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Most of my hip art-world friends have long sneered at Seafair.
Too “Family” with a capital F.
Too unlike anything that would be done in NY/LA/SF.
As if those were somehow bad things.
But nowadays, this city needs all the legacy, all the history, and (yes) all the squareness it can keep out of the gentrifiers’ Rolex-wristed clutches.
We need our own homegrown racing sport, rooted in tinkerers building boats around surplus WWII airplane engines.
We need public education, and spectacles that celebrate it.
We need honest shows of support for even the most basic of community functions.
We need to remember the human groups that first made this place what it is.
We need to publicly honor all the peoples that make up this city and this region.
So don’t knock Seafair.
(Except the Blue Angels. Feel free to bash them. They’re just too damn militaristic.)
I know I’ve been taking however many of you are reading this back to memory lane a lot lately. But indulge me a few more times, please, including this time.
This time, it’s back to a weekend day in June 1981.
I went straight from my UW commencement ceremony, still possessing my cap and gown, and went to a planning meeting in a Wallingford rental house.
Also there were Daina Darzin, Maire Masco, and Dennis White.
We were starting a punk rock zine, to overcome what we all thought was The Rocket’s excessive commercialism. (Yeah, I know.)
The result was called Desperate Times.
It lasted for six tabloid issues, before Darzin effectively ended it by returning to New York, where she’d previously lived.
(And yes, like so many New Yorkers, she absolutely KNEW how everyone ought to think and behave. And if they thought or behaved in a non-New Yorkish way, then that thought or behavior automatically sucked.)
I had at least one piece in each of the six issues. The most affecting, albeit in a very indirect way, was in the first issue. I asked readers to write in mentioning the band they hated the most. (A cheap “comment bait” trick, it would now be called.)
It got a response all right.
That response came from one Mark McLaughlin, then a student at Bellevue Christian High School. He wrote that he loved the simple repetitive music of Philip Glass, and hated Mr. Epp and the Calculations. (“Pure grunge. Pure shit.”)
This, I continue to insist, was the first documented use of that six-letter word to describe a Seattle punk band.
And it was the first print mention of Mr. Epp, McLaughlin’s own band (of course).
One night shortly after that, Masco found McLaughlin on the streets downtown, pasting up flyers for a fictional gig by Mr. Epp, which at the time was mostly a fictional band (named after a favorite math teacher). Masco persuaded McLaughlin to stage real gigs.
For the next three nearly three years, Darren “Mor-X” Morray, Jeff “Jo Smitty” Smith, and Mark “Arm” McLaughlin gigged and recorded under the Mr. Epp name.
Arm, of course, went on to Green River and then to Mudhoney, famously performing on top of the Space Needle for Sub Pop’s 25th anniversary in 2013.
Darzin became a scribe for Billboard and other high falutin’ rags.
White and Masco started the short-lived Pravda Records label (not the Chicago firm of the same name).
White now runs another indie music label, “dadastic! sounds.”
Masco took a long hiatus from “creative” endeavors.
But now she’s back with a book collecting every issue of Desperate Times, from full-size high-quality digital scans.
Some thoughts on looking at these pages nearly 3.5 decades later:
The music discussed, well a large part of it anyway, still stands up.
The writing and the graphic design are of their time and of the milieu. That is to say, they’re brash, un-slick, and occasionally immature. But that was part of the whole aesthetic of the period. This was before “desktop publishing.” The text was created on typewriters. The headlines were created with press-type lettering. It was DIY Or Die, and it expresses the emotional states of its content better than anything in Adobe InDesign ever could.
Masco is selling the book online and at a few select local shops.
Masco’s been living in Tacoma in recent years, with a guy who knows a thing or two about graphic design, and who’s not shy about sharing what he knows.
I’ve written several times in the past about Art Chantry. How he played a critical role in creating my book Loser (itself coming back later this year). How he did most of the grunt work in bringing “punk rock graphics” and poster art beyond the deliberately “amateur” style seen in Desperate Times and toward something that was “professional” but NOT corporate. He took his obsessive research into design schticks high and lowbrow, industrial and “artistic,” and created a whole new visual vocabulary.
In recent years, Chantry’s been spreading his vast knowledge and sharp opinions about the design profession (actually, he thinks of it as more of a “trade”) on his Facebook feed.
