DAY 1. I don't expect much from the town. I know everyone will still not be on speaking terms with everyone else. I know Seattle has gotten richer, more smug, and more corpulent, even accounting for the recent dot-com recession. I know that it's a town of winners, among whom some of my friends still drink uneasily. The Kingdome has imploded, but I always suspected it was too good to be true. Belltown has turned into Ballard, which has turned into Capitol Hill. Nothing changes. Upon checking in with your lovely immigration people, I inform the official I am traveling to the United States on work-related matters--here to finish writing a book on grunge music, a sound that I believe the Northwest was once familiar with. I am told that this cannot be considered legitimate work, and I'm forced to reenter all my particulars on a tourist visa. In the evening, I eat spaghetti in Ballard, in the company of a farting pug puppy, and discuss politics.
DAY 2. Sub Pop Records now resides at a smart condo in Belltown. I remember a story that producer Steve Fisk told me years ago, of how a friend got mugged by three crack whores a couple of blocks away from his Belltown studio, and I sigh nostalgically. Everything glistens, even the patrons' teeth. A colleague of general manager Megan Jasper hands me a printout of her original "Lexicon of Grunge"--a parody of media hype she once invented off the top of her head for The New York Times. Even now, phrases like "lamestain" (an uncool person) and "bound and hagged" (staying home on a Saturday night) make me chuckle.
Up to Capitol Hill where, I'm informed, the KFC near the offices of The Stranger no longer stocks its delicious chicken pot pie. Perhaps this is deliberate misinformation. I have no way of ascertaining the truth, because I seem to have left my Seattle street legs back in England.
DAY 3. This damn book is depressing me. Everywhere, people tell me sad tales of heroin and rock music. For relief I recount my last e-mail interchange with Courtney Love--I sent her a note asking, "Can you recall any anecdotes involving me and you back in the day, because I'm damned if I can remember any," and she wrote back and said, "I'll try, but as I remember it, I was the rock star and YOU were the journalist." So I shot back, "You have so got it the wrong way 'round." Everyone nods their heads and laughs because I am so droll.
But hey! I'm telling the truth.
Steve Fisk is excited to learn that I have a song called "Ellensberg" (a tribute to Some Velvet Sidewalk) on my new record. Charles Peterson shows me photos of girls in Vietnam. We visit Hattie's Hat together to find ace sardonic commentator Peter "Grunge" Bagge. A man greets me by name at the door: the same man who once tried to set a lawyer on me at The Stranger and who now wants nothing more from life than to give me his new CD. His name is Joe Skyward Bass (Posies, Sunny Day Really Lame). I leave the CD in a telephone booth.
Later, I am talked into seeing a photo exhibition at the EMP--a place I had not visited before--and am horrified. I cannot laugh. Even a week later, I cannot laugh. First, the people. There's nothing as objectionable as collections of rich Americans being self-congratulatory (take it from a representative of the rest of the world). The much-vaunted funk ride turns out to be two parts lecture, one part bad Disneyland. Despite Peter "Grunge" Bagge's efforts, I refuse to be drawn into the Guitar Room. Guitars encapsulate everything I despise about rock music.
I enjoy the Sonics exhibit, relish those smart jazz posters, and am shocked beyond repair at the '90s/present-day stuff. Get out your walker, Grampa, and wave it in the air--we've finally made it into a museum! Why does everyone feel this need for validation, for approval from peers they'd probably hate if they ever met? I see moving pictures of my friends from Olympia talking to the Man and think, "You scum." No joke. I see ticket stubs... like that always was the most important part of seeing a show. I see T-shirts, fanzines, posters, records, and I realize that, that's right, we never did have any individuality when we were young. I'm surprised there isn't a Danny Goldbert Memorial Urinal Deodorizer Puck: He's such a great man.
You know that guitar sculpture out in the hall? Best use for them.
Afterward, we see Calvin Johnson doing a very good impersonation of Calvin Johnson onstage at a club they once called the Off Ramp. Peter "Grunge" Bagge wants to heckle with a snappy cry of "wrap it up," but doesn't for fear of upsetting lanky rock star Krist Novoselic, who is standing near us. A woman with hard eyes named Angel asks our names and blanks "Grunge" Pete straight out when she discovers he isn't part of the Northwest's rock cognoscenti.
DAY 4. In the toilets at the Rendezvous, next to Roq la Rue where Fantagraphics is holding an exhibition of comic art, two guys are pissing in the sink and a half-naked girl is dry-humping another guy having a piss in the porcelain. I sit back down, and a boxer has done a neat switch on my beer, leaving me with nothing to wash down my drain-cleaning whiskey. Cartoonist Jim Blanchard smokes a big cigar, and I talk drivel with the chap responsible for Doofus. Why does Seattle hold some of its most talented citizens (the cartoonists) in such low regard? These pieces would go for three times as much in the U.K., and we'd be grateful. Behind Joanne Bagge, an 80-year-old pimp in full regalia buys three corn-fed girls a beer, and introduces himself. They look scared and confused, not a good combination.
Good to see Belltown hasn't changed too much.
DAY 5. At lunch time, we take Bill Speidel's Two-Minute Seattle Underground Tour in Pioneer Square. (Back in the U.K., we call these places "basements," or perhaps "cellars.") The Californian tour guide is excited to find I'm from England, and asks if I've read any Harry Potter books. Yes, and I like the Beatles, too.
In the Cha Cha before a nostalgically bowel-churning Mudhoney/Bob Whittaker floor show, Stranger publisher Tim Keck announces, "Hey, I'm loaded," and buys the entire Latin Quarter a round of swabbies (Captain Morgