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As the Obama Era’s final year begins, we discuss gated lots for people who live in vehicles; plans to legalize extant pot-delivery services; big expansion plans for the Victoria Clipper; and the UW’s plans to raze more of its brutalist old dorms.
It’s been a long time since KEXP morning man John Richards regularly broadcast to Seattle from far-off New York, as part of a co-production deal with a station there.
On Wednesday morning at 9:03 a.m. (for 90.3 FM), he was front n’ center as he played the first song from the station’s ultra-deluxe new studios. (It was Robyn Hitchcock’s “Viva Sea-Tac.”)
The station now occupies 27,000 square feet of the Seattle Center Northwest Rooms. The facility includes a big open office done up in Late Dot-Com style (complete with indoor bike racks), a big “Live Room” performance space, multiple audio and video editing/mixing suites, a second DJ booth for future multiple online streams, showers, a laundry room, and a big open “Gathering Place” that will be partly subleased to a coffee house and record store.
The whole thing cost $15 million, most of which has already been raised.
A formal grand opening will occur at an unannounced future date.
As some of you know, I was a “new wave” DJ on KEXP’s precursor KCMU. It was a much wilder, more freeform outfit then, and it was all volunteer-run. It was based in a tiny space on the third floor of the UW’s Communications Building (whose code in campus documents was CMU); a DJ booth, a second booth for newscasts, and a classroom.
The early KCMU could reach amazing heights of aural beauty, and equally-amazing depths of unlistenability. But that was part of its charm.
But today’s KEXP is an empire. It’s got 40-50 regular employees plus volunteers and specialty-show DJs, and an ongoing annual budget around $6 million.
What has KEXP got that other “public” broadcast radio stations (such as the apparently doomed KPLU) haven’t? Several things, including:
1) Its own “brand.” By producing all its own programming, it’s not simply “the local NPR,” or, worse, as simply “NPR” with the local call letters (and local programming) ignored by listeners.
2) A global reach. KEXP’s both a local broadcaster and a global “streamer,” and raises donations from both audiences. So “Viva Sea-Tac,” with a Brit singer-songwriter fronting a band of Seattle music legends, is an even more appropriate choice for the first song played from the new studio.
Today’s KEXP is a big-time, ambitious operation. Its new space is a postmodern palace.
That’s even more of an achievement at a time when broadcast radio, like so many other “old media” institutions, suffers from shrinking audiences and revenues, leading to cuts and consolidations (cf. KPLU).
But damn, I still miss the old KCMU.
skin yard at kcmu benefit, 1986; posted to youtube by daniel house
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).
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.)
During our three-week-plus blogging absence, one of the events we failed to note was the demise of one of the unsung pop-culture greats, Samuel W. Petrucci. A logo and packaging designer, he worked on everything from the Charleston Chew candy wrapper to a Lassie lunch box. But he’s best known for the logo and box art on the original G.I. Joe dolls, often using himself as a model for Joe’s face. His daughter Lisa Petrucci is a prominent local “pop surrealist” painter and co-owner of Something Weird Video.
imagined audio-book listeners on a train, 1894
Back in the early days of telephones and phonograph records (1894 to be precise), essayist Octave Uzanne claimed “The End of Books” would soon be at hand. Uzanne predicted people would much rather listen to storytellers (with what are now called audio books) than read:
Our eyes are made to see and reflect the beauties of nature, and not to wear themselves out in the reading of texts; they have been too long abused, and I like to fancy that some one will soon discover the need there is that they should be relieved by laying a greater burden upon our ears. This will be to establish an equitable compensation in our general physical economy.
Elsewhere in randomosity:
…fraudulently collecting $11 billion in government aid by recruiting low-income students for the purpose of collecting student aid money. Whistleblowers claim that students graduate loaded with debt and without the means to pay off the loans, which are then paid for with taxpayer dollars.
the reason stick at blogspot
I got a pic of the historic Mudhoney set on the Space Needle Roof on Thursday, but it didn’t quite come out as I’d hoped. Here’s a far better shot by my ol’ pal Charles Peterson (and here’s a link to video of the set):
As it happens, both the band and its longtime record label Sub Pop are 25 years old. The latter’s celebrating its milestone all day Saturday in Georgetown.
Thursday’s gig was an all-afternoon live affair on KEXP, including two opening solo-acoustic acts and DJs and interviews with Sub Pop personnel past and present downstairs on the Needle’s observation deck.
KEXP had its own 40th anniversary last fall, but waited until today to hold an all-hands reunion party at the Sunset in Ballard.
For those who tuned in late, KEXP (renamed at the behest of onetime funder Paul Allen) began as KCMU, part of the UW’s School of Communications (“CMU” was the UW’s course-code prefix for Communications classes).
That’s where I DJ’d a little show of party tunes with Robin Dolan, then went on to my own shift, modestly entitled “Broadcast Radio of the Air.”
Ran into a lot of the old gang at the Sunset. Along with much of the station’s current team, including John Richards and Kevin Cole (again, sorry for the bad snapshot quality).
Also there was Faith Henschel-Ventrello, one of the old KCMU gang. She now does big event planning in Calif. but is back to work on the Sub Pop jubilee shindig.
Seeing these old station newsletters, stickers, T-shirts, and a box of LPs from its early vinyl collection (complete with DJ-scrawled “Yes!” endorsements), and meeting all these onetime champions of youth culture now propelled inexorably into adulthood (if not into “maturity”), really made me feel like (1) we’d been on the ground floor of something that became mighty, and (2) damn I’m old.