Now he’s collected some 50 of these essays in the book Art Chantry Speaks: A Heretic’s History of 20th Century Graphic Design.
The format of self-contained short essays, on different but related topics, works well with the disparate roots of Chantry’s visual aesthetic and career philosophy.
He finds inspiration in everything from monster-movie magazines to industrial-supply catalogs, from trade magazines to Broadway show posters, from hot-rod customizers to girlie magazines.
Unlike the late Andy Warhol (to whom he dedicates a praise-filled chapter), Chantry appreciates commercial design without feeling the need to dress it up in “fine art” trappings.
Indeed, Chantry openly and repeatedly scoffs at such trappings.
He upends the “official” history of graphic design, which treats it as a top-down profession dominated by Manhattan designers and ad agencies.
Instead, he sees it as a bottom-up, working-stiffs’ trade, originating with sign painters, printers, and other craftspeople. It’s a living tradition, re-created and adapted everywhere. It’s something that’s both populist and commercial at once. It expresses social and individual values, even as it overtly tries to sell stuff (products, politicians, religions, etc).
And, just as American pop/rock music absorbed and mutated everything that came before it, Chantry’s personal aesthetic absorbed and mutated everything he’d learned to love in the various arts of visual/verbal persuasion.
You won’t find any images of Chantry’s own works in Art Chantry Speaks. For that, look up Some People Can’t Surf: The Graphic Design of Art Chantry, written in 2001 by Julie Lasky. There, you’ll see his famous posters for bands, film screenings, and condom-awareness campaigns; his cover art for The Rocket; and his many record covers and band/label logos.
But, just as there are now drinking-age people who weren’t alive when Nirvana last performed, many of the various production techniques Chantry’s essays discuss have become lost to time, from the lead-cast “hot type” of letterpress to the photo-strip “cold type” of manual pasteup pages.
And much printed ephemera itself (magazines, newspapers, cheap paperbacks, recorded music on physical media, etc.) has declined or disappeared in the digital age.
But Chantry’s observations are still important in our current era, when even web page design is considered an obsolete line of work.
Typography, illustration, color theory, and layout are all part of the visual vocabulary of our world. There are reasons why all these arts developed the way they did.
And, just as many young adults have discovered the great music of the 1980s and ’90s Chantry’s idiosyncratic views about these can teach timeless principles about how things look (or ought to look).
an early amazon home page, via onemonthrails.com
One month ago, I asked you to turn back your mental clocks to the summer of 1995.
It was a time when Seattle still had a men’s pro basketball team and two daily newspapers. It was a time when Seattle bands still ruled the recorded-music sales charts (and a time when people still bought recorded music).
And, as I’d mentioned last month, it was a time when the whole World Wide Web thang was new and full of possibilities. Wired magazine’s pundits (a homogenous gang of “Grateful Dead fiscal conservatives”) lauded the dawn of a new golden age for media, the arts, medicine, and business opportunities unfettered by either governments or by the physical laws of planet Earth.
Amid all this hype, many “dot com” startups began.
Many of those ventures burned out in one to five years, having run out of money before they could turn a cool domain name into a viable business model.
There are (or were) websites devoted to chronicling the demises of other websites. Many of those obituary sites are also now defunct.
One of those first-generation dot-coms, however, has continued to live, and to expand in all directions like a wild Northwest blackberry bush.
And it’s done this without turning a real profit for most of its 20 years in existence.
Amazon.com Inc. has a lot of very patient investors. That, and its famous aggressive approach to everything it does (under such internal slogans as “Get Big Fast” and “It’s Always Day One”) turned it into one of the nation’s top 10 “technology” companies.
My readers here in Seattle don’t have to be told what Amazon has done for and/or to the city.
It’s brought thousands of swaggering “Code Ninja” programmer doodz into town (often for just one or two years), who’ve reshaped the local nightlife and bar industries while threatening the longstanding civic image of “Seattle Nice.”
It’s helped to accelerate the hyper-inflation of housing prices and the replacement of so many cool low-rise buildings.
It’s reshaped the Cascade (er, “South Lake Union”) neighborhood with its office buildings, and is doing the same to Belltown.
