimons specifically allowed and even encouraged the harassment. More damaging, Twist claims Fitzsimons’s homophobic attitude was a front — that the chief privately made moves on Grady and other male officers, and that he once tried to pick up a teenage restaurant busboy. Local mainstream media (except for KVI talk host Mike Siegel) pooh-poohed or hush-hushed the allegations, and treated Fitzsimons’s sudden resignation as the ordinary retirement of a great public servant. (Seattle Weekly did mention it, including Fitzsimons’s denials of all charges). If true, it’s another tragedy of the Closet — of someone trapped between his true self and a career that made him deny it, only to hurt himself and others. In any case, Fitzsimons still leaves a questionable legacy: the harassment of gay officers, overzealous tactics against young and/or black people, the still-in-the-works Weed and Seed paramilitary-occupation plan.
POST(ER) IMPRESSIONISM: Somebody (not me) put up street posters along Broadway and U Way, to harass my ex-employerFantagraphics Books. Around an old teenage photo of co-owner Kim Thompson (misspelled as “Thomson”) and rows of dollar signs, the poster invites people to work there and “earn up to $500 a week. Summer may be hot, but the heat is on!” Apparently, the office was inundated by calls from Ave rats seeking big bucks at the comix publisher. The hoax was probably instigated by one of those firees. The same person may have been responsible for a press release claiming Fantagraphics star Peter Bagge (Hate) was leaving to start his own comix company; the phone number on the press release belongs to a Bellevue dry cleaner.
PHILM PHUN: If you’re like me, you’re tired of hearing some stupid movie star favorably describing their stupid movie as “like a roller coaster ride,” sometimes using old Disneyland lingo as “an E Ticket ride.” For that matter, a lot of films these days are being turnedinto theme park rides, usually cheesy and expensive ones. I say, if we’re going to have theme park attractions based on movies, let’s have ‘em based on good movies: The Murnau Sunrise streetcar, the Magnificent Ambersons sleigh ride, the Lover Model A (on a fake colonial-Saigon street), the Women on the Verge taxi, the (adult-scale) Battleship Potemkin baby carriage, the Detour hitchhiking experience, the Lift elevator ride, the Women in Love male wrestling show…the list is endless. And concession stands: Under the Volcano bar drinks, Merchant-Ivory cucumber sandwiches, Repo Man plates of shrimp, Prospero’s Books wedding feasts. Let’s have licensed merchandise from good movies, too: Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! bath toys, When the Wind Blows fallout detectors…
JUNK FOOD OF THE MONTH: I know this department used to appear a lot more often in the past than it does now, but that’s because fewer great new junk foods are being developed these days. One reason: the consumer-products conglomerates, like the media conglomerates, are fading. The recession’s led consumers toward store-brand products, while the breakup of the mass media leave fewer resources to build new brands. (Procter & Gamble, once TV’s biggest advertiser, whose daytime dramas inspired the term “soap opera,” is laying off an eighth of its workforce due to permanent downsizing.) But General Mills is giving it one more go by launching Fingos, billed as “the cereal you eat with your fingers.” They’re actually like little cinnamon-graham or oat crackers, and quite habit-forming indeed. They’re also a great on-the-run alternative to gooey breakfast bars.
DYING WORDS: Two separate parties have sent me copies of These EXIT Times, an 8-pp. zine distributed at the Oregon Country Fair by a small group called VHEMT (Voluntary Human Extinction Movement; the acronym refers to “vehemence”). Business interests sometimes accuse environmentalists of being anti-people; these folks really are. They want the human race to agree to die off without reproducing, so “the earth can recover.” They don’t want you to kill yourself, just to leave no progeny. I don’t see how they can expect ideology to overcome standard-equipment biological instinct. Besides, why preserve the land for future generations if there won’t be any? (Remember Reagan’s Interior Secretary James Watt, who said it was OK to exhaust the Earth because the Rapture was coming soon?)
ON THAT INSPIRATIONAL NOTE, be sure to visit the years-in-the-making Toaster Museum inside the Wonderful World of Art studio-gallery, refurbish your home for cheap with durable, utilitarian items from office furniture surplus stores (dumping the working tools of all those laid-off bank employees), and heed these words of Bret Maverick: “My pappy always said to never cry over spilt milk. It could’ve been whiskey.”
Robert Anton Wilson from Reality Is What You Can Get Away With (published in 1992, already badly dated): “In an accelerating, fast-evolving universe, whoever does not change moves backward relatively. Did you ever notice that takes only 20 years for a liberal to become a conservative, without changing a single idea?”
Still looking for people to talk to for my history of the Seattle music scene. I especially need to talk to people who’ve been involved with local music since the mid-’80s, not just from the early punk days. So write me, OK?
Also, I’m thinking of an alternative tourist guide to Seattle, showing the joints everybody who comes here wants to see but regular tourist guides don’t mention (the Off Ramp, Jimi’s grave, et al.). Depending on space, it may also have a few cheap eating/drinking/shopping/staying places. What do you think should be in it? (Don’t nominate only your own business.)
THE REAL MESSAGE OF `EDUCATIONAL’ CARTOONS:
YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH SHODDY WORK
IF IT MEETS BUREAUCRATIC REQUIREMENTS
8/93 Misc. Newsletter
(incorporating three Stranger columns)
AREN’T YOU GLAD BUDWEISER’S GOT BRANCH PLANTS?
Here at Misc., where we can’t help but repeat what you all must have thought about Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts (i.e., surely he could have picked better), we think the next Brit blue-eyed soul singer, Mercer Island blues babe, or frat-boy funk band that pretends to be black should have to earn it. Get thrown out of Denny’s, get hassled by cops just for standing outside, get rejected for jobs and mortgages for no good reason, see your band blackballed from almost every venue and rental hall in town while blue-eyed party boys imitate your music at showcase clubs every week. Only then you could boast about how much soul you’ve got.
