Archive for October, 2012

Since we lost this past Tuesday’s class due to Hurricane Sandy, I had to rearrange some things.

Tuesday, November 6: Gary Minkler and Rich Riggins, Red Dress.

Tuesday, November 13: Bruce Pavitt, founder, Sub Pop Records.

Tuesday, November 20: Holiday, no class.

Tuesday, November 27: Carla Torgerson and Michael Wells, the Walkabouts.

Tuesday, December 4: Last class…we’ll see if someone wants to chat with us.

(Producer Chris Hanzsek in the Monte Cristo peaks, July 2011)

In light of the incoming hurricane, we (to use Rodney Dangerfield’s words) will have no class tomorrow. We had scheduled Carla and Mike from the Walkabouts to chat with us, plus we were supposed to talk about the New York and late ’80s Boston scenes (Bands: Sonic Youth, Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., Lemonheads.)  So, waaaah.  We’ll have to reschedule this session for another date.

In the meantime, we’ve stockpiled our emergency pop tarts (unfrosted strawberry), and we’ll wait out the storm.



Sometimes I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this…this class is just so much fun. On Tuesdays, as I drive up to the College, I make it a point to listen once again to the current week’s musical selections. This time I played songs by Red Dress, Jack Endino, and the Walkabouts. It continues to strike me…the incredible variety of music that came out of Seattle, all released at around the same time.

We started chatting about Red Dress, a band that combines elements of Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, James Brown, the Band, and the avant-garde. I fully expected the class to hate this band, but fortunately I was wrong. They seemed to appreciate the sheer creativity of the music, especially a live performance of “Bob Is A Robot” (or is it “Bob Was A Robot?”…nobody seems to know). Students appreciated the sheer talent of Red Dress…the guitar players on opposite sides of the stage somehow playing together, the dynamic rhythm section, the magnetism and antics of singer Gary Minkler.

Next we moved on to Jack Endino, better known as the “grunge producer.” He also gained some notoriety playing guitar for Skin Yard, but not many folks are familiar with his solo work. We listened the three Endino songs: “Folks, Let’s Nebulate,” “Flight of the Wax Tadpole,” and “Count Me Out.” I purposely didn’t tell the students about the instrumental nature of the first two selections…that kind of threw people for a loop. They found themselves waiting for vocals, vocals that would never happen. Students appreciated the loud/soft dynamic of “Folks,” and I mentioned that I thought “Tadpole” begins like the Who and then ventures into classic country/hoedown. The class also commented on the unusual song titles (including the Red Dress selection “Pterodactyl Teenagers”)…so emblematic of Seattle.

We had three presentations today. Hannah talked about the vibrant Chicago blues scene of the ’40s and ’50s, Nathan about LA hair metal, and Samantha finished with early twentieth-century Dixieland jazz.

Hannah’s interest in the blues became evident as she played selections from Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson (not sure if it was I or II.)

Nathan laid the basis of hair metal at the feet of Van Halen, a band whose first two records I wore out in high school. In particular, he played “And the Cradle Will Rock,” from the band’s 1980 third effort…and immediately I regressed to high school–especially the refrain “Have you seen junior’s grades?” Made me smile.

I learned quite a bit from Samantha’s presentation. She even explained the various instrumental roles of a typical early jazz band…then played musical selections to illustrate her point.

We ran out of time, so we couldn’t chat about the Walkabouts. We’ll save that for next week, when we open with a Q&A, via Skype, with the Walkabouts’ Carla Torgerson and Michael Wells. Should be a blast.

(The Walkabouts)

The bad news: Red Dress’ Gary Minkler will not be able to join us. The good news: He will chat with us on November 6.

Our revised class schedule, based on the above, follows. Basically, we’ll be discussing the Walkabouts over the last 20 minutes, and I’ve assigned additional blog readings and music:

Blog Reading: “Ahead of the Storm: Seattle’s Enduring Walkabouts” (all four parts) at

Walkabouts music: “Hell’s Soup Kitchen,” “Medicine Hat,” “Rebecca Wild.”

Revised Class Schedule

1:40 to 1:45…Intro by me

1:45 to 2:00…Red Dress discussion led by Kelly (music and reading)

2:00 to 2:15…Jack Endino music discussion led by Jordan

2:15 to 2:35…Presentations: Hannah on the Chicago blues scene of the ’40s and ’50s; Nathan on LA hair metal of the ’70s and ’80s; Samantha on the turn of the century New Orleans Dixieland jazz scene.

