Fourth Class: Seattle Grunge Rock, 9/18/12

Posted: September 19, 2012 in The Strangest Tribe: the College Course

We had a mixed bag to cover yesterday, spending about the first 30 minutes talking about the early ’80s Olympia (WA) music scene.  I picked that locale due to the city’s influence on Seattle and its contribution to the indie rock DIY ethic.

Students were assigned two readings: Chapter 13, “Beat Happening,” from Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life and Chapter 2, “KAOS in Olympia,” from my book.  Azerrad focuses on the music scene through the lens of one influential band, whereas I look at Olympia from Seattle’s perspective 60 miles to the north.

Students talked about Olympia’s eccentric, “anti-hippie hippie” movement centering around Calvin Johnson, his band Beat Happening, and his label, K Records.  They noticed the culture’s sort of longing for innocence, while simultaneously acknowledging a kind of subversive depravity.  I had them listen to two Beat Happening songs: “Indian Summer” and “Fortune Cookie Prize.”  They weren’t particularly fond of the music, citing its repetitive nature, but a couple of folks mentioned hearing “Indian Summer” before…in fact one student said her roommate overheard it and immediately transfered the song to her iPod.

I also had them listen to two tunes from the Young Pioneers, an Olympia band that has since been somewhat overshadowed by Beat Happening.  They sounded nothing like BH…as exemplified by my selections: “Round and Round” and “Instrumental.”  I picked the former song since you can hear the neo-psychedelic Paisley Underground influence…plus you can pickup people in the audience talking about raffle tickets.  The YP songs were recorded live at a 1985 outdoor graduation party at Evergreen State College.

I made sure they understood the importance of Evergreen to Olympia’s scene…that the school begat the above two bands as well as folks who would make major contributions to Seattle’s music community including Scott Vanderpool, Chris Pugh, Steve Fisk, Stephen Rabow, George Romansic, and Bruce Pavitt.

Next, Samantha did a presentation on the Chicago/Milwaukee emo scene of the ’90s…which I enjoyed since I knew virtually nothing about that genre.

We finished up talking about non-musician contributions to the music scene, and I had them read my blog post on Seattle music critic Dawn Anderson.  We talked about writers, zine creators, sound people, photographers, promoters, label owners, producers, just plain fans…all the folks needed to make the thing viable.  We also chatted about drummers, and I made them read my blog post on the plight of the Seattle percussionist.  They seemed to really enjoy that perspective, and a few especially since they have played drums in marching bands. One student compared the drummer to playing defense in soccer…both having necessary, but underappreciated roles.

Finally, we set things up for next week’s Q&A with the Thrown Ups’ Leighton Beezer.  I showed them two clips from hype! where he makes an appearance.  In the first, he demonstrates the incestuous nature of the Seattle music scene through a computer program he wrote on an old Mac.  In the second clip, he plays a Ramones riff on his guitar and describes it as punk, then follows with a Green River chord progression and identifies it as grunge. Then, we got to see someone hose puke off a sidewalk in Seattle while TAD’s “Helot” played.

(Leighton whispers sweet nothings in my ear following an Empire Vista show at Philly’s Tritone)


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