UPDATE: Remember when we talked about the old Seattle band that had a logo instead of a written name and a yelp instead of a spoken name? They’ve re-formed! Look for ‘em in the club listings any week now, printed as “Aiieee!” or something similar.
ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES: During the Stranger‘s recent off week, some folks with access to DTP and too much time on their hands created a 12-pp. spoof, the Whimper. It’s OK and sorta funny, ‘cept for the “Miscue” column. I’ve been spoofed two or three times now, and nobody’s gotten it right. Keep trying.
1991 NOSTALGIA: I’d forgotten, as many of you likely forgot, that no Democrat gets nominated for President without the support of pundits and interest groups that demand a business-as-usual foreign policy. By starting Gulf War Lite, the Pentagon’s acting just like the Irish and Mideast vigilante armies that answer opponents’ isolated acts of mindless terror with their own. The week before the missile attack on Iraqi intelligence HQ, the new Wired had a short article claiming tomorrow’s warfare would be “infrastructure war”: precision raids against electronic and information targets. Maybe Wired really is the magazine o’ the future it claims to be.
LACTOSE INTOLERANCE: Tower Records Pulse! sez Danken’s licensed “Strawberries and Pearl Jam” ice cream won’t come back from its limited production engagement, partly ‘cuz some band members are anti-dairy vegans. One potential successor: “Nirvanilla.”
THE SAME OLD SAW: KIRO’s running a half-hour infomercial paid by the timber industry. Washington Private Forest Report, hosted by ex-KIRO anchorman Jim Harriott, is a self-congratulatory paean for timber management’s current environmental practices, with edited remarks by corporate, governmental, tribal and environmental “leaders” who all back the industry line about “a balanced solution” between ecological and commercial needs (i.e., letting the big companies cut all they can get away with). The show only discusses practices on company-owned lands, without directly mentioning the dispute over clearcutting old growth on Forest Service lands, though its “trust us” message is clearly meant to apply to public as well as private lands. Shows like this reduce issue politics to the level of campaign politics: the side with money gets to say anything in the media at any time; the side without money only gets a few words in real newscasts, edited by station employees and “balanced” with words from the moneyed side.
LOCAL PUBLICATIONS OF THE MONTH: Zealot claims to be Seattle’s first-ever motorcycle zine (there’ve been bicycle and scooter zines), by and for the local rider community (more intelligent, and more co-ed, than old biker stereotypes suggest). A glance at the staff box reveals the street integrity here: 14 people listing the bikes they personally ride, plus one business manager who admits to having a Toyota Corolla. Within the free tabloid are bike photos, hot bike comix, repair tips, race reviews, and Dana Payne’s essay on the differences between riders and non-riders: “They look at us and see lemmings, chattering happily down the road to destruction. We look back at them and see the eyes of rabbits, of guinea pigs. Soft. Dewy. Fearful.” And not a single precious Young Republican Harley in the whole paper….When Adam Woog wrote his book about local inventors, I said it was the kind of book I should have written. His and Harriet Baskas’s new Atomic Marbles & Branding Irons is a book I have tried to write (the backing never came through). It’s a guide to “museums, collections and roadside attractions in Washington and Oregon.” You get all about the General Petroleum Museum on Capitol Hill, Dick and Jane’s Art Spot in Ellensburg, the Walker Rock Garden in West Seattle, the Advertising Museum in Portland, and the “world’s largest hairball” at Oregon’s Mount Angel Abbey (but not Tiny’s Fruit Stand in Cashmere). Recommended.
MAD RAGS: You can now get the most realistic G-word-wear from one of the authentic sources used by the original musical creators. Yes, the Salvation Army store on 4th Ave. S. has opened an “Alternative Gear” boutique, complete with 15-percent discount flyers for “ripped flannel.” (G-word insiders prefer Value Village or Goodwill.) Meanwhile, USA Today (which boasts to advertisers that, “compared with the general population,” its readers are “23 percent more likely to dance/go dancing”) ran a pic of a truly stupid designer-G-word teen couple taken from the JC Penney Back To School ’93 collection. Maybe if the chain likes the Seattle urban look so much now, it’ll think about having a store in town again.
LOVE’S LABOURS: We now know that several weeks back, Kurt was arrested and went to jail for three hours on a domestic-violence rap, before being released without charges. Cops say they went to his place on a neighbor’s noise complaint. There,Courtney supposedly said they’d argued about his gun-buying binge and their busted $300 juicer; they supposedly shoved each other, he supposedly dragged her to the floor and choked her. (So much for juiceheads being laid-back.) She insisted to the P-I that it was all a big misunderstanding, that they’d argued but not physically fought, that he’s still a great guy and an ardent feminist. She echoed these remarks at the Hole gig at the Off Ramp: “This is a song about domestic violence, not! I don’t mean to joke about it, I know it’s a serious issue and shit…” The show itself was one of those gigs where the band valiantly keeps efficiently chopping away throughout the frontperson’s half-drunken stumblings (she gave up on guitar playing in the middle of a couple of songs). In short, a definitive sloppy old-fashioned punk show. Perfect.
THE FINE PRINT (disclaimer title on the public-access show H.A.R.D. TV (Hardbody Alternative Rock Digest)): “All bands on this show sound 500% better live. This audio is the worst (and we know it).”
WHERE AMERICA SHOPPED: It’s one thing for Sears to kill its catalog, but to remove the candy counter at its 1st Ave. flagship (its oldest surviving U.S. store) is unforgivable. That little stand between the first-floor escalators was the heart and soul of the place. They might as well stop selling DieHards.
