Interviewing the Squirrels’ Rob Morgan

Posted: September 17, 2011 in Interviewing the Elliott Bay Panelists

Rob Morgan.  He is the Seattle music scene in a lot of ways.  He just doesn’t get the exposure some of his more well-known peers enjoy.  And, why not?  He was there at the beginning, at the inception of the city’s University District punk rock scene some 36 years ago.  The Ramones, Blondie, and the Tubes partied at his house.  He worked the door at the Bird, Seattle’s first punk rock club.  He had a minor hit with his first “serious” band, the Pudz.  He saw the U-Men form in his basement.  And, to top it all off, he formed and ran the Squirrels, arguably Seattle’s most unique and talented band, for a quarter century.

Yet, if you examine books about Seattle music history, you’ll be hard-pressed to find his name.  You’ll spot Californian Eddie Vedder faster than you’ll find Rob.  So, for me, uncovering Rob became like discovering a diamond in the rough.

I first interviewed him back in October of 2008.  We chatted mostly about the early Seattle scene…growing up in Edmonds, Washington, and his decision to relocate to the U-District to hang out with other punk pioneers like Jim Basnight, Lee Lumsden, and Neil Hubbard.  We also talked a bit about the Squirrels.  But, quite frankly, I had no idea what I was dealing with.

I met Rob for the first time in July of 2009, at a Fags reunion gig (see “Interviewing Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard” in the “Other Key Interviews” section for more about that show.)  He was standing outside the bar wearing a Ramones shirt I believe, pressing an icepack to his shoulder (Rob, how did that happen again?).  We chatted briefly, and I started to think it was time to learn more about the Squirrels.

When I got home, I re-listened to our 2008 interview, and began cracking up when Rob talked about his band.  The Squirrels are known for combining songs that don’t seem to fit together, at least in an obvious way.  Everyone was fair game for Squirrel mash-up parody…from Black Sabbath to Patsy Cline to Shaun Cassidy to Dave Brubeck to Judas Priest.  Rob sent me the Squirrels’ sampler CD Scrapin’ for Hits as well as a parody of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon called The Not-So-Bright Side of the Moon.

I listened to the Pink Floyd record first and found myself laughing out loud.  If you’ve ever heard the original, you know Dark Side opens with the sound of a heartbeat, a ticking clock, and random industrial sounds.  In contrast, the Squirrels’ version features a hiccup in place of the heartbeat, mooing cows, and an eeeaaahhhh sound a fax machine makes when it connects.  My chocolate milk came shooting out of my nose when I heard that.  So, yeah, I had to write about this band.

Unfortunately, the Squirrels’ long history didn’t seem to fit well with the general narrative of my book.  So, I decided I’d write a chapter addendum about the band.

I called Rob up in the winter of 2010 to talk specifically about the Squirrels, and two more times after that.  I also chatted with guitarist Joey Kline, the Squirrels’ “co-pilot,” bassist Craig Ferguson, the Young Fresh Fellows’ Scott McCaughey (an early Squirrels member) and long-time fan Ned Raggett.  I even asked Jack Endino about the Squirrels.  He provided one of the more memorable quotes, which I’m saving for the book (I know, I suck.)  Since I’d never seen the Squirrels live, Rob sent me dvds of their performances.

I wrote 15 pages about the band, which I unfortunately had to chop in half.  I think my favorite deleted quote relates to Rob talking about his days at Woodway High School in Edmonds: “There sure wasn’t anything going on in Edmonds.  You ever see that movie Dazed and Confused?  Ah, that was Edmonds.  That was pretty much my high school experience—give or take the jocks chasing you around.”

The more I chatted with Rob, the more I realized just how multi-faceted his is.  He’s a musician, a cartoonist, a painter.  Recently he revitalized a comic strip he began as a kid called “Two Katz & A Toaster.”  “It’s just one cat named Ivan and one cat named George and they lived with a talking toaster,” he says.  “There was no explanation of it beyond that.”

Rob is a self-described “weirdo.”  He’s a bit out there.  To quote Matthew Broderick’s character in Biloxi Blues, “Never underestimate the stimulation of eccentricity.”  And, yeah, clearly that element not only endears Rob to me, but in fact the Seattle music community in general.  I suppose that’s because I’m a weirdo, too.

In August of 2010, I traveled to Seattle with my wife and daughter.  I had completed my book research, so this trip was just for fun.  We spent a few days in the city, then drove to Portland to visit my wife’s aunt.  While we were in Seattle, I scheduled a lunch with Rob.  We met at a diner-y place in Ballard.  My wife and daughter sat at another table so he and I could talk.  After lunch, we all gathered in front of the restaurant.

To paraphrase George Costanza, worlds were about to collide.  “Family Man Steve” was about to combine with “Stephen, the Seattle Music Weirdo.”

My daughter, who is about as cool a kid as you’ll find, mentioned to Rob that I have a black lab named Coco.  Rob said he is afraid of dogs, but he really likes tarantulas.  Both my wife and daughter looked at him like he had three heads.  I laughed to myself and thought, ‘Yep, that’s Rob.’

  1. Nine says:

    Wish you hadn’t had to cut those fifteen pages in half!

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