at the Mix in Georgetown performing “Half Past You.” Featuring, from left: Curt Eckman, bass; Ron Rudzitis, guitar/vocals; Ben Ireland, drums; Kevin Whitworth, guitar.
The following quotes relate to British music critic Everett True’s role in perpetrating the mythological Sub Pop back story, the one where the label framed their bands as backwoods savants.
Nirvana biographer Charles R. Cross: “Then you have bozos like Everett True who played into that…” (from Mark Yarm’s Everybody Loves Our Town)
Everett True: “I came in for a little bit of belated criticism on that…from that bozo Charles Cross.” (from my interview with Everett True)
Let me preface this by saying I’ve heard book signing horror stories where no one shows up…
My publicist set up a signing yesterday at Penn State, my alma mater. I was of course excited for the trip (about 3 hours or so from Philly), since I thought I’d chat with students about the book and my connection to Penn State. As a student, I covered sports for the Daily Collegian, the University’s newspaper.
The day before, I called the bookstore manager and asked if he might have an electrical outlet I could use. I wanted to play some music, as well as some interview snippets to go along with the reading. He said yes. Cool.
On Friday, I arrived at the Penn State Bookstore, along with my friend Joe, for what I thought would be a reading and signing. As we entered the store, we noticed a table with books and a poster…where apparently I’d be signing. One problem, though: no chairs, no gathering place for a reading. So, I chatted with the store manager. Apparently, they don’t have “readings” per se…authors just come in and sign books…but he had an outlet for me! So, Joe and I sat down behind the table for the scheduled 1 to 3 pm event.
I set up my speakers, figuring I could at least play some tunes. I started out with some Young Fresh Fellows and Screaming Trees. And we waited. And waited. A few students walked by, occasionally glancing up from their smart phones, but they didn’t stop. Joe suggested I play some more popular stuff, so I put on some tracks from Nevermind. One young lady walked by and commented, “Great song” as I was playing “In Bloom.” It didn’t make her stop, though.
The bookstore manager then announced over the PA: ”Author Stephen Toe will be signing books about grunge today.” Nothing.
We both began to get bored. I texted my publicist. She mentioned how Rosanne Cash had a signing set up at a Walmart, I think, and apparently nobody recognized her or stopped by…so she began tweeting “crickets” over and over. Inspired, I tweeted “crickets,” “more crickets,” and “even more crickets.” That relieved the tedium for about 30 seconds.
Tiring of playing Seattle music, I cued up other stuff randomly…Bowie, Who, Zeppelin, etc. A lady stopped over, apparently enjoying one of my selections. She said, “That’s nice. Did you write about that band?” It was Vampire Weekend.
2 pm passed and I asked my publicist if I could leave early. “No,” she said.
2:30. Joe started to climb the walls. He said, “Hey, maybe you can tell the store manager you have to leave early because your wife is ill (she actually was under the weather.)” As I got up, another announcement came over the PA, “Author Stephen Toe will be signing books…” Fuck. So, I sat back down.
A few minutes later, a student stopped over and bought a book. Yes!
At 3 pm, we packed up and drove back to Philly. I bought a copy of the Centre Daily Times, the local paper that had an article about the event. That purchase pretty much ate up the royalties I earned on this trip.
I wonder if Edward Shrew would have done better?
Stone’s brother Scott (Gosssard) was also in Pearl Jam…and I believe there’s a t-shirt that says, “Skin Yard is two fucking words!” Other than that, I think the review pretty much nails it.
And this media announcement about an upcoming signing… Should there also be a t-shirt that says, “Mudhoney is one fucking word!”?
After returning home from Seattle for last week’s The Strangest Tribe launch, I presented my first Philadelphia area reading at the University of Pennsylvania bookstore. As expected, the vibe was much different from last week’s Seattle panel Q&A…this audience did not consist of former scenesters. This atmosphere was a bit more casual, set in a corner next to the café.
I opened with the “four Seattle myths” as I call them: 1) Nirvana invented grunge; 2) Seattle is all about grunge; 3) the famous Seattle bands constituted grunge; and 4) Seattle and grunge are so serious. I segued into that wonderful Northwest humor and the sort of laughing at the absurd…which led me to the U-Men 1985 Bumbershoot story—the one where they set a moat on fire after their performance, and then joked about it. I also mentioned a band that “killed” off one of its members to get publicity, a story where the Young Fresh Fellows opened for themselves wearing wigs, and talked about the creation of the fictional TAD backwoods savant story. I then played a clip of Mudhoney’s Mark Arm recalling his participation in Mr. Epp and the Calculations, a fictional band that became real.
We did talk about the elephant in the room–Nirvana–and their impact on Seattle after they went nuclear. Then, it was time for questions.
One attendee asked about camaraderie within the Seattle music community. Specifically, he wanted to know if the musicians supported each other. ‘Yes,’ I answered (single quote because I’m paraphrasing myself…I don’t remember exactly what the hell I said), ‘especially when it still remained a music scene, before the major labels came calling. At that point, nobody had any money or illusions of stardom. Back in 1986, for example, you could catch a Skin Yard/Soundgarden show on a Tuesday night for $2…and the audience would consist of members of those bands and others around town. That’s just the way it was. Later, when the money showed up, things of course changed. It’s just human nature to be jealous when someone else’s band gets signed and yours didn’t. That being said, even during the dark days of the ’90s, the Seattle bands continued to root for one another for the most part.’
People asked a lot of stuff about grunge, but a lady named Elise—who is not in any way shape or form my publicist—inquired about the Showbox, a venue that brought punk rock to Seattle kids in the late ’70s and early ’80s. I told her and the audience about the importance of the four gentlemen who started Modern Productions, and how they helped expose a whole generation to the Ramones, 999, Iggy Pop, Gang of Four, Devo, the Police, the Specials, PiL, and others. Many of the attendees would later form bands like Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and the Young Fresh Fellows.
Mark Yarm, author of Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge (and no relation to Mark Arm), attended (which was really cool, by the way) and challenged Tribe’s assessment of the movie hype! For those not familiar, hype! is a 1996 film that documents the Seattle music scene. In my book, I disagree with some of the film’s assertions. Mark basically said most people he talked to believe hype! is pretty spot on–that director Doug Pray “got it right.” I didn’t dispute his sources, or the veracity of the film. Rather, I felt, due to Sub Pop’s involvement, hype! provided a skewed portrait of the Seattle music community…basically it asserts that Seattle was “lame” until Sub Pop came along and made it cool. I disagree. While Mark and I interviewed a lot of the same people, he focused on grunge and forward, whereas I wrote about grunge and backward. I talked to many folks who predated the grunge scene and who, in my opinion, made their own unique imprint on Seattle music, an imprint that hype! ignored. To be fair, films have a much narrower focus than books, and Doug acknowledged as much in an email to me.
Afterwards, a college buddy named Frank showed up with his wife Johnna, and they joined Mark and I for a beer at Local 44, a tavern a few blocks from Penn. Mark and I then commiserated over our experiences. I enjoyed getting to know him, especially since few people can appreciate the intensity of our writing and researching experiences.
After finishing our beers, Mark and I shared a cab back to 30th Street Station, and we both headed home. I think we both are proud of our accomplishments. Mark did a terrific job presenting the grunge phenomenon in an oral history format, and I’m more than satisfied with my narrative on the music scene that created that phenomenon.