2:35 to 2:50…Walkabouts discussion led by Emily (music and reading)

2:50 to 2:55…Outro by me

(Jack Endino, right, having breakfast with Senor Dorkinger)

Our next “appreciating the under-appreciated” class…

Tuesday, October 23

Topic: Appreciating the under-appreciated: Red Dress and Jack Endino.

Special Guest: Red Dress’ Gary Minkler (along with Chinas Comidas’ Rich Riggins) via Skype.

Music: Red Dress: “Bob Is A Robot (find the live performance link below)” “Pterodactyl Teenagers,” “Money Dream;” Jack Endino: “Folks, Let’s Nebulate,” “Count Me Out,” “Flight of the Wax Tadpole.”

Red Dress Live Performance:

Blog: “Red Dress” (all six installments)

Gary Minkler

Since 1977, Gary has been the front man for Red Dress, Seattle’s most unique band.  Red Dress combines elements of rock, R&B, and the avant-garde.  Producer Conrad Uno describes their sound as Captain Beefheart meets James Brown.

Rich Riggins

Rich and Gary hatched Red Dress, but Rich moved into a more punk rock meets Patti Smith direction when he formed Chinas Comidas with Cynthia Genser.

(Red Dress)

Sometimes college classes accomplish what I believe they were meant to. Sometimes I learn as much from my students as they do from me.

We spent the bulk of the class talking about life within the Seattle music scene.  Students read about college and blue collar kids freely mixing in bands, sharing houses, working crappy day jobs, and creating music as an end in itself.  I admire those artists who have challenged the American ideal to create as much wealth as possible…people who decided to create art for its own enjoyment.  My students, a generation removed, brought a different perspective.

They seemed to form a consensus that they could not follow a similar path as these scenesters did. They cited the tough economy as one factor…it’s just so competitive out there now. How can one legitimately explain to a prospective employer, when asked, a decision to form a band and live in a punk rock house for three or four years after college, when their peers have beefed up their professional resumes during that time?  For those who don’t end up in a Pearl Jam, reentry into the work force is much more daunting today than two decades ago.

The class also cited technology as another factor that could preclude them from creating their own music scene. Young folks, as a number of students pointed out, could live on less back then. Cell phones didn’t exist and you didn’t need a laptop. The low cost of living (not to mention Seattle’s cheap housing in the ’80s–which is no longer the case today) allowed people to have low-level day jobs supporting their lifestyles. One almost cannot exist now without a smartphone and some other computing device, all of which costs money.

Technology, again as my students pointed out, can become another deterent to certain behaviors. While the class has enjoyed stories of the Thrown Ups tossing raw oysters at their audience, or the U-Men setting a moat on fire, they also noted that today such behavior would be instantly recorded and transmitted worldwide via Youtube or social networking sites. Prospective employers could find out about these reckless actions and, again, due to today’s competitive market, decline to hire people because of them.

We also talked about our music selections this week: the open-ended musical experimentation of Amy Denio and the acoustic harmonics of Capping Day…which led us to our special guest (via Skype), the highlight of yesterday’s class…Laura Weller-Vanderpool of Capping Day and the Green Pajamas.

I think our Q&A with Laura became the most productive so far. The class, which consists of mostly women, appreciated a female perspective on a male-dominated music scene.

Laura stated that while men within the Seattle music scene accepted and encouraged her musical pursuits, she also felt the sting of discrimination from other sources. For example, during her formative years, women inclined to play guitar were steered toward the acoustic variety. As in: “You’re a girl? Great. Play like John Denver. What? You want to play like Jimmy Page? I’m sorry, that’s for the boys.” She talked about how things have progressed since, how her teenage daughter and her female friends play multiple instruments in bands.

She also mentioned the trials of venturing into a music store back then. When she tried to purchase an instrument, employees either treated her as someone with a complete lack of knowledge or, worse, assumed she was with her musician boyfriend.

Overall, Laura brought a critical perspective not only on the Seattle music scene, but also to the importance of including all its talent.  The students loved talking to her, and we greatly enjoyed and appreciated her time. Laura is working on a project called “These Streets,” which will result in a theatrical production based upon female contributions to the Seattle music scene. You can find out more about it at:!/thesestreetsseattle?fref=ts.

