As a child, Neko Case often lived miles from civilization, and for reasons she'd rather not get into, her parents were rarely around. "I was raised by two dogs and a space heater," she recalls. She grew up in many cities and towns but says she considers Tacoma and rural Whatcom County home. For a stretch, she lived down the street from the Frisko Freeze in Tacoma. She raves about the cheeseburgers and fries, but recounts that they didn't employ women, at least when she used to eat there on a regular basis before moving away in 1994. She explains, "I actually asked for a job once, and they told me to my face, 'We don't hire women.' I almost put on a corset and took to the streets! Burger suffrage! Weird. They have a shrimpwich, but I dare not taste it."
Case worked at the storied Bob's Java Jive, also in Tacoma, as a fry cook and bartender. Legend has it that two monkeys named Java and Jive used to serve drinks at the bar, but she says they were gone by the time she started; she was glad, as she only remembers them "looking sad before the Humane Society took them away." The pay was awful, and most of her customers were regulars who would tip 15 cents, she says, but she speaks highly of owners Bob and Dani. "Bobby Floyd, Bob's super-talented son, played organ as the house band. He knew every TV theme song there was! He was busted by ASCAP for playing them, which was really sad. He was autistic, and the piano gig at the Jive was his passion. He kinda gave up after that." Case started going to the Java Jive while hanging out with the band Girl Trouble ("They know where all the best stuff is!"). She saw an early Untamed Youth show at Java Jive and played there for her first show with a band called the Del Logs, but doesn't remember a single minute of it because she was terrified.
Case first moved to Seattle when she was 13 and in junior high school. Her fondest memories here are of living in Pioneer Square, when it was "really deserted and beautiful, especially in the winter on rainy days." She loved reading at Zeitgeist Coffee in the old Washington Shoe Building. She worked at Hattie's Hat and drove a Rambler Classic 660. "God, I loved that car," she says. "It was Corinthian gold." She saw "a trillion" shows, but vividly recalls seeing Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet with YFF at the Backstage in Ballard and Nomeansno, the Fastbacks, DOA, and the Accused at Gorilla Gardens on Jackson Street. She enthusiastically recounts trips to Noodle Ranch for the Mekong Grill with extra shallots. When I tell her that Noodle Ranch has closed, she counters: "Nah, people always say that!" She remembers the influx of new Seattle residents in 1994 when "a couple million people moved in overnight and tore everything down, and every last fucking one of them had the balls to complain about rain!" Her home had become a commodity, and the real estate grab was hateful. She left the Pacific Northwest but eventually found her way back.
Somewhere around 1998, Case rented a huge live/work space in the old Washington Shoe Building for $680 a month. "I had a trust-fund druggie neighbor who was so stupid he got wasted and tried to impress a girl by going for a swim in the water tower on the roof. There hadn't been water in the tower since the 1960s. He broke his leg, and a helicopter had to pull him out." She remembers the building had high ceilings and a view of the Smith Tower. I tell her of my recent fascination with old logos and signs from Seattle's past, of how much I love the Sunny Jim mascot. She answers, "Oh yeah! The Sunny Jim plant was right near the Rainier Brewery. I actually buried my dad in a Sunny Jim can. For real. He loved peanut butter."
Case currently lives on a farm in Vermont where she recorded some of her last record, Middle Cyclone, which debuted at number three on the Billboard charts in its first week. Her current roommates include two rescued greyhounds named Travis and Swany, a shepherd/chow mutt named Liza, a gray cat named Ira, a calico kitty named Rhonda, and a gray acid-washed tabby called Marty. She had a three-legged cat named Wayne, but he recently died. "I'm sorry to say he was eaten by a coyote," she explains. "But he lived hard and balls-out, so I think he would have wanted it that way."
I pick up my phone and call the Frisko Freeze in Tacoma to ask if they employ women. The man who answers the phone says that they do, but he can't talk because they're really busy. The milkshakes and the cheeseburgers and the fries are still great.