Day Two was pretty relaxed, which is a good thing since I am still kind of wiped out from Day One (yeah, I’m old.) I chilled with Rob Morgan for a while at his house, watching a Darkness show he burned to DVD (Rob’s kind of a little bit of a Darkness fan…picture AC/DC meets Alice Cooper meets Queen meets who knows.)

Then, breakfast with Jack Endino and Leighton Beezer at Ballard’s legendary Vera’s. I usually check in with these guys on my Seattle trips, but I’ve never hung with both of them at the same time. Heard some funny Screaming Trees stories from Jack, while Leighton was hysterical just being Leighton.

After breakfast, I made my usual stop at Ballard’s Sonic Boom Records, picking up a Walking Papers CD (features Barrett Martin from the Trees/Skin Yard/Mad Season plus Duff McKagan from Guns N Roses.)

Later that day, I met up with friends Dave O’Leary (author of Horse Bite) and Clint Brownlee for happy hours. It’s always good to hang with those dudes and talk music. Clint’s been writing, while Dave’s spending time playing bass in Sightseer, a band which has been getting positive pub around Seattle. (Dave mentioned a hysterical Onion story about a groupie mistakenly sleeping with a bass player…I’ll have to check that out.) Then, it was time to check out the GUM at Darrell’s Tavern in Shoreline with my host, Rob.

The opening act killed me…the Guardians, featuring the one and only Lee Lumsden.  Don’t know Lee? You should, if you have any interest in Seattle music. Along with a handful of folks like Jim Basnight, Neil Hubbard, and Rob Morgan, Lee essentially created the Seattle music scene out of thin air in the mid-’70s.

Rob had told me just how nervous Lee was before this performance, his first ever as a front man. (Lee drummed for the Meyce back in the day, a band that played some of Seattle’s earliest punk rock shows.) You’d never know it from watching Lee perform, though. He seemed totally comfortable and in the moment on stage. And the songs! That dude can write. Great hooks, and creative. I wish they could have played longer. Fortunately, Rob’s band followed. (Below, Lee Lumsden fronts the Guardians.)

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The GUM nailed it as usual, playing a variety of covers…some well-known, some more obscure, as well some mash-ups (Rob calls them “mudleys.”) Sporting a jacket and bow tie, Rob held the audience in his hand, and proceeded to entertain us. Everyone had a good time. (Below, Rob Morgan and the GUM.)

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I ended up chatting with a few folks during and after the show, notably Lee, Kyle Nixon (no making out this time…we’re just friends), Scott the soundman, the GUM’s Rod Moody, and some other folks who said nice things about my book. It’s always a cool thing to find out your work has touched someone.

So, yeah, a pretty mellow, but fun day overall…looking forward to tomorrow. I’ll be taking the ferry over to Bainbridge Island to meet up with the members of Before Cars. I’m working on a feature about that band, as they have a new record coming out in a couple of weeks. BC features former Nirvana drummer Chad Channing.

It’s been a while since the last entry, I know. But I decided to head to Seattle to see Soundgarden, the GUM (featuring the Pudz/Squirrels’ Rob Morgan and Deranged Diction/Swallow’s Rod Moody,) and hangout with Before Cars (with Nirvana’s Chad Channing.) So I thought I’d write about this trip.

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Yesterday was a 24 hour day. As in I was awake for all of them. But it was a good thing.

I left Philadelphia at 1 am Pacific time, arriving in Seattle via Phoenix about 12 hours later. I decided to do this trip on the cheap, and fortunately my friend Rob Morgan allowed me to camp out on his couch for the weekend. I hung out with Rob in Ballard for a while, then headed over to the Paramount to see Soundgarden.

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I’d never experienced one of Seattle’s “big four” bands live. I was supposed to go to a Pearl Jam show in Camden, NJ some years back, but I got tired of looking for parking and turned around and went home (although I have seen members of PJ play in bands.) So, Soundgarden would be it, and in their hometown at the iconic Paramount.