It’s made what was already one of America’s biggest book-buying burgs into a top center of gravity for book distribution and even publishing.
In the larger world, it’s become both loved and hated, often for the same things.
Along with most tech-centric companies, it’s been chided for its low hiring of non-white and non-male employees.
It’s become a symbol of economic inequality, paying many programmers six-figure salaries while being far less generous to its warehouse staffs.
Along with previous 500-lb. gorillas of bookselling (B. Dalton, Borders, etc.), it’s feared and despised by much of the old NYC publishing elite. Like those companies did before it, Amazon has been accused of setting its terms and expecting publishers to fall into line.
With the Kindle, it finally turned e-book reader devices into a real business. It helped to generate an explosion in online self-publishing, facilitating tens of thousands of author-entrepreneurs (who get nervous every time Amazon changes its terms).
Kindle, and the privacy it affords to its users, also helped turn “women’s erotica” into a major commercial genre.
In just about every other category of e-commerce, it’s instilled fear into competitors who don’t have the luxury of doing business for years without profits.
I shouldn’t describe Amazon as completely without profit.
It’s earning healthy margins on Amazon Web Services (AWS), its computing-services division, providing Internet “cloud” servers for other companies, including Netflix (a rival to Amazon’s own streaming-video venture), Spotify, and Instagram.
AWS’s web-page serving business is so big, and some of its clients are themselves so big, that up to one-third of U.S. Internet traffic at certain times of the day comes from AWS-hosted sites.
Another part of what AWS does is a modern, broadband-enabled version of what Boeing’s Computer Services division or Ross Perot’s old EDS company did—crunch numbers and process data for organizations that need stuff done by big computers, but don’t need to own their own big computers to get them done.
That business is almost certainly here to stay.
As for all the other big and little parts of this huge outfit, it all depends.
It can continue to “Get Big Fast” in new venture after new venture, as long as its shareholders (who include a lot of its own top employees, past and present) remain patient.
If they don’t, or if a raider like Carl Ichan muscles into the scene, Amazon might one day have to sell or drop some of its costlier or newer lines of business, raise prices and “Prime” membership fees, pause some of its ginormous office-building plans, hold back on some new projects, and shed some of its 20,000 staff in the Seattle area (out of some 165,000 worldwide).
And if that happens, you could see a local recession comparable to the 1970 Boeing Bust.
You might claim you’d like to see Amazon’s influence on Seattle wane. But a crash would hurt a lot of people.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss some of the things I’ve been doing this past 10 months when I mostly haven’t been blogging.
They include what one might call Internet research rabbit holes, obsessions with obscure corners of pop-culture arcana.
One of these obsessions is a “rabbit hole” in more ways than one.
It starts with something everybody knows, even if it hasn’t been at the pop-cult forefront in recent years.
Warner Bros.’ classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons haven’t been on broadcast TV in years. The one basic cable channel they’ve been on, Cartoon Network, had lately only shown them on weekday mornings, and only when that time slot wasn’t being used to rerun some Tom & Jerry or Scooby-Doo direct-to-video movie. CN’s not showing them at all now. You have to pay extra for CN’s premium-tier channel Boomerang to see these timeless classics.
Even worse for longtime fans, no LT/MM shorts have been issued on DVD (aside from reissues) since late last year. With the industry-wide collapse of disc sales, Warner Home Video has put any future digital remasters of old cartoons on hold.
The prolific WB cartoon studio made some 1,005 “classic” theatrical shorts over 40 years. Approximately 450 of them have yet to be digitally restored. A lot of those look really dingy in the old TV prints seen online.
Oh yeah: Almost all the LT/MM shorts can be found in unofficial online uploads. WB has gotten some of them removed from YouTube, but they just pop up on more obscure sites. (WB could put them up officially, and get whatever ad revenue there is to get, but mostly hasn’t.)
While I was on my last extended “blog vacation” earlier this year, I set out to watch every darned one of the not-on-DVD Warner cartoons. About half of them feature the studio’s “A list” characters (Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Tweety, etc.). Some of them (in the uploaded versions from old TV prints) look good enough to go on disc as is. Others look dingy, faded, and lo-res.
To keep the LT/MM “franchise” (and its lucrative merchandising) alive, WB needs to (at least) make new digital transfers of these not-on-DVD shorts, from the best existing film materials. This would make the films more viable in today’s hi-def era, for release on broadcast, cable, on-demand, streaming, and download “platforms,” as well as on disc. Perhaps some of the less “commercial” entries (the ones with minor or one-shot characters) could receive less of the labor-intensive digital retouching that was used for the DVD releases.
At the same time as I was re-viewing all those films, I also started to research the music used in them.
The studio’s great music directors, Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn, incorporated more than 500 pre-existing compositions into their cartoon scores. They ranged from classical and folk pieces, to contemporary hits and songs from Warner feature films, to obscurities that had originally been published as sheet music for silent-music accompanists.
With the aid of several existing online lists of the “sampled” compositions, I put together a YouTube playlist of most of them. It’s currently up to 434 entries. They’re all records or film clips of the original tunes—not the cartoon excerpts of them.
If you know them only from the cartoon versions (and you probably do), you’re in for a few surprises:
Warner might be mismanaging one of its most valuable assets; but other parties remain determined to keep the cartoons in the public eye.
They include the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, founded by the Spokane boy who became the most famous of the studio’s several cartoon directors.
The Jones Center and the Jones heirs, along with the Smithsonian’s “touring exhibits” division, created What’s Up, Doc?: The Animated Art of Chuck Jones. It’s now at the EMP Museum in Seattle.
It’s got dozens of original art pieces and artifacts from Jones’s Warner, MGM, and indie films.
It’s got one of his most famous works, What’s Opera, Doc?, playing continuously (it never gets tiresome); plus a mysterious minute and a half of music recorded for “unproduced scenes” in that classic. (Wonder what they would have been?)
It’s got excerpts from several other Jones films (and one Tex Avery WB short, the defining Bugs Bunny film A Wild Hare), on flat-screen monitors around the exhibit space.
It’s got a few spots where you can take photos of one another alongside life-size cartoon props, such as under a “precariously” suspended prop anvil. (Photography’s forbidden in the rest of the exhibit.)
It’s got meticulous explanations and documentation about the now-threatened art of 2D animation.
And it’s got plenty of words, pictures, and video footage about Jones (1912-2002).
Besides hundreds of one-reel films for theaters, Jones also worked on TV specials, instructional films, and a couple of animated features (Gay Purr-ee and The Phantom Tollbooth).
At Warner he created his own characters (the Road Runner and Coyote, Pepe le Pew) and developed characters created by or with other directors (Bugs, Daffy, Sylvester).
Later, he adapted works by Dr. Seuss, Walt (Pogo) Kelly, Rudyard Kipling, and his former Warner colleague Frank Tashlin, adjusting all of their individual artistic visions to his own.
Thematically, Jones’ films ranged from Disney-esque sentiment to violent slapstick and back again. Stylistically, they ranged from slick “realism” to almost pure abstraction (and, in his version of Norman Juster’s story The Dot and the Line, total abstraction).
And while many animators were/are soft spoken and shy creatures, Jones was an inveterate and articulate self-promoter. He made books and documentaries about his works. He gave many interviews to animation historians, sometimes embellished for entertainment’s sake.
And with the exhibit, his take on “the art of animation” has an immersible, walk-through incarnation. Viewers get to enjoy the finished films, and to learn in grit-detail about each of the many components that went into them.
Can this help revive interest in “analog” animation?
And, just as importantly, can it help rescue the classic WB shorts from extra-tier-cable-channel purgatory?
pike place market foundation
When KIRO-TV posted architectural drawings for a “new entrance” to the Pike Place Market in early March, a lot of social-media commenters were outraged. Why, they asked, would anyone rip out such an historic Seattle landmark?
“Why the hell are Seattle (and Tacoma) so hell bent on destroying their history and character?” one commenter wrote. “It is the most short sighted move imaginable.”
“I wish they’d just leave it alone” wrote another commenter. “Tourists can go see modern shopping malls in any town, but our Market is unique. Leave it alone!”
These commenters were at least partly mistaken.
The drawings KIRO showed on TV and posted on its social-media feeds didn’t depict a replacement to the current Market complex but an addition to it.
The Market everyone knows and loves, to the tune of 10 million visits a year, is staying put.
