Archive for August, 2012

Tuesday, September 4

Topic: Creating a punk rock scene out of thin air.

Special guest: The Squirrels’ Rob Morgan, via Facebook video chat.

Text Readings: Tow chapter 1, Addendum to chapter 2: “Pop Lust for Life: Rob Morgan and the Squirrels.”

Music: The Stooges: “Down on the Street;” David Bowie: “Ziggy Stardust;” Mott the Hoople: “All the Young Dudes;” The Ramones: “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement;” The Pudz: “Take Me to Your (Leader); The Squirrels: “Hawaii Take 5-0.”  Feel free to listen to anything from the following records: The Stooges’ Funhouse and Raw Power; David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane; the Ramones’ Ramones and Rocket to Russia.

Blog Readings: “Interviewing the Squirrels’ Rob Morgan” (

Guest Speaker Rob Morgan

Rob is a Seattle institution, having helped create the city’s punk scene back in the ’70s.  For a quarter century, he fronted the Squirrels, a comedy rock mash-up act.  Grunge producer Jack Endino referred to Rob’s group as Seattle’s best band.  Rob may also be the funniest human being on the planet.

(Rob [in red] fronts the Squirrels for a packed house at the Sunset in Seattle, April 28, 2012)

Wonderful first class. We ended up with 18 students, and they contributed heartily to today’s “grunge phenomenon” topic.  First, I asked them to take the “Which Seattle Band Are You?” quiz at and the results are…brrrrrrr (that’s a drum roll):

Pearl Jam: 11

Skin Yard: 2 (and that includes me)

Nirvana, Young Fresh Fellows, Fastbacks, Squirrels, U-Men, Soundgarden: all had one vote apiece

I spent the first part of the class discussing my journey into Seattle-dom, from my boredom with late ’70s mainstream rock in high school, to my hatred of the ’80s MTV era (when I discovered the ’60s), to when Seattle went mainstream in the early ’90s. We talked about motivations, communication, and class structures relating to music scenes in general.  Finally, I gauged the students’ reactions to this week’s assigned music:

Nirvana: “Blew,” “Lithium,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

The students recognized the evolution of this band from the noise-rock of Bleach to the more melodic and pop-oriented Nevermind.  They mentioned how they could actually understand the lyrics to “Lithium” versus the unintelligible rants of “Blew.”  They all enjoyed the Weird Al “Smells Like Nirvana” parody, which I asked them to watch after viewing the “Teen Spirit” video.

Pearl Jam: “Alive,” “Black.”

The general reaction to Pearl Jam was that they sounded more mainstream and polished than Nirvana…the latter band referred to as “raw” and “garage.”

Soundgarden: “Hunted Down,” “Outshined,” “Black Hole Sun.”

Someone mentioned how “Hunted Down” sounded similar to “Blew,” and I had to make a crack about both songs having the same producer.  The students recognized how this band became more polished over time.

Alice in Chains: “Them Bones,” “Brother.”

Reaction was similar to Pearl Jam.  I had to point out Ann Wilson’s guest vocal on “Brother.”

I also asked them to listen to Mudhoney’s “Fuzzgun ’91,” Screaming Trees’ “Nearly Lost You,” and Love Battery’s “Foot.”  They seemed to enjoy these lesser-known bands, commenting on the brevity of the Mudhoney selection.

Next week, we’ll turn the clock back to the mid-’70s, at the dawn of punk rock….and we will have a guest speaker, live from Seattle via Skype: Mr. Rob Morgan! More on him and the rest of next week’s class soon! (Rob is shown seated below during a Squirrels practice last April.)

Tuesday, August 28

Topic: Tracing backward from the “grunge phenomenon.”

Reading: Tow, Introduction; pages 223-229 (I’ll go over in class since you won’t have the book yet.)

Quiz: “Which Seattle Band Are You?” at

Musical Selections: Nirvana: “Blew,” “Lithium,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit; [Note: you should watch the Teen Spirit video, then immediately afterward check out Weird Al’s parody, “Smells Like Nirvana.”] Pearl Jam: “Alive,” “Black;” Soundgarden: “Hunted Down,” “Outshined,” “Black Hole Sun;” Alice in Chains: “Them Bones,” “Brother;” Mudhoney: “Fuzzgun ’91;” Screaming Trees: “Nearly Lost You;” Love Battery: “Foot.” Feel free to listen to anything else from Nirvana’s Bleach or Nevermind; Soundgarden’s Screaming Life, Badmotorfinger,or Superunknown; Alice in Chains’ Dirt, Sap, or Jar of Flies.

Course Syllabus: Seattle Grunge Rock

Delaware Valley College

(HR 2111, Section 201)

Fall 2012

Classroom: Mandell 216

Meeting Times: T, 1:40 – 2:55 pm

Instructor:  Stephen Tow Phone:   123-456-78910 (cell)
E-mail: Office Hours: T/R, 12:15 – 1:30 pm (@ the Pub); and by appointment

Texts: Stephen Tow (no relation): The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge; Michael Azerrad: Our Band Could Be Your Life.


On Blackboard: Seattle band charts (grunge and non-grunge) for your viewing pleasure.

Additional web readings: As directed by week.

Movies: (optional, for further background/exploration): hype! (about the Seattle music scene); TAD: Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears (about the seminal grunge band TAD); Pearl Jam Twenty (about PJ, of course, but it does delve a little into the scene that preceded them); Malfunkshun: The Andrew Wood Story (about Andy Wood, Seattle’s lost rock star); I’m Now: The Story of Mudhoney (about Seattle’s quintessential grunge band, set for release online/DVD in early fall…I have yet to see this one); Singles (early ’90s romantic dramedy that uses grunge Seattle as a backdrop and features performances by Soundgarden and Alice in Chains; also stars three members of Pearl Jam); American Hardcore: The History of Punk Rock 1980 – 1986.

Course Description: This course focuses on rock music experimentation by examining the origins of the Seattle music scene. Students will also compare and contrast Seattle’s music community with other vital contemporary scenes including Boston, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York, and Olympia, Washington.  The course will explore the complex dynamics that arise when music scenes become commercially viable.

Course Objective: After completing the course, students will have explored the nature of music scenes including motivations, communication, class structures, and the inevitable conflict between art and commerce.  (If nothing else, you’ll be able to tell your grandkids who played bass for Vexed in 1986.)

New Review

Posted: August 9, 2012 in From Writers

Along with Mark Yarm’s Everybody Loves Our Town.  As Mark has said, “Buy both books,” although I secretly call him a Bozo and he secretly calls me a hack. (Seriously, though, he’s a good dude who wrote a great book.)