I bought a GA ticket, and got in line at about 5:30…doors were to open at 7, band on at 8. Fortunately, only about 100 folks stood ahead of me. Soon I found myself chatting with this dude next to me, Dana from Bellingham. That was good, because neither of us had anything do to for the next two hours (turns out they didn’t open the doors until 7:30.) Finally, we started to move and headed over to the venue.

As we entered the theater, we realized they had removed the chairs, so nothing stood in the way of us and the band. We poured to the front of the stage and waited.

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After a couple of false starts, Soundgarden (there was no warm-up act…which was pretty cool by the way. That would never happen in Philly), finally appeared on the stage, opening with “Flower” from Ultramega OK. Amazing. It was like experiencing Soundgarden in a small club. Chris Cornell and Ben Shepherd were only a few feet from us. (Below from left, Chris Cornell, Matt Cameron, and Ben Shepherd.)

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The band whipped through some classics early on, notably “Hunted Down” and “Nothing to Say” (from their first Sub Pop record), “Outshined” and “My Wave.” Chris Cornell, looking trim and fit, jumped around the stage. His vocals at times sounded strained, although at other times he exploded just like the old days. Guitarist Kim Thayil planted himself to Chris’ right.

Then there was Ben Shepherd. Watching him was a trip. He finished nearly every bass run by contorting himself and then pulling his hand away, with obvious force…made it look like he was trying to pull the guts out of his instrument. Then he would just level this death stare. Not at anyone in particular, just straight ahead mostly. It really looked like he wanted to kill someone. Then, every so often he would smile. Funny to watch. (Below, Ben Shepherd.)

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At one point, Chris announced the band would play “Been Away Too Long” from the latest record, King Animal. He said the song title had a dual meaning: one related to Soundgarden’s nearly dozen years of inactivity, and other had to do with his return to Seattle.

The audience behaved itself for the most part. For the most part. The majority of the crowd was comprised of middle aged rock fans, just wanting to see a good show. But some folks have not grown up yet. Every so often, an asshole—old enough to know better—would crash into bodies and force the crowd to surge this way or that. I didn’t like it, nor did some of the folks around us. A couple of dudes almost came to blows. Another guy began making hay by knocking over both men and women indiscriminately. It pissed some people off around me, and they began to shove the moron away, which only seemed to please him. I found myself getting angry. I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and told him to knock it off. He smiled.

Meanwhile, the band continued to play on. (Just watch Matt Cameron play drums. Just do it sometime…for five minutes. That’s all I ask.)

Matt’s son, a guitar player, joined the band on stage for one number. Next, Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready played dual leads with Kim Thayil on another (yeah, I can’t recall either song…feel free to chime in [UPDATE: see set list at the end of this post.]) (Below, Chris Cornell.)

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The band finally exited the stage around 11, then came back and did an encore with “Rusty Cage.” It was then that I realized just how freaking tired I was…on my feet for several hours after an all-day trip, all on zero rest. I secretly hoped this would be the only encore.

It was. I walked out, wished Dana fairly well, and headed back to Rob’s couch in Ballard, tired but happy.

Update (Courtesy of Matt Brown), last night’s set list: Flower. Nothing To Say. Outshined. Jesus Christ Pose. Spoonman. Hands All Over. Gun. By Crooked Steps. Rhinosaur. Taree. My Wave. The Day I Tried To Live. Been Away Too Long. Worse Dreams. Hunted Down. Drawing Flies. Matt Cameron’s son playing guitar on Eyelid’s Mouth. Blow Up The Outside World. Fell On Black Days. Live To Rise. Mike McCready playing guitar on Tighter And Tighter. Non-State Actor. Ty Cobb. Rowing. Encore: Rusty Cage. Far Beyond The Wheel.

(Below, Ben Shepherd.)

 

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It’s been a few days since the horrific shootings in Connecticut and, since no one asked me, I thought I’d offer my own take on the tragedy.