The new buildings will go to the west of the current Market buildings, between Western Avenue and the doomed Alaskan Way Viaduct. A surface parking lot is there now. (The last structure on that site, the Municipal Market Building, was demolished in 1974 following a fire.)
Besides new retail and commercial spaces, the project will also include a community center, 40 low-income-senior apartments, a 300-car parking garage (replacing parking spaces that will be lost when the viaduct’s removed), and a new pedestrian promenade, leading down to the new waterfront project that will eventually replace the viaduct.
Indeed, state money from the waterfront project is contributing $6 million of the estimated $74 million tab for the “MarketFront” expansion. City bonds will supply the biggest chunk of the project’s budget, $34 million.
The Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority, the Market’s management agency, also hopes to raise $6 million through “philanthropy.”
The affiliated Pike Place Market Foundation is selling little doodads with donors’ names on them, to be permanently built into the MarketFront structures. There are black metal discs called “Market Charms” for $180, to be installed along a chain-link fence. And there are bronze pig hoofprints (referencing Rachel, the Market’s beloved bronze piggy bank) for $5,000, to be placed along the Western Avenue sidewalk. Both are considerably higher-priced than the $35 donors paid for inscribed floor tiles during the Market renovations in 1985.
The foundation and the PDA believe Seattle now has enough people who have, and are willing to donate, that kind of money.
And the PDA and its architects also apparently believe the new addition should also look like something that fits in with this new-money Seattle.
The PDA held the usual public meetings and “input” sessions about the MarketFront buildings’ design and uses. The PDA says the public comments at these sessions helped to influence the MarketFront design, which now incorporates hard woods and other special cladding materials to add a little more “old Northwest” flavor, but in a slick retro-modern way.
And, unlike some of the first renderings for the waterfront project, the MarketFront drawings depict a few nonwhite people among the imagined sunny-day strollers.
But the overall look of the architects’ drawings still reflects a modern, “tasteful” look, with clean straight lines, light neutral colors, and open uncluttered spaces.
The original Market, of course, doesn’t look a thing like that.
It’s beautifully, lovably cluttered.
It contrasts World War I-era structures with buildings of 1970s-1980s vintage, which all somehow fit together.
It’s got weird angles, varying ceiling heights, and ramps and stairs and concourses of different widths.
It’s got garish signage, loud noises, boisterous crowds, and great smells.
It’s both utilitarian and archaic, businesslike and freewheeling. It’s a total sensual experience.
MarketFront might eventually become like that after it’s been “lived in” for a few years.
But that, if MarketFront is built according to the current design drawings, could take quite some time.
The PDA and the City want to start MarketFront construction this year, so it (and its parking garage) can be completed before the viaduct is removed. An official groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for late June.
But with the well-publicized delays in building the tunnel that would replace the viaduct, there’s a little more time before the elevated highway comes down.
There’s time to redo the MarketFront plans. Time to make the buildings and concourses messier, less McMansion-like, more cacophonous.
Time to give it something at least vaguely approaching that Pike Place funk.
(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)
letterman with seattle comix legend lynda barry, 1988
Either the first or the second most famous ex-Mariners co-owner (before or after Danny Kaye) ends late night TV’s longest run (almost 33 and a half years, between two networks) tonight.
Besides having been an investor in the Ms during the baseball team’s disastrous George Argyros era, he often had locally-connected guests over the years, including Foo Fighters as the official last guests on the last show, and Eddie Vedder on Monday’s third-to-last show. (Also: Lynda Barry (above), Soundgarden, Bill Nye, Joel McHale, Kyle MacLachlan, Artis the Spoonman, Sean Nelson’s band Harvey Danger, and especially the late Seattle-born comedian George Miller.)
Some commentators have pointed out that his NBC Late Night series (and especially his short-lived NBC morning show, which never aired in Seattle) were landmarks in conceptual humor (as masterminded by original head writer Merrill Markoe).
Some of these same critics complain that his act on CBS has morphed into a real version of his onetime grumpy-old-guy character, the one with the catch phrase “Get off my lawn.'”
It had been clear for some time that Letterman had accomplished all on TV that he ever would; but that he was determined to stick around until his onetime pal Jay Leno left (for good) first. Once that finally happened, Letterman announced his own retirement. That was followed in short order by the ends of Chelsea Lately, The Colbert Report (a post-“idiot”-character version of Colbert takes over from Letterman on CBS this fall), The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, and soon The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.