PHILM PHACTS: Free Willy is a new mid-budget “family film” about a boy who helps a lonely killer whale escape a nasty, fictional “Great Northwest Water Park.” Execs from Sea World, the Anheuser-Busch-owned theme park chain with 18 performing killer whales (all named Shamu), have reportedly been to the San Juans, hobnobbing with area whale experts to help assemble their anti-Willy PR campaign. They’re telling you that captive orcas have great lives and are treated fine, that no Willys need ever be freed….I got to see a few scenes from Sleepless in Seattle some months back, and the finished film is every bit as stupid as those scenes cracked it up to be. Yo, Hollywood: We’re not all rich boomer airheads here.
NOTES: The Chamber of Commerce’s idea of Seattle music, Kenny G, will play the Coliseum in Sept. with Peabo Bryson. He’s the male half of most of those sappy love-song duets at the end of dumb blockbuster films (new catch phrase: “The movie ain’t over `til Peabo sings”). He oughta have a giant screen behind him showing closing credits through his entire set.
GRAFFITO OF THE MONTH (outside B. Dalton Books on 1st): “Read less. Live more.”
THE NOAM-MOBILE: Congrats to all of you for making Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media one of the biggest documentary hits in a long time, even though I don’t agree with much of it. Chomsky treats the mass media as one monolithic, unstoppable force exercising mind control over all America (except for himself and his East Coast intellectual pals). He can’t, or won’t, notice how tentative that hold really is. People who consume lots of media are very cynical about what they’re consuming. Compare the faux-ironic, “air quotes” speech patterns of MTV viewers with the blind-faith naiveté of tube-loathing neohippies. A typical TV viewer takes nothing by faith, treats everything with (excess?) skepticism. A typical nonviewer is ready to believe almost anything, as long as it’s told in the proper “alternative” lingo by recognizably “alternative” faces. The Robertson right, the Perot moderate-right, and the Chomsky left all hate the commercial mass media. Everybody’s a “rebel” these days, and the press is one of the few universally recognized symbols of what everybody’s rebelling against. Newspaper circulation is flat, and ad revenues have plummeted. (Ratings and ad revenues for TV news are also down.) Most people are already aware that their local newspaper is beholden to its town’s business and political bigshots. It doesn’t take listening to three hours of Chomsky to figure out that national and Eastern-regional media might be similarly beholden to the NY/DC bigwigs. The New York Times is, after all, the Cadillac of American newspapers: it’s bigger, and it’s got more luxury features, but it’s still built on the same Chevy drive train.
Just as leftist economists talk as if the world’s economy was still based on heavy industry, so do media critics like Chomsky still “analyze” an American media comprised only of three networks, two wire services, two weekly news mags, five opinion mags, and two or three big Eastern papers. Can Noam adapt to a media, and a nation, that are becoming more decentralized and diffuse (but perhaps no more “progressive”)? Stay tuned.
RE-PRESSED: At least Chomsky does sometimes get around to telling you his worldview, instead of just dissing other media worldviews. That’s the problem with most leftist “media analysis,” especially the syndicated “Media Beat” columnists in the Saturday Seattle Times. Those two guys give only a shadow of the “reality” they claim exists. They keep telling us that the papers aren’t telling the whole truth about some issue, but they expend little or no space telling us what their idea of the “true story” is. I wanna throttle those guys and dare ‘em: “Yeah yeah, I know these other people aren’t telling me the whole story; so why won’t you tell it to me already?”
NOT MY GENERATION: The Weekly still treats rich baby boomers as the only people (besides political-corporate bigshots) it wants to talk about. Its preview of summer music festivals treated tame boomer nostalgia music as a refreshing novelty, not the reactionary albatross that’s helped keep original music off bigger stages for two decades. The same issue had Walt Crowley with one of those puff pieces about how great it was to be young 25 years ago (ostensibly a review of a book about old underground papers, like the one he used to edit). Like most such articles, it depicted a Sixties America populated only by middle-class college boys. Unlike most, he didn’t treat it as a gone-forever “age of miracles.” Instead, he wished young’uns would follow the path set by elders like himself, without saying how. It’d be unwise to do everything like it was done then. Hippies made a lot of mistakes: they appropriated Black Power slogans while doing little to integrate their own world; they abrogated 50 years of leftist heritage by stereotyping all working-class people as redneck fascists. We’ve gotta learn from that time, including its mistakes, to do better. Don’t live in the Sixties, be radical now.
MIA ZAPATA, 1965-1993: In the past three years I’ve said goodbye in print to six members of the local music/arts scenes, some I’d known personally and some only through their work. They all died needlessly and too soon. This may be the most senseless death of them all. Zapata, a poet, painter and singer-lyricist for the Gits, was found strangled in an alley near 25th and S. Washington, an hour and a half after she left a small get-together at the Comet, honoring the one-year anniversary of her friend Stefanie Sargent’s fatal overdose. Zapata died a week before she was to have recorded vocals for the Gits’ second CD. I knew her only as a presence on a stage, a dynamic presence delivering some powerful and fun tunes, a voice rooted in the early notion of punk rock as a statement of positive defiance, not just a lowbrow lifestyle.
Some 300 friends of Zapata and the band attended a wake at the Weathered Wall, which included the surviving Gits and friends playing her songs one last time (the band won’t continue without her) on a stage filled with candles and yellow roses. Some people ask me how Seattle bands can be so strident and negative, contradicting the official image of Seattle as heaven on earth. I tell those people to look around themselves: There’s a madness here, subtlely different from the madness in the nation at large. Due partly to our western boomtown heritage and surviving Greed Decade attitudes, far too many people here believe they have the right to do anything they want, to whomever they want. Seattle’s “nice” image is at best a cover-up, at worst an emotional repression. Beneath the enforced attitude of passivity sometimes called “the Northwest lifestyle,” you’ll find a barely-contained force of sheer terror. There’s no running away from it; you’ll still find that terror in the white-flight suburbs and the hippie-flight countryside. Don’t move out, stay and reclaim the public space. Do that and we can help fulfill the pledge shouted by the people at her wake, “Viva Zapata!” (A reward fund is being formed to help find her killer, in cooperation with King County Crime Stoppers. Any info that might lead to Zapata’s killer can be given anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 343-2020.)
