Seattle is a deeply musical city, and our mayor, Mike McGinn, is a devout music fan. Originally from Long Island, McGinn spent his teenage years in the context of local star Bruce Springsteen's Greetings from Asbury Park. He also had his ear pinned to the reggae sounds coming out of Queens, where Jamaicans were toasting over their records through sound systems on the streets. Earlier, McGinn's parents had immersed him in folk and big-band music—his mother strumming Woody Guthrie on her guitar. This past Sunday afternoon, the mayor was organizing his CDs and invited me over to hear some tunes. I brought selections from Lesbian, Nacho Picasso, and Tea Cozies to play for him. When I got there, the first McGinn to greet me (by licking me) was black Labrador Midge. There was no security guard, no one patting me down, and no mayoral mansion on a hill; there was Midge, wagging. I went in through the kitchen where McGinn's wife was making cookies, then to the living room where the mayor sat hunched over disarrayed stacks of CDs and CD folders. Pink Floyd wafted out of two speakers.
I'm seeing some Grateful Dead in these stacks. You were probably past your Grateful Dead phase when you ran for mayor.
I was. I still like them, though. Sorry about the stacks, I'm getting all this sorted—I have to remember which ones have cases and which ones go in the folders. I separate according to genres.
You're the mayor. What's the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? How often is it listening to AC/DC Back in Black?
The first thing I do is make coffee and a smoothie. Then I turn on my iPad and read my e-mail and briefings, and review the news. I have not been turning on music first thing, not so much AC/DC in there. I do listen to music, iTunes mostly. I skipped cassettes entirely. [He hands me one of the CD folders, continuing to organize, and says, "Here's the soul and R&B." I turn through Jimmy Cliff, Otis Redding, James Brown, Macy Gray, Tower of Power, Wheedle's Groove, and Shuggie Otis's Inspiration Information.]
When do you have time to listen to music?
Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday mornings, I put on KEXP; I have a stereo in the garage—that's my workout room. [Hands me Greetings from Asbury Park.] This was really big in high school. Huge. If you lived in Long Island when this record came out, it was like he was speaking for us—our big local star.
While I've got you, would you please make street parking free all of the time? Some of your parking cops are absolute Nazis. Realistically, what would happen if you made it free? Let's think-tank—I'm not leaving until all street parking is free.
It would be bad [laughs]. Business districts need turnover. For instance, in Capitol Hill, if people could park for free all the time, they might leave their cars in front of businesses and restaurants all week long. And that's not really fair to the business or restaurant, so there need to be rules. I hate getting tickets just like the next guy, but the rules need to stay in place.
Mr. Mayor, I know you're a reggae fan, but I must advise you against it.
I can find something here to play you. I can sway you. [Searches his CDs, finds one, puts it in.] You will not be able to hate the Chantells & Friends, Children of Jah. There's a soul aspect. [The Chantells spill out into the mayor's living room. We sit and listen. Midge emerges and nibbles happily on my left hand. The Chantells have a Motown feel—pinpricked keys, rhythm guitar, squarely shuffled beats and fills, and a high sung, slapped back, almost Curtis Mayfield vocal.]
You're right. I don't hate it. Okay, I like it, you win. I'll grow a dreadlock for you. Now, my turn to sway you, Mr. Mayor. Allow me to introduce you to the caterwauled firings of Lesbian. [When the reggae ends, I press play on Lesbian's 14-minute "Stropharia Cubensis."] Do you like stoner metal?
What is stoner metal? [The meticulous distortion of Lesbian clashes with the Children of Jah that had been there before. The mayor takes it in, reflecting. This has to be the first time Lesbian has been played in his house. I wonder what his wife in the adjacent room is thinking. Midge leaves.]
Stoner metal is metal played by people who smoke a bunch of marijuana—and usually have beards. The songs tend to be longer and more complex than your average metal.
Lesbian are very talented. [He gets up, finds an album, and puts it on.] Is this stoner metal? It's Hot Tuna. What does Hot Tuna mean to you?
I don't know if it's stoner metal. I mean, they're probably stoners. When I think of Hot Tuna, I think of San Francisco and LSD. I have another one for you, a rapper named Nacho Picasso. [Tuna finishes, and I press play on "Bad Guy." Midge wanders back into the room wagging and nibbling.] Nacho is a comic-strip rapper, he bases his album art on Frank Frazetta, and he's got grills on his teeth. You know about grills? You should get grills—they could say "I'M MAYOR."
I know about grills. They're not for me [laughs]. Nacho has a nice voice.
One more for you, Tea Cozies' "Muchos Dracula"—punky upstart, '60s type pop, almost surf music.
That's easy to like. I like the rhythm—I gravitate toward rhythm when I listen to music. It's an indescribable feeling when the rhythm is just right. [He puts the Chantells back on. I don't hate it.] The Chantells were listening to soul music. There would be the reggae side and the dub side, but on this album, they merged the sides. When they're toasting or free-styling on the backside, that's the roots of rap. There's a large Jamaican population in New York, in neighborhoods like where Run-DMC grew up, there was a direct overlap. I liked the Sugarhill Gang, too. I also got to see the Clash play in Washington, DC, right after one of the guitarists left, maybe 1985? African music was big as well—I liked King Sunny Ade. There's a lot of bad reggae out there, I'll give you that. But there's a lot of bad rock, too. And country. [He puts Al Green on.] Al Green cures all in the musical world.