(All this has happened while, in the eyes of some industry watchers, online streaming is allegedly “killing traditional TV.”)
It was also clear that Letterman had ceased even pretending to care about the showbiz-hype rituals that are the state religion of late-night talk; leaving a sincere (if borderline-pandering) appreciation for a certain few celebrity pals and longtime frequent guests. These people have populated the Late Show guest roster during this almost year-long “farewell tour,” an exercise in mawkishness that just kept getting mawkish-er as the finale approached.
And the whole hip-irony shtick he’d popularized back then has become one of the native tongues of marketing and advertising, in all its air-quotes smarm.
As of Thursday, the longest-serving hosts still in late night will be (1) Conan O’Brien (who’d originally replaced Letterman at NBC) and (2) Jimmy Kimmel.
Letterman’s leaving the public stage means I’ll now probably never get to ask him what, if anything, he remembered about Frances Farmer. He and the ill-fated Seattle-born film actress were each on Indianapolis local TV, albeit at different times.
I do know a guy who’d studied drama with Letterman (and future Three’s Company star Joyce DeWitt) at Indy’s Ball State U. This guy had remembered Farmer’s TV show, but alas not much about it; only that she’d been a low-rent Loretta Young introducing creaky old movies in the afternoons.
When I took an unplanned, unscheduled blog break last summer, I also neglected maintenance on the web links at the left side of this page.
I’ve gone back to some of them today.
Turns out I’m not the only one who just drifted away from writing on the Web.
Plenty of the links that had been on this page now lead to “404 Not Found” alerts, or to other enterprises altogether.
Then there were the sites that, like mine for much of last year, were neither closed nor updated.
I’ve removed most of them from the link list.
But there are a couple of more ambitious group sites that I wish would come back:
If their reasons for going away are anything like mine were, these sites’ operators simply had other lives, other things to do (or attempt to do). Continuing to send words and/or pictures out into the ether (or the cloud), with little to no compensation or hope of any, just ain’t something some people want to keep doing forever.
In other words, today’s Web 2.0 status quo isn’t just killing most of the “old media” industries.
It’s also killing creativity in its own online “space.”
via the hollywood reporter
Once again, I’ve fallen behind on my idealized blog posting rate. And not for any good reason. (Though I am working on a new (kinda-sorta) project, to be announced at a later date.)
It’s sure not for a lack of things to write about. Goodness knows, dudes n’ dudettes are always suggesting those.
Here are some of the topics I could have blogged about in recent days:
yep, she married the guy in the top picture.
usa today chart listing the odds of a seahawk victory in the nfc championship game at one percent
Of course, I have to write about the Seahawks Miracle Win in Sunday’s NFC championship game.
Even if I don’t have much new to add about it.
You already know the story (or rather, the instant legend):
For most of the game, the Seahawks’ offense could no nothing right. (The team’s only score through three quarters had come from special teams, on a fake field goal executed for a surprise touchdown.)
Then with the clock inexorably winding down toward certain doom, Russell Wilson and co. suddenly could do everything right.
With impossible play after impossible play, they got a touchdown, a successful onside kick, another touchdown, and a two-point conversion, taking a three-point lead with less than a minute and a half left.
After the Packers re-tied it with a field goal in the last minute of regulation, the Seahawks won the coin toss for the first possession in overtime. Then they quickly scored a sudden-death touchdown to win it all, send the Seahawks to their second consecutive Super Bowl Game (the first time in more than a decade any team did that), and cause more jubilation all the way up First Avenue and throughout the region.
KOMO’s Eric Johnson calls it “not a game, but a metaphor for life.”
So what lessons could be learned from it? Perhaps these:
this year's space needle fireworks were sponsored by t-mobile and heavily emphasized the color 't-mobile magenta.'
As promised previously, MISCmedia is back for two-ought-one-five with a new commitment to try and make sense (or at least document the nonsense) of Life in the Demitasse Size City.
To start things off, and for the 29th consecutive year (really!), we proudly present the MISCmedia In/Out List, the most trusted (and only accurate) list of its kind in this and all other known media relay systems.