‘TIL WE MAKE A PLEDGE to meet in September, be sure to see the digitized Snow White, be courteous to foreign Seattle Sound tourists, and ponder this thought from Night of the Living Dead master George A. Romero: “People are operating on many levels of insanity only clear to themselves.”
PASSAGE Chris Stigliano in the Sharon, PA zine Black to Comm: America’s Only Rockism Magazine:
“Don’t you miss the days you could turn on your fave UHF station and watch any of the Nick at Nite programs without the computer animation and with those great car salesman ads? Me too….You can pay upwards of $30 a month to see ‘em presented in a yuppie/disco manner that ultimately insults them (and you), but ain’t television supposed to be free and not controlled by spoiled brat cokeheads with little understanding of what we (as noncorruptable, wild rock & roll reactionaries) are?”
Almost finished with the first draft of my book chronicling the Seattle music scene since 1976. All you who’ve been holding back on offering your stories and reminiscences: Drop me a line already. All you who have offered, but haven’t heard back from me yet: Be patient a week or two longer.
I’m thinking of offering official Misc. T-shirts, stickers and the like. Any favorite slogans you’d like?
6/93 Misc. Newsletter
OUR TOP STORY TONIGHT:
‘CHEERS’ AND JAKE O’SHAUGHNESSEY’S ARE STILL DEAD!
We’re still childless here at Misc. World HQ, despite Mom’s best efforts to fix us up with a nice Christian girl, so we could only watch from aside the conversations in downtown cafés on Take Our Daughters to Work Day: “Just think, little Allie, someday you’ll get to be a frustrated wage slave just like mommy!”
UPDATES: Last time, we commented on the fad for every business to have a “mission statement.” The cool new Xerox art/literary zine Hel’s Kitchen has one of its own: “Mission Statement: Missions were built in California to obliterate the native customs and spread colonization…. We hate them”…. Owners of the Cyclops Café are threatening to sue the N.W. Ayer ad agency over the AT&T commercial inviting Americans to call their grungy pals back in Seattle. Cyclops claims that Ayer offered $100 to shoot still photos inside the joint for an hour, claiming they’d just be used in a stock-photo collection; instead, they spent three hours and not only included the café’s storefront but made it the ad’s key image.
THE TRAGEDY CONTINUES: Greg Ragan, who wrote and performed with the seminal Seattle punk band The Feelings, died 5/1. Friends say he’d gotten a good job and was getting his life together at the time, after getting over his years-long heroin habit. Alas, it had already weakened his system for good.
LESSER BUMMER #1: The King County Library’s closing its Seattle film desk. Several years ago, the city library donated its film collection to the county, under the condition that they remain accessible to city residents. But now, to borrow a 16mm film (or one of the county library’s wide assortment of videos), you have to phone in an order and pick it up days later at an out-of-town library branch (closest: off of 175th & Aurora). If you think this petty budget-cutting move is wrong, write the King County Library System (300 8th Ave. N., Seattle 98109) and the King County Council (King County Courthouse, Seattle 98104).
LESSER BUMMER #2: The Corner of Bargains, the big old rustic barn full of furniture across from Sears on 1st, is closing. That great stoic claptrap of a building, packed to the walls with garish overstuffed sofas and gargantuan brass lamps, is the vision of American commerce at its finest. At least Sir Plus is still in the neighborhood.
HERE WE ARE NOW: Grunge tourism is back, maybe bigger than last summer. I talked to an advance woman for a BBC crew, about to descend on the city for a youth-travel documentary series. She called the paper to ask: Where are the grunge hangouts? What’s the grunge radio station? How did grunge get started? Are any of the current grunge stars under 30 years of age (except for Nirvana, most of the first-tier noisemakers are near or beyond that mark)?
LOSING IT: If we still don’t have a Grungeland theme park, how ’bout somebody putting out a Grunge Aerobics video? I can imagine it now: a formation of tall guys flailing their long hair about during the opening warmups, using Sheaf Stout bottles instead of hand weights, before hitting the floor for the tummy exercises that give you the ever-popular emaciated junkie physique without having to do the drugs. At the end, the moshers could give nutritional advice (“don’t stage dive 15 minutes after eating”) or even sell their own food products (Mosh Mush, the perfect post-hangover breakfast). The dancers could compare their weight-loss results at the end to determine who’s “the biggest Loser.” Just if you produce such a tape, I want credit….In an item cut from the February issue, I pondered even more future developments in watered-down corporate “grunge” style: (1) stage-diving classes at summer camps and grade schools, (2) nipple-piercing in malls, and (3) Grunge Barbie. The first hasn’t happened to our knowledge, but a Basic/Cramp copycat store has opened in Southcenter, and Mattel’s got a new designer-grunge outfit for Barbie’s pal Skipper.
TRAFFIC TO THE JAM: If you’re going to Lollapalooza at the Gorge at George, don’t try to “gorge” your conscience at the environmental booths up front; 20,000 people in 10,000 cars, 140 mi. each way, ain’t exactly living lightly.
A REVOLTIN’ DEVELOPMENT: The Weekly‘s fanning the flames of “tax revolt” every chance it gets (as many as three redundant articles per issue), gleefully predicting political genocide if Lowry and Clinton don’t cave in to big business and the rich. As publisher David Brewster’s followed his target audience away from its last vestigial connections to The Sixties, he’s followed a classic behavioral shift among publishers, once described by New York Daily News founder Joseph Patterson: a young Turk vows to be the Voice of the People, but winds up on the golf course with the Chamber of Commerce and slowly sees things their way. In the Reagan-Bush era, Brewster and his readers could ostensibly oppose (while benefiting from) Reaganomics. Now that the yups are asked to pay their fair share, Brewster’s ready to follow (or lead?) them rightward.