Do you think the Seattle Police Department gets fairly portrayed? It's been an active time with the mace, John Williams, and the DOJ bringing in the monitor.
There are serious and legitimate community concerns that the police have to address. But the community also needs a deeper understanding of the job that police officers face—we need the community and the police to have stronger communication with each other. Where we are with the DOJ process is that we have an agreement, and a commitment from community advocates and the police to work on that. I feel like we're in a position to begin addressing the issues in a meaningful way—a way we weren't addressing them many months ago. Passions run high on both sides of the issue. Now we have a path forward—a commitment from all parties to work together, addressing these issues for a safer community.
The band Don't Talk to the Cops! probably won't be playing that fundraiser.
Probably not [laughs]. But that speaks right to some of the concerns. When people don't view the police—the formal guardians of the community—as legitimate, we've got a serious issue here. Allegations were raised, and whether the DOJ is 100 percent right is not the issue. The issue is how we are going to seriously address the concerns of those who have lost trust in the police department. We have to fix that. To me, the terms of the settlement aren't as important as the willingness of people to commit to resolving the issue. To shed preconceptions, no matter what side they're on. Everyone has to throw in on this, from elected leadership, to the community advocates, to the police officers, to the police leadership. It's one of the biggest challenges I face as mayor.
What do you listen to in order to blow off steam after you've had a long hard day? Maybe Dre and Snoop's "Gin & Juice"? Or Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day"?
If I wanted to mellow out and feel good, I'd go with something like bluesy, folky Big Bill Broonzy [gets up and puts it on]. And maybe some R&B or soul, Al Green. Maybe some reggae, if it's in that soulful vein.
So you're not in the basement with a punching bag listening to Metallica's Master of Puppets?
No [laughs]. This is one guy playing, by the way [referring to Broonzy]. He's got this simultaneous rhythm/lead thing. He went to Europe in the 1950s and did well, because they were accepting of African American musicians. He was original.
Walk me through the music you come from. Any favorite concerts?
Toots and the Maytals played at the Williams College campus, where I went. I definitely headed off to a couple of Grateful Dead shows in college—I haven't really listened to any of the post-Jerry stuff. I saw Devo—that was pretty trippy. It was their first or second tour; they had the weird hats and everything. You gotta remember that at the time, my buddies were like, "Let's watch the Yes film." Which I could watch for only 15 minutes because it was so boring. Rock was in one place, then you had the Ramones, Devo, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and Talking Heads. I even had a Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers album. And the Temptations' Psychedelic Shack. There was the ska revival with the Specials and English Beat. One of my buddies was from the South, and he turned me on to bluegrass and soul—the J.B.'s. I'd heard Lead Belly growing up. So many of these songs have roots, and they're not as far apart as you think they are—that's always interested me. I always search for the lineage—like where big-band jazz becomes smaller bands, into jump music intersecting with the blues. It's almost rock and roll, but more soulful. I love the way music intersects like that.
Is there anything you put on that your wife and kids hate?
Maybe Coltrane? I stopped putting it on [laughs].
What local bands do you like?
The Maldives and the Moondoggies and Hey Marseilles. Macklemore is killing it right now. Kore Ionz, Clinton Fearon. I like THEESatisfaction; I've seen them a couple of times. Blue Scholars, they're on my iPhone. Wheedle's Groove. Light in the Attic does such good things. I'd like to check out Rodriguez.
You have that Shuggie Otis album. That's the best album.
Yes! That's actually been in continual rotation around here. It's got "Strawberry Letter 23" that Brothers Johnson covered. [He picks a different CD up from the stacks, puts it on, and big-band sounds gently ooze.] This is Big Joe Turner—one that I heard a lot growing up, on my dad's side of things. He's one of those artists who span all the genres—he sang with Count Basie and went on to do "Shake, Rattle and Roll." I love the blues shouters, like Jimmy Rushing with "Mr. Five by Five."
What's with these Blue Break Beats? [Volume 3 has Gene Harris's "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" and Shirley Bassey's version of the Doors' "Light My Fire."]
I got them in a used-CD store in Omaha driving across the country. [Picks up another CD, organizing.] Now here's acid jazz, The Roots of Acid Jazz. Wes Montgomery, and Jimmy Smith, and Verve Records—I just bought a Wes Montgomery set.
You've got a difficult job. I forgot to ask you about the tunnel being drilled next to Puget Sound to replace Highway 99—just a small project over there.
That little thing? [Laughs] Another huge bit of work. There's also garbage to be picked up, and streets to be better cleaned, potholes to fix... and when you turn on the water, there better be water, and light when you turn on your lights. We also need to make sure kids are educated, and that we're taking care of the needy and giving them a hand up. I want to invest and promote things that make the city strong—music and arts are a couple of those things.
And stoner metal.
That's in there, yes!