As always, this list operates under the premise that the future is not necessarily linear. It compiles what will become torrid and tepid in the coming year, not necessarily what’s torrid and tepid now. If you believe everything hot now will just keep getting hotter, I’ve got some RadioShack stock to sell you.
76th and aurora, 1953; seattle municipal archive
Seems every week, something important from this once fair little seaport city is taken away from us in the name of density, development, or “disruption.”
Cool old bars and restaurants and shops, yes. But also a men’s pro basketball team, a daily newspaper, a radio host, a live theater space.
And the new things that replace the old things tend to be costlier, louder, hoity-toity-er. Dive bars get turned into upscale bistros; cheap apartments become luxury condos.
For someone who came of age loving the old Seattle, for all its faults and limitations, today’s city seems more and more like an alien land.
The Soul of Seattle is a hard thing to define, and different people have defined it differently. But this is how I define it.
Seattle’s soul is not loud or pushy. It doesn’t scream at you to order you to love it.
It’s quiet and confident; yes, to the point of dangerously smug self-satisfaction.
Yet it’s also funny in a self-deprecating way. Seattle’s sense of quirky humor can be seen in Ivar Haglund, J.P. Patches, John Keister, the Young Fresh Fellows’ songs, the comic art of Jim Woodring and The Oatmeal.
It believes in beauty, in many forms. The delicate curves and perfect proportions of the Space Needle; the slippery warmth of a bag of Dick’s fries; the modest elegance of a Craftsman bungalow.
It believes in old fashioned showmanship. The fringe theaters of the ’70s and ’80s; the burlesque troupes of the ’90s; the alternative circus acts of the 2000s.
It believes in old fashioned fun. Boat races; cream cheese on hot dogs; tiki parties; comics conventions.
Yet it also believes in schmoozing and in deal making. Boeing got on such good terms ith the airlines of the world that Lockheed never sustained. Microsoft made deals to put MS-DOS and Office on almost every desktop computer.
And it believes in civic progress, however it’s defined. It created monuments to its own “arrival” (the Smith Tower, the Olympic Hotel, the Century 21 Exposition). It built public spaces more beautiful than they had to be (the UW campus, the Volunteer Park Conservatory). It leveled hills, filled in tide flats, raised streets, lowered Lake Washington, and put up parks everywhere from freeway airspace to an old naval base.
There are several places around town where this Soul of Seattle still lives and even thrives.
Here are just a few of them:
(Cross posted with City Living Seattle.)
Bertha, the humungous deep-bore (or deeply boring) tunnel digging machine, is still stuck under the ground, and won’t resume creating an underground Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement highway until perhaps some time next year.
But that delay won’t stop the rest of the total central-waterfront makeover from going forward.
A new seawall (which won’t protect us from long-term rising sea levels) will resume construction any month now, following a summer hiatus.
And the planning stages for a post-viaduct remake of Alaskan Way’s real estate, combining a surface street with a mile-long pedestrian/recreational “promenade,” continue apace.
At the end of May, the Seattle Office of the Waterfront (waterfrontseattle.org) released a new set of drawings and paintings depicting the project’s latest plans.
Unlike the project organizers’ previous set of sketches, which some online pundits snarked at for depicting all lily-white citizens enjoying the sights, these new illustrations show a healthy variety of skin tones on their make-believe happy citizens.
But the images still depict sizable groups of adults and kids walking about and enjoying sunny, warm days near Elliott Bay.
Days which, as anyone who actually lives here knows, are both precious and rare.
What would this landscaped playground look like the rest of the time?
It would probably look as barren and windswept and unpopulated as the waterfront mostly looks now during the wintertime, only prettier. (Which would, at least, make it friendlier to early-morning joggers and bicycle commuters.)
And, unlike some of the Waterfront Project’s earlier conceptual images, these new paintings don’t make the place seem too precious, too upscale, too (to use a far overused term these days) “world class.”
This is good.
It’s not so good that the fictional laid-back and mellow waterfront enjoyers in the images aren’t doing much of anything.
One image shows some kids splashing around a set of small, floor-level fountains (officially called a “water feature element”) at the planned Union Street Pier (to be built between the Great Wheel and the Seattle Aquarium).
Another image shows a few mellow aging-hipster couples (apparently all hetero) waltzing to the tunes of a small acoustic combo at the same Union Street site at dusk (with the “water feature element” turned off).