STREET STORIES: While the Weekly set upon its campaign to decimate government services, the daily papers launched a campaign for more government aid to their business friends, by trumping up an “instant crisis” about the downtown retail “atmosphere.” The papers, wholly recycling the Downtown Seattle Assn. line, apparently want downtown to be as sterile and monocultural as the malls, hinting that cops should remove the homeless (to where??) so the sidewalks can look nicer. The anticlimax came with a full-pageTimes story full of crime-scare tactics, while reluctantly admitting in a sidebar item that most downtown crime categories are down this year (after peaking in ’85). Downtown retail’s real problems are (1) a continuing national downturn in consumer spending, partly due to the long-term consolidation of personal wealth towards the wealthiest; (2) the decline of the dept. store biz, of which Frederick’s and I. Magnin were the weakest local players; and (3) layoffs at banks and other offices, bringing fewer commuters downtown. Locking up the panhandlers and chasing out the skate teens won’t solve any of that. I’ve lived down here nearly 2 years; sure, I’d like to see fewer suffering people on the sidewalks, but the real way to do that is to try and alleviate their suffering, not to corral ‘em into some other neighborhood. We need a war on poverty, not another war against the poor. And skateboarders don’t hurt anyone, they just speed up wear-&-tear on Westlake Park facilities. I say let ‘em skate. Rebuild the park platforms and pottery to withstand skate wheels, and turn the kids into a tourist attraction.
UNSOLVED MYSTERIES DEPT.: We can’t figure out why anyone would buy a correspondence course to escape a dead-end career, based on the recommendation of Sally Struthers.
PC PARADE: Tacoma’s News Tribune ran a front-page photo of Sea-Tac Mall guards chasing two teen boys out of the mall for wearing blue bandannas, which immediately branded them in the eyes of mall staff as gang members. In the photo, the guards are black and the supposed gangbangers are clearly white (tho’ their faces are partly obscured by the camera angle, a standard practice in news photos of underage suspects).
LOCAL PUBLICATIONS OF THE MONTH: The current quarterly Bulletin of the Seattle-based National Campaign for Freedom of Expression features a whiff of 1992 nostalgia: mug shots of Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan altered with X-Ray Spex for proper ridicule by us sophisticates. The articles are thankfully more lucid. NY scholar William Strickland calls for a permanent, populist, holistic left coalition. Another article notes that city officials in Auburn and Spokane have been trying to censor nudity in public art works, using laws intended to fight sexual harassment. In both towns, the challenged works are by female artists…. Tacoma’s finally got a more-or-less stable music scene and some newsprint zines to go with it. Pandemonium and its arch-rival Smutch are chock full of relatively un-stupid band interviews, reviews, scene reports from Club Tacoma and the Red Roof Pub, opinions on everything from hate crimes to youth politics, and dance and art profiles; all in a refreshingly attitude-free attitude…. Back here, Hype published its last free-tabloid issue in April, but vows to return as a slick-cover mag around July.
YOU SEND ME: Times art critic Dolores Tarzan Ament (no apparent relation to Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament) was all mistaken in her piece trashing City Voice, the public art project/opinion survey now in the mail to 10,000 city homes. Ament mustn’t know about the postmodern traditions of mail art (decorous postcards, stamps, and other mailable matter) and appropriation (turning commercial communication forms inside out). City Voice, funded by Seattle City Light and devised by three local artists (Alan Pruzan, Helen Slade, and Galleria Potatohead vet/Weekly cover boy Bill Moore), takes the fun graphics and interactive tear-and-paste aspects of Highlights for Children and Publisher’s Clearing House mailings, to ask citizens to write in about their lives and ideas. What could be a more appropriate public art project than one that not only asks the public’s response, but invites the public to participate in the creative process?
AD OF THE WEEK (bus billboard for Washington Egg Producers): “Fake is OK, for a sorority girl.” The sales reference is to egg substitutes vs. the real stuff, but what’s the joke reference: fake eyelashes? Bustlines? Orgasms? Personalities?
WHERE ARE THEY NOW? DEPT.: Nordstrom’s annual meeting featured a slick video presentation of the “shopping system of the future,” interactive video. Scenes shown on the TV news depict a smug yuppie housewife watching TV, ordering windows around on the screen thanks to never-gonna-happen voice-activation commands. More fantastic, the “personal shopper” talking to the housewife in an inset window was none other than ex-Let’s Make a Deal hostess Carol Merrill!
IN STORE: By now, many of you have seen the new Broadway Safeway, a veritable mini-Larry’s Market with big diagonal aisles and interior neon signs. The remodel emphasizes a deli, a pharmacy, a flower stand and other higher-profit items around the walls, but less shelf space for lower-profit packaged foods in the middle of the floor. Once the staid, sea-green monarch of western supermarketing, the chain’s been decimated by leveraged-buyout debt. It’s closed stores (and left some metro areas altogether) and looked for ways to squeeze more profit out of its remaining stores. The fancy signs, over a 10-year lifespan of a remodel, don’t really add much to the price of a pound of cheese; that comes from getting you to buy that cheese on a ready-made pizza.
IN THE OFF-ING: Contrary to the Regrade Dispatch, no-booze strip joints can be relatively harmless neighborhood additions. What goes on inside may disgust some of you; but, unlike bars, they release their clientele onto the streets not only sober but utterly depressed.