Reactions from both the Left and Right have been predictable. The Left wants to ban guns, perhaps even repealing the Second Amendment. The Right wants to arm everyone, and bring the Bible back into the public schools.

Why is it, in this country, that we always look for a quick fix? We have become a nation of pill-poppers, that is, we think we can solve everything instantly. Don’t feel well? Take a pill. Losing your hair? Take a pill. Can’t get it up? Take a pill. So, why not apply that mentality to solving the issue of mass civilian killings? Why not? Because, it won’t work. The problem lies much deeper.

First, let me take issue with the Right, in particular over the moral decline and Bible issue. I was in elementary school in the early ’70s, and to the best of my knowledge, we never had Bible instruction, nor was God a part of the curriculum. We went to religious school for spiritual guidance (well, at least in theory…I spent my time in Hebrew School rebelling against it, but that’s a story for another time.) Funny thing, though, we never had to worry about some psycho waltzing into the school and shooting people randomly. Such a thought never entered our heads.

So, how did we come to this?

I think we have descended into the abyss because our society has become increasingly suburbanized and isolated. I grew up in the suburbs, but we knew our neighbors, had keys to their houses. We walked to school every day. I even remember walking home from school for lunch on occasion. No one feared that an evil predator might snatch us…because no one ever did.

After school, we played outside, unsupervised by our parents until dinner. We played in the street, on someone’s lawn, or rode our bikes down to the school fields. We played sports without adult supervision, and I can’t remember a single fight breaking out when we couldn’t agree on a call. If we reached an impasse, we just did a “do over.” We worked shit out on our own, without crazy parents fighting in the stands, or coaches screaming at us.

We have lost that connection with each other. Kids now spend their time either heavily managed with organized activities, or playing video games on their televisions or phones. I’ve seen it so many times…a bunch of teenagers sitting next to each other with their eyes glued to their phones as they furiously text each other. I want to say to them, “Hey, why don’t you fucking talk to each other?”

A few years back, I attended a history conference in Oxford, England. After the daily seminar, a bunch of us would go into town to check out the pubs. I remember feeling really good there, and it wasn’t because of the alcohol (although that helped.) We talked. We talked for hours. And I listened…listened to stories from people who have really lived. I loved it. No one stared at the giant flat screen TV, since there was none. No one texted the entire time. We talked. We interacted.

Gun violence reflects the nature of our suburbanized, impersonal society. Killing someone with a gun is an impersonal act. You can take someone out from great distances, as a sniper can…whereas to do it with another weapon, knife, bat, bare hands, requires close contact.

Think about when you drive a car, and somebody cuts you off. We yell (and I admit I’ve done this, since I’m not applying for sainthood), “Fuck you, asshole!” and the other driver flips us off. We have no idea who the other driver is…it could be a drug addict, it could be a family man with three nice children…but we’re isolated in our own vehicles. Such a confrontation will likely not occur on a train. Why? Are you really going to say, “Fuck you, asshole!” to the person standing right next to you? Probably not, because the two of you will figure out how to accommodate each other as you board the train.

So, what is the answer? No quick fix, folks. Instead, we need to get to know each other. Talk to your neighbors. Find out about what they like. Talk to them about dogs, cars, sports (but not the Eagles, please, I can’t handle that anymore), whatever. You needn’t be in everyone’s business, but take an interest in your neighbor. Once we get to know each other as human beings, the fear of the unknown will evaporate. Then, as we look out for each other, we might be able to detect warning signs when something in the neighborhood appears amiss.

Let me give you a quick example from an experience I had in my old neighborhood. I was good friends with my neighbors, and we always watched out for each other.

I used to take my dogs to the nearby park, and so it was on one rainy day. I let the two of them off the leash to explore, and the Cokes (my black lab) decided to mix it up with another unleashed dog. So, I ran over to pull her off of the other animal (she usually won her fights.) When I turned around, my other pup, the Bear (my yellow lab/goldie mix), had disappeared. I leashed up the Cokes and looked all over the park for him to no avail.