Otherwise, the fantasized open-space enjoyers are seen mostly just standing, sitting, strolling, bicycling, and talking on cell phones.
We don’t need a civic “front lawn;” the Olympic Sculpture Park already serves that function.
We need a civic “back yard.”
If we can’t have industry on the central waterfront in the container-cargo age, we can at least have industrious leisure there.
I want (at least seasonally) food trucks and hot dog carts, art fairs and circus/vaudeville acts. I want a summer concert series like the waterfront had years ago. I want a roller coaster to complement the Seattle Great Wheel, and smaller amusement attractions and rides nearby (finally replacing Seattle Center’s sorely missed Fun Forest).
Some of these events and attractions would require ongoing funding. The Waterfront Project doesn’t have that funding authority; its duty is only to design and build the promenade and to rebuild piers 62-63, using a part of the funding for the viaduct replacement.
So activities in this area, along the promenade and the rebuilt piers 62/63, would need to be supported separately. The Seattle Parks Department is having enough trouble supporting its current operations. But a semi-commercial amusement area, with concession and ride operators paying franchise fees, could support a variety of warm-weather-season activities and at least some off-season events.
After last Saturday’s Fremont Solstice Parade, I met up with an acquaintance who asked if this spectacle wasn’t the greatest possible statement against corporate America or something like that.
I told her no, not really.
Hedonism, in and of itself, is not a terribly effective counterforce to consumer capitalism.
“The market” can easily ingest any image or genre of recreational “rebellion,” transform it into something completely commercial, then sell it back to you for big money. (For recent examples, witness the playgrounds of the cyber-rich known as Burning Man and Coachella.)
Above, we see a “political” parade entry. Big business is stereotyped as an octopus in a suit, with big, money-stuffed, claw-shaped hands at the end of each tentacle. Assisting him is an old rabbit-eared TV set, that eternal lefty symbol of all that is supposed to be inherently evil in the media.
This is not to say there wasn’t plenty to contemplate about at the parade and fair.
Or that fun and pleasure are not good things to promote.
The Fremont Parade is like one of author Peter Lamborn Wilson’s old fantasized “temporary autonomous zones.” It’s a place where, for one afternoon a year, the rules of social repression (and clothes-wearing) are suspended; where free expression (albeit within its own set of rules) is championed. A place where a different way of life can, for a while, be imagined.
Actually creating a better world for real takes a different set of disciplines.
My ex-UW Daily editor (and proud Armenian-American) Suki Dardarian is the latest SeaTimes leading light to leave the Bore on Boren (née Fairview Fanny). She’s now a senior managing editor at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
She’d been a managing editor here, until SeaTimes management transferred her out of the daily deadlines and into the position of “strategist on audience development and community engagement.”
Her hubby (and fellow Daily vet) Peter Callaghan, currently one of the best remaining reporters about Wash. state government, will join Dardarian in Flour City upon the end of his current contract with the Tacoma News Tribune.
Yep, this li’l venture in snarky commenting and pseudo-intellectual aggrandizing has gone on now for one score years plus eight. Slightly over half my life.
The last few months, I know, I’ve been away from the site a lot.
It’s not that there hasn’t been a plethora of potential subject matter, both on the local front (the waterfront tunnel machine’s woes, the rise of jocks-with-laptops aka “brogrammers,” the ugly new buildings going up everywhere) and the national-p0p-culture front (weird crimes, dumb online “meme” obsessions, the ongoing collapse of almost all professionally-made media genres).
It’s just that the site/column’s “persona” isn’t a personality mode I’ve been into lately.
For the past two years, ever since my mother’s death, I’ve been forced to scramble and hustle just to keep a roof over my head.
Some acquaintances and friends have understood this.
Others have just told me, why don’t I just write full time? They offer “cool” book ideas, imagining that that’s a viable substitute for the real job I tell them I really need. They tell me to just “do what you love” and “don’t worry about the money.”
But I do have to worry about the money. (Despite the occasional rumors over the years, I’m not, and have never been, independently wealthy.)
And I’m working on that, on several fronts.
Among them are two new projects in the “writing” line, neither of which I’m ready to announce right now.
Watch this space for further details.