SEATTLE COMMUNITY CATALYST, 1990-93: Are local lefties are so disorganized, they can’t even support a little tabloid with a joint monthly calendar? A more practical analysis (and leftists like nothin’ better than analysis!) would say it’s hard to create a united left just by publishing a newspaper; especially here, where it’s hard to get people to care for causes beyond their own neighborhoods, their own hiking trails, their own ideology trips, etc. Maybe the Catalyst‘s ambitions were too small. It was a paper for people who already believed in the things it covered. It wanted people in one leftist clique to pay more attention to the other cliques. Maybe the next attempt at a political paper should try to evangelize people who aren’t in any cliques yet, to promote new ideas at a wider audience.
CATHODE CORNER: KTZZ’s televising KIRO-AM’s morning news from 5 to 7 a.m., turning Seattle’s slickest radio show into its clumsiest TV show. It’s shot on two robot-controlled cameras mounted above the announcers — great views of bald spots. During remotes and taped segments, we see still graphics or the announcers fumbling with papers. During KIRO’s live commercials, KTZZ plays stock music while showing Bill Yeend continuing to talk. Because KTZZ doesn’t have the rights to CBS Radio material, it runs long stretches of public-service ads at least twice an hour. It’s a great antidote to the slick, empty TV morning shows (including KIRO-TV’s own First in the Morning News). It also points out just how little news KIRO-AM news has.
LIVE AIR: The one station that plays the bands outsiders think all Seattle bands sound like is KZOK-AM. The ex-KJET mostly rebroadcasts the Z-Rock network from Dallas, but ex-KCMU “Brain Pain” king Jeff Gilbert goes live afternoons with the hard stuff — especially on Friday’s local-music hours, cranking up new Sweet Water and Grin right after old AC/DC. And remember, it’s the station with the Million Dollar Guarantee: “Pay us a million dollars, and we’ll play any damn song you want.”
CIVIX LESSON: While the City of Seattle keeps trying to prevent all-ages rock concerts, the City of Redmond puts on its own. Nightlife, a program of the Redmond parks dept., regularly sells out its alternate-Saturday-night shows at the Redmond and Bellevue YMCAs with almost no publicity. The bands are mostly Eastside teen groups, plus a few big and semi-big names (the Posies, D.C.’sFugazi). There’s no reason it can’t be done on this side of the lake, except that the Blue Meanies in high places wouldn’t have it.
`TIL NEXT WE MEET, ponder this from the recently-deceased western author Wallace Stegner: “The west does not need to explore its myths much further; it has already relied on them too long. The west is politically reactionary and exploitive: admit it. The west as a whole is guilty of inexplicable crimes against the land: admit that, too. The west is rootless, culturally half-baked. So be it.”
From “Queen of the Black Coast,” one of the original Conan the Barbarian stories by the suicide-at-30 Robert E. Howard: “Let me live deep while I live: let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, and the mad exultation of battle…I burn with life, I love, I slay, and I am content.”
Our annual Misc. anniversary party’s happening Sunday, June 6 at the Two Bells Tavern, 2321 4th Ave., 8:30 p.m. Readings, multimedia, previews of our book on the history of the Seattle underground scene, audience participation games, and much, much more. Attend, or don’t lie to your grandchildren and say you went.
Your loyal reporter is once again without a day job. All ideas, suggestions, and offers (paid positions only) will be considered.
4/93 Misc. Newsletter
GREAT! GATES GETS HITCHED
JUST AFTER I TOSS MY OLD LIST
OF COMPUTER-NERD SEX PUNS…
Misc. hopes you’ve all got your copy of the white-on-black T-shirt featuring a hypodermic needle superimposed on the Space Needle beside the slogan, ” I went to Seattle to make a score and all I got was this lousy recording contract.”
UPDATE: I recently said we should preserve Seattle as a working city and resist the huge “Seattle Commons” yuppification project. Advocates of the Cascade neighborhood, a neglected pocket of affordable housing threatened by the Commons plan, have now formed the Cascade Residents Action Group to fight the wrong kind of redevelopment (info: 624-9049 or 523-2569).
BEEHIVE VIDEO, R.I.P.: It began 15 years ago on N.E. 45th as a far-flung outlet for the Peaches record chain, housed in an ex-Ford dealership. When that chain went Chapter 11 in ’81, the local manager bought it and added a Ballard outlet. It was the last large locally-owned record store in town, and the last to stock new vinyl. The first sign of trouble came in ’87, when the Wherehouse chain opened across the street, followed by Blockbuster down near U Village. In ’90, the store stopped paying for the Peaches name and held a contest for a new name (which meant no more word-balloon signs with the “Peachy” mascot pointing to the “Gay and Bisexual Videos” shelf). In ’92, they sold the Ballard store and made the 45th outlet all-video. It bravely (foolishly?) failed to stock umpteen multiple copies of blockbuster action hits, instead keeping a large stable stock of cool obscurities. The strategy cut costs and attracted a loyal clientele, but it still wasn’t enough. On 3/22, I rented my regular Monday 2-for-1 titles and saw nothing strange, except that the sale shelf of close-out tapes was a bit fuller. The next afternoon, I went in and was abruptly told I couldn’t rent anything else: “I’m sorry, we just went out of business. We’re only taking returns.” Its loss leaves a lot of frequent-renter cards that’ll never get filled up, and leaves the central U District without a decent foreign-film store.
OUT TO DRY: The Squire Shops are in Chapter 11; many of the remaining 23 outlets are closing. Just as the ugly clothes that made ‘em famous are coming back! Squire sold clothes that young mall-crawlers thought were hip. In its heyday, that meant jeans with cuffs nearly as wide as the waist. Seattle wore bellbottoms years after the rest of the country stopped. Several companies formed here to keep Seattle in clothes the national companies no longer made. That scene led to the local firms that gave the world loud sweatshirts with goofy slogans and Hypercolors; some of those firms are now on the wrong side of that fad and face money trouble themselves. (“Designer grunge” has virtually nothing to do with the local fashion biz.)