So, I decided to head home, figuring I’d let the Cokes in and drive around to find the boy. As I exited the park, I saw my neighbors Joe and Barb pull up in their car.

“Hey,” Joe said. “Are you ok?”

“Yeah,” I responded, “but the Bear ran off. I have to go home so I can drive around and find him.”

“Don’t worry about him,” Joe said. “He’s safely at home.”

Joe and Barb explained to me that they were looking out their front porch and saw the Bear walking down the street by himself. He tried to get into my fenced back yard to no avail, so they went over and let him in my house (I gave them a key), and then went looking for me, figuring something might be wrong.

That’s what we need. We need to look out for each other. Let’s start with that, and go from there.

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http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/stow/2012/12/stray-cats-drummer-hits-the-whammy/

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Well, we had a blast, but all good things must come to an end. (I hate that expression…like, what does that mean? That all bad things go on forever? It’s right up there with “everything happens for a reason” in my book.)

We began with two presentations: Mikaela told us about the Manchester, UK scene of the ’80s and ’90s (also called “Madchester.”) Then, Jordan followed with Florida boy bands of the ’90s. Since a lot of the class grew up with that stuff (Backstreet Boys, etc.), they really dug the trip down memory lane.

We then talked about the last chapter of my book called, “After the Gold Rush,” which is nowhere near as good as the Neil Young album of the same name. In any event, the writing deals with Seattle and the world, post-Nirvana and post-grunge. The students seemed most interested in Kurt Cobain’s reaction to the massive commercial success of Nevermind. In my book, I quote the late Ben McMillan (Skin Yard), who recalled congratulating Kurt when Nirvana’s second record went gold. Kurt’s reaction, per Ben: “I don’t wanna fuckin’ talk about it.” The students seemed to believe Cobain was genuine in his feelings (I believe he was as well), but they couldn’t quite grasp the downside of selling millions of albums.

I also had the students listen to the following ’90s alt rock songs:

Guided By Voices: “I Am a Tree;” Bikini Kill, “Rebel Girl;” Built to Spill, “Reasons;” and Pavement, “Conduit for Sale!”

The class reacted favorably to these songs (save for the Pavement selection, which of course is my fave of the four). They pointed out the ability to hear lyrics in these selections, versus some of the Seattle stuff they heard earlier. In addition to the above, I gave the students the option of listening to the following songs from independent bands I’ve been digging recently:

The High Dials: “Morning’s White Vibration;” Kinski (Seattle band!): “The Wives of Artie Shaw;” The Shins (Sub Pop band!): “Pink Bullets;” Silversun Pickups: “Well Thought Out Twinkles;” and Vampire Weekend: “Campus.”

They seemed to like the above more accessible stuff (save for Kinski), and in particular appreciated the Shins and Vampire Weekend.

We closed the semester discussing the merits and deficiencies of the course. The students seemed to enjoy themselves, and I complimented them for contributing to our various discussions. Then, after they threw various objects at me, some of them gave me a little insight into what they liked and what they didn’t. In regards to bands, it appears the Young Fresh Fellows appealed most to them…one also mentioned Minneapolis’ Replacements. The U-Men (my fave from Seattle), not so much. One young lady said the U-Men’s “Dig It a Hole” has scarred her for life…which I think is the point.

So, after much mourning and gnashing of teeth, we said good-bye.

It’s funny…I’ve found that when a class really clicks, it never feels like work. Maybe for the students, but not for me. I put in a ton of time into this course, not to mention the efforts of our six guest speakers…but it was a total labor of love. I was also blessed with some honors students who willingly gave of themselves and honestly expressed their opinions on the music and that goofy, eccentric music scene that was Seattle.

Below…Kinski plays the Sub Pop 20 anniversary fest, July 2008.

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Tomorrow will be our last class, and we will focus on the post-Nevermind world of popular music. Once Nirvana blew everything up in 1991 and 1992, the major labels discovered alternative rock could actually sell. So, they made the music into a commodity: play loud, turn up the distortion on your guitars, and have your good looking lead singer (preferably blonde) scream on key. Voila! You now have your next big ’90s alt rock band.