(Capping Day’s Laura Vanderpool talks to the class via Skype from Seattle.)

A mixed bag on Tuesday, with a focus on women within the music scene…including special guest Laura Weller-Vanderpool!

Tuesday, October 16

Topics: Appreciating the under-appreciated: Amy Denio; The drug culture; Life within a music scene.

Special Guest: Capping Day’s/the Green Pajamas’ Laura Weller-Vanderpool via Skype.

Text: Tow, chapter 4.

Blog: “Being Amy Denio”

Web: These Streets Oral History Project:!/thesestreetsseattle

Music: Capping Day: “Mona Lisa,” “Miles Between;” Amy Denio: “Guns,” “No Cry” (Tone Dogs); “Stop the Disco” (Kultur Shock.)

Laura Weller-Vanderpool Mini-Bio

Laura, along with Bonnie Hammond, fronted an acoustic/harmonic band called Capping Day in the late ’80s.  In addition to providing a counterpoint to the grunge scene, Laura also offers an incisive perspective on the Seattle music community.  Today, Laura plays in the Green Pajamas with her husband Scott (from Room Nine and Chemistry Set), and is working on a documentary film called These Streets about female artists during the grunge era.

(Laura performs with Joe Ross in the background.)

Oh this was so much fun…

We spent most of the class talking about the Boston and Minneapolis music scenes of the ’80s. Students read three chapters from Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life on Mission of Burma, Husker Du, and the Replacements.  I had them listen to “Einstein’s Day,” (MOB); “Chartered Trips,” “Celebrated Summer,” (HD); and “Waitress in the Sky,” (Replacements.)  Overall, the reaction seemed positive…this group of students, many of whom are country-oriented, enjoyed the melodic bent of Husker Du and the Replacements. Two students even compared the latter band to the Beatles.

A couple people contrasted the Minneapolis bands’ touring approach with that of Black Flag, the LA hardcore band that believed one had to truly suffer to be legitimate punk. I think Bob Mould of Husker Du said something to the effect of, “What’s wrong with being happy?”

We also enjoyed two presentations.  Morgan talked about the popular female Nashville country stars of today; Julia presented on the Orange County (CA) ska scene of the ’90s.  I’m biased.  I admit it.  The ska thing proved much more intriguing to me…Julia cracked open a window into a fascinating and idiosyncratic subculture.  At the end, at the behest of a friend and with my encouragement, Julia showed us an animated ska band video (the name escapes me, sorry) where animals play the instruments.  As the song moved along, we see human hunters kill some animals in gruesome fashion, until the tables get turned and the creatures grab the guns and slay the humans.  A bit disturbing, perhaps, but certainly no more shocking than a Family Guy episode.  I thought it was great. (As I was watching the video, I thought of Leighton Beezer’s comment stating that everyone should have a goal to “be Steve.” So I’m watching this video of cartoon animals playing instruments thinking, “I’m getting paid to do this.”)

Overall, the back and forth banter between students has gone well…assisted by Tatiana who introduced the concept of the “discussion ball” to the class. Basically, whoever has the ball gets to speak. When she is done, another student requests the ball, and can talk once the first student tosses it over. (Professor’s note: we have some good arms in this class. Also, we’re using a squishy ball, but I may bring a super ball into the next class just to see.)

Night Club (the band)

Posted: October 10, 2012 in The Nervous Breakdown

Hello everyone, I am now writing for The Nervous Breakdown, a blog that covers music, books, and other art forms.  My first feature talks about a project called Night Club.  See the link below.

(Night Club’s Mark Brooks and Emily Kavanaugh)

Tomorrow, we will begin our exploration of American music communities contemporary to ’80s Seattle. I wanted this course to be more than just about my book (as wonderful as it is, of course).

Tuesday, October 9

Topic: Other 1980s American music scenes: early ’80s Boston and Minneapolis.

Text: Azerrad, Our Band Could Be Your Life: chapters 3, 5, and 6.

Music: Mission of Burma: “Einstein’s Day;” Husker Du: “Chartered Trips,” “Celebrated Summer”; the Replacements: “Waitress in the Sky.”  Feel free to listen to anything else from the following records: Husker Du’s Zen Arcade and The Replacements’ Tim and Let It Be.