LOCAL PUBLICATIONS OF THE MONTH: The Washington Free Press promises to be the hard-hitting investigative newspaper Seattle’s never really had, with the possible exception of the pre-JOA P-I. Several tabloids over the years promised this, but soon turned into lifestyle rags that just used `politics’ to define their subcultures (Community Catalyst is just as guilty of this, in its way, as the Weekly). Free Press isn’t like that. It doesn’t tell you what clothes you have to wear or what food you have to eat. It just reports the under-reported big stuff. In the April ish, that’s a huge piece about Boeing’s spotty environmental record and vigorous influence-peddling. The rest of the free monthly tab’s weaker (talk radio-style rants against Jack in the Box) but shows promise….Beyond the Cultural Dustbin is Hans and Thelma Lehmann’s personal history of highbrow art, music and dance in Seattle since 1938, when UK conductor Sir Thomas Beecham (scion of the drug empire that now owns Contac) came to lead the Seattle Symphony. He left a year later, calling Seattle “a cultural dustbin.” The book argues that we’ve come a long way since then, from the Northwest School painters of the ’50s and John Cage‘s residency at Cornish to today’s proliferation of dance and theatrical troupes. The book implies but doesn’t directly ask: We’ve got culture now, but is it art?
JESUS JONES WITHOUT THE JONES: Counter Culture is the first Christian alternative-music zine I’ve seen in Seattle since the Jesus Freak scene of the ’70s. Its cover interviewee, Tonio K., was a minor ’79 LA singer-songwriter (best-known LP: Life in the Food Chain) who’s now born-again and wants a crossover hit just like Amy Grant. The writers insist at several parts that you can still like Jesus even if you don’t like the Religious Right. It displays calls to prayer in standard cut-up punkzine design. It covers Christian grunge bands that mix “`70s funk with the anxious mind of `80s punk rock with the heart of God.” But then, punk and its descendants, even in their nihilism, held a righteous notion of good and evil, a conviction that the world should be better than it is. Bands like U2 and 10,000 Maniacs already use songs as sermons. Take out sex and drugs, add New Testament imagery, and you too could exhort the faithful at the Vineyard coffeehouse in the U District.
TO WOMB IT MAY CONCERN: First Moments is a local firm offering “videos of your child’s first moments” — ultrasound images of the fetus, to be treasured as a family heirloom; there’s blank tape at the end so you can add birth and infancy footage. Forgetting the unspoken anti-abortion implication, it makes you wonder: if you’re sick of friends’ cloying baby pix now, just wait!
OPEN MEMO TO CURSE: You’ve successfully exposed the hypocritical machinations behind KCMU-Lite and its instigators. But to restore the station as a community resource, you’ve gotta deal with the UW Board of Regents, who control the license. The current managers were turning the station into nothing but a self-serving fundraising machine, something the Regents can identify with. After fundraising, their no. 2 priority is saving face; with all the other campus scandals, they might seek the safest way out of the KCMU dilemma. Unfortunately, there are “safer” ways than restoring Classic KCMU. They could turn it into an automated classical outlet, or return it to the Communications School. You’ve gotta assert that any format change would violate the promises made in membership drives. Then, offer an olive branch. Ask your comrades, the fired DJs with the class-action suit, to back off if the Regents will let you help set up a new structure for the station, not like it’s now but not quite like before either. Tell them you don’t want to restore all of the station’s rough-hewn past. You want to build on its heritage, to more strongly serve students, alternative-music communities, and others now unserved by local radio. Even after that, you’ll have to deal with KUOW management down the hall, people who’ve asserted excessive control over KCMU and who honestly don’t get what’s wrong with institutionalized “public” radio. People who only seek the most upscale listeners. People who mistake blandness for a virtue. The announcers on NPR stations all sound like HAL 9000, for chrissakes! They oughta sound more like the booming, colorful voice who used to announce the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. They oughta reflect the glorious pomposity of orchestral and opera music, the twee affectations of chamber music, the life-affirming spirit of real jazz, instead of a yup variation on BBC English. Public radio should be by and for the public, not just by the bureaucracy for the upscale.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW? DEPT.: Ex-KCMUers Debbie Letterman and Kathy Fennessy are now spinning CDs as live “queue jockeys” for callers on hold for Microsoft’s product-support lines. While it’s a novel job that pays OK, Letterman told the Puget Sound Business Journal that she’s still tied into as restrictive a format as she faced at KCMU-Lite before she quit. “The key word is mellow:” Enya si, Ministry no.
THE URBAN TOURIST: Columbia Center sounds as strange as it looks. The climate-control hum and rushing air from elevator shafts give the 5th Ave. entrance cool noises (they’d be great for a sci-fi movie). Even weirder is the Seafirst Corridor, a passageway under 5th and Columbia from Columbia Center (where the bank execs work) to Seafirst 5th Ave. Plaza (where the back-office staff works). It’s the most surreal walkway since the United terminal at O’Hare. On the walls, plastic-covered pastel lights flash in a slow sequence of colors, while New Age music and ocean sounds enhance the creamy dreamscape. At the end, two elevators take you one flight up to the harsh utilitarian corridors of the 5th Ave. Plaza, where a security guard waits to let you back into a numbing temp job.
DODGE-ING THE ISSUE: If you think Portland ad agency Wieden & Kennedy‘s Subaru spots are already odd, wait ’til you see the one with a dude in black jeans saying that the Impreza’s “like punk rock, only it’s a car”.
OUR FAR-FLUNG CORRESPONDENTS (via Michelle McCarthy and David Humphries): “London news has reported the NY bomb news prominently, but I think Londoners were squinting a little at the panicky New Yorkers having had their first initiation to bomb-based evacuation. Since we’ve lived here, areas as populous as Wall Street are evacuated for bomb threats close to weekly, and one actually goes off about once a month. It’s hard to imagine the US tolerating the constant shutdown and occasional destruction of its biggest cities and business districts.”
CHRISTIAN GORE AT 911: Three years ago, Gore was the uppity editor of a Detroit ‘zine about perverse film and video. Now, he’s the uppity editor of a slicked-up, mass-market Film Threat, based in Beverly Hills (at that ZIP Code) and financed by Hustler‘s Larry Flynt. Gore puts big stars on the cover (for sales) and trashes those stars inside (for credibility). He covers “B” Hollywood horror and sci-fi, and still promotes a few undergrounds. Gore promised two different nights of video treats, but the Friday and Saturday shows shared half the same material: drive-in movie trailers, Sid & Marty Krofft theme songs, banned Ren & Stimpy episodes (Gore’s cronies with the original R&S team), psychedelic computer animation. At both shows, Gore passed around cans of cheap beer and asked the audience to sit back, yell if they thought something was boring, and act like they were in his living room. I took advantage of this after he showed a student film about an “artist” who has naked women with blue paint on their bodies press up against butcher paper: “Everybody knows that’s based on a real artist, right?” Gore, incredulous: “It is?” Me: “Of course. Yves Klein! He was in the first Mondo Cane movie.” “I didn’t know that.” A guy who doesn’t know the daddy of schlockumentaries shouldn’t call himself a weird-film authority.
IT’S SQUARE TO BE HIP: I don’t just want you to question the assumptions of mainstream culture. I want you to question the assumptions of your culture, like the assumption that it’s sacred to be “hip” and profane to be “square.” The hip-vs.-square concept is the alternative culture’s unexamined legacy from the beats’ misinterpretation of jazz lingo. In the NY jazz scene, “hepcats” (derived, sez Zola Mumford, from the Senegalese word hipicat, “one who is very aware of their surroundings”) were those who played and/or listened to advanced black music (instead of the watered down Paul Whiteman versions) and who’d mastered the complex codes of social gamesmanship in Manhattan. It was a concept for a specific time/place that no longer exists. Square people these days are a lot hipper than a lot of self-proclaimed hipsters. Squares enjoy drag queens on Geraldo and buy male pinup posters. Squares buy Soundgarden CDs and watch The Simpsons. Squares grow and haul the food we eat. Squares make our cars. Squares support education and world-relief drives. As Wes “Scoop” Nisker writes in Crazy Wisdom, “the illusion that we are separate and special is the root of our suffering.” There is no superior race (not even yours). There is no superior gender or gender-role (not even yours). There is no superior culture (not even yours). The real enemies are people who think they’re hip but aren’t: The Religious Right (not a mass movement but a tightly organized minority that gets out its vote in low-turnout elections); the civic fathers/mothers who want to outlaw youth culture. (More on this below.)
IN BLOOM: When I told people I wanted to write a book about the local music scene, most said “you’d better get it out right away. Nobody will care about Seattle next month.” I don’t know if the “Seattle sound” is really the flash in the pan that so many local wags think (hoping they can go back to their familiar nihilism?). People here are so used to obscurity, when the spotlight shines they squint and wait for it to stop. But like I’ve written before, this could just be the flash that lights a lasting fire. Jonathan & Bruce shrewdly took a subgenre that’s been developing for 10 years, put a slogan on it, made it the Next Big Thing and made us its capital. But the sound they built isn’t one of those short-half-life sounds like power pop. It’s an identifiable sound, imitable yet sufficiently diverse to allow infinite variations. The dozens of “generic grunge” bands now playing opening sets at the Off Ramp could form the tourist bedrock of a permanent scene, like the “generic country” bands in small Nashville bars, bringing in the bucks and attention to support more advanced work. If we play our cards right, Seattle could become the Nashville of rock.
BUT NOT IF the forces of repression have their way, as led by our city’s “progressive” political machine. Most mayors like to kiss up to their town’s fastest growing industry, but not ours. From feminist/prohibitionists to the tepid No Nukes concert film, some of the most adamant political liberals were cultural conservatives. Norm Rice wrote the Teen Dance Ordinance as a City Councilmember; as mayor, he’s apparently behind the actions to shut down all-ages concerts and raves and the effort to seize part ownership of RKCNDY. Rice comes from the disciplinarian side of the black middle class, where adults want young people to strive hard at all times and avoid idle temptations like pop music. Rice doesn’t get that the rock scene is a hard-working, industrious bunch of people empowering themselves. He calls himself a “supporter of the arts” while clamping down against Seattle’s first indigenous artform since the ’50s Northwest School painters. He promotes Seattle as a “KidsPlace” while trying to shut young people up.
‘TIL NEXT TIME, be sure to check out the Etiquette of the Underclass exhibit at the ex-Penney’s site on 2nd & Pike (where the real homeless are studiously kept outside), and heed the words of surrealist Francis Picabia: “Beliefs are ideas going bald.”
Christine Kelly in Sassy:
“While watching the inaugural balls, I realized that Hillary Clinton is the Courtney Love of politics. If the people want Kurt (Bill), they gotta take Courtney (Hillary) too. People will accuse Courtney (Hillary) of trying to break up the band with her constant meddling and poisoning influence, even though Courtney (Hillary) has her own band (office). Hillary (Courtney) said provocative things to the press about baking cookies (taking heroin). Courtney (Hillary) was on MTV with her husband. Both chicks have a cute, sassy daughter. There is one major difference: Courtney has too much taste to mix jewel tones like amethyst and royal blue while watching her husband accept an MTV award (get inaugurated).”
Like I said somewhere here, I’m starting to write the major history of the Seattle music scene from ’76 to today. I’ll need to talk to everybody who was a major part of it (players, promoters, ‘zine editors, designers, producers, club people). Write for details. If any of you know the addresses of ex-locals who’ve left town, also write.