With that, I am having my students listen to ’90s bands that actually remained underground, or at least upheld the spirit of what alt rock represented pre-Nirvana: “I Am a Tree,” Guided By Voices; “Rebel Girl,” Bikini Kill; “Reasons,” Built to Spill; “Conduit for Sale!” Pavement.

Our planned schedule…

1:40 to 2:05…Presentations: Mikaela talks about the ’80s/’90s Manchester, UK scene; Jordan presents on Florida boy bands of the ’90s.

2:05 to 2:20…Samantha S and Sarvie lead the discussion on chapter 8 from my book (“After the Gold Rush”) and the musical selections.

2:20 to 2:40…Class summation. I will lead the discussion on what my goals were for this course and how I think we faired. Then I will ask the students to tell me what they did and didn’t get out of the course…what they liked, what they would have done differently, what bands really did it for them, which bands they hated, etc. This section will be their opportunity to open up on whatever course-related topic they’d like to chat about.

2:40 to 2:55…Students will evaluate me.

Below…Guided By Voices.

We spent the first 10 minutes or so talking about the Fastbacks, one of my favorite Seattle bands and the subject of a chapter addendum. The students also had to listen to four of their songs: “K Street,” “Trouble Sleeping,” “Set Me Free,” (a Sweet cover), and “3 Boxes.” As I expected, about half the class dug the music, and the other half kind of shrugged their shoulders. The Fastbacks have good songs with hooky melodies. If you want to hear major musical innovation or sparkling vocals, you should move on. Nonetheless, the students seemed to appreciate the band’s DIY ethic and longevity. They also enjoyed reading and talking about the Fastbacks’ experiences opening for Pearl Jam in the ’90s.

Next, we chatted about chapter 7 from my book: “England is Sending an Emissary!” That chapter focuses on Seattle in 1989 and ’90…when the once tiny music scene had begun to reach commercial viability. So, we spent the next 15 minutes weighing in on art versus commerce, and what exactly constitutes “selling out.” By that point, Soundgarden had moved on to a major label, slowly changing their sound to appeal to a metal market. Their transition was handled so deftly that the band managed to score riches while maintaining their street credibility. As one of my students put it, “they got to have their cake and eat it, too.”

We talked about other bands beginning to receive attention, notably Mudhoney, Nirvana, and Mother Love Bone…again focusing on each band’s approach to the business side of music, and attempting ascertain why MLB (and their successors in Pearl Jam) faced the scenester’s accusations of “sell-out!” while the other bands did not. I don’t think the students totally got the attitude of punk communities back then…which was not to embrace stardom. MLB, and later PJ, wanted to become rock stars. And lo and behold, it happened for them. “How dare they?” my students asked in jest.

Next, Abbie presented on the London punk scene of the ’70s, focusing on the Pistols, Clash, and Damned and giving us an idea of just how shocking those bands were back then. Next, Jenna talked about the UK “new metal” community of the ’80s, distinguishing itself from forebears like Black Sabbath. She mentioned people like Iron Maiden and Venom as examples of the newer, proggier, showier bands that influenced American groups like Metallica.

Finally, we readied ourselves for the main event, a chat via Skype with the Walkabouts’ Carla Torgerson and Michael Wells. Gabrielle led the questioning and did a fine job. I think my favorite question and answer related to Carla’s time canning salmon in Alaska (really.) Back in 1984, Carla had ventured there to make some money for college and ran into Chris Eckman, another guitar player who found himself in a similar position. Together, they formed the Walkabouts, which would later include Michael on bass.

In any event, Gabrielle asked Carla about her years canning salmon during summers, an experience that intrigues us on the East Coast. Carla talked of long days standing in the cold canning salmon, and how she learned to empathize with workers in manufacturing plants all over the world.

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(Carla and Michael from the Walkabouts chat with my class via Skype from Seattle)