Second Class: Seattle Grunge Rock, 9/4/12

Posted: September 5, 2012 in The Strangest Tribe: the College Course

Today we rewound (rewinded?) back to the ’70s, as we focused on the inception of punk rock.  We actually began with pre-punk stuff like Iggy and glammy rock and then ventured into the Ramones.  And here’s what they listened to:

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.”

Nathan was in charge of leading this part of the discussion, and he asked people to compare these songs to last week’s “grunge” selections of Nirvana, Soundgarden, et. al.  I got the sense that the students preferred this pre-punk/glam/punk stuff to the grunge material, in essence because they could understand some of the lyrics, and–in the case of the Bowie tune–that they can in fact tell a story. They liked the danceable pop sound of the Ramones. One student compared Iggy to the grunge aesthetic, which was spot on.

Following a discussion of early punk rock, and watching a clip from the Ramones documentary, End of the Century,* we talked about early punk rock and the Ramones’ influence thereupon…leading into Seattle in the mid-’70s.  Shanae handled the discussion of the reading, focusing on the first chapter of my book, “End of the Road.”  Students seemed to identify with the rebellious nature of Seattle’s glam turned punk scene, and mentioned a couple of confrontational incidents in the book: the early postering war between different punk factions, members of the Fartz tossing rotten vegetables at the Fags during the latter band’s show, and the notorious Blackouts “pigs blood” gig.

Finally, it was time for the highlight, an exchange with Rob Morgan of the Pudz and Squirrels, live from Seattle via Facebook video chat (I don’t think I’m using that medium again if I can help it…the picture was way out of sync with the audio and it locked up several times…we’ll try straight Skype the next time.)

In preparation for our chat, I had the students listen to two Rob Morgan tunes: the Pudz’ “Take Me To Your (Leader)” and the Squirrels’ “Hawaii Take 5-0,” the latter song combining Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” with the Hawaii Five-0 theme song.  “Leader” had its intended effect…the students found themselves singing “Take me to your leader-leader-leader. Take me to your scene-scene-scene” the rest of the day after first hearing it. (Score one for ya, Rob.)  They also liked the brass instruments in the Squirrels selection, and Nathan mentioned the sudden unexpected changes that occur as it transitions between the two songs.

Hannah got the privlege of interviewing Rob.  She asked him about his influences, particularly the Tubes.  Upon hearing that band, Rob lit up about how influential they are to him, even more in some ways than the Bowies and Alice Coopers of the world. Rob talked about how the Tubes would put on an incredible visual production, while maintaining a high level of musicianship…certainly an aesthetic that can apply to the Squirrels.

Hannah also spent some time asking Rob about the Squirrels, a band that featured mashups of a number of songs, like Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” and the traditional “Silent Night,” for example.  “Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?” long-time Squirrels fan Ned Raggett told me in a 2010 interview.  “You wouldn’t think of it until you saw it.  Then you’re like, ‘Of course!'”

Rob–and this comment had a marked effect upon the class–mentioned how the Squirrels often just made up their song mashups on the spot during rehearsals, and didn’t use setlists.

Then Hannah asked Mr. Morgan about the world famous Baby Cheevers, the Cabbage Patch Kid turned Squirrels prop.  Rob held up Cheevers in front of the camera and recounted the story where the doll made his first appearance at a 1991 show in Vancouver, BC.  He discussed how some fans would get really drunk and try to tear Cheevers away from him. Then, he tossed the doll over his shoulder, and said, “Next question.”

Thanks again, Rob, for doing this for us.  We all had a great time.

Next week, we’ll chat about the early ’80s hardcore punk movement.

(Rob Morgan talks to my Delaware Valley College students from Seattle. David Bowie sits to his left, Donald Duck to his right.)

* – if you have any interest in the Ramones or early punk rock, make sure to check out this excellent film.

  1. Rob Morgan says:

    Thanks, Stephen! It was fun. Glad the students found it amusing as well. Sorry the video chat thingy was all wonky. Hey, ya gotta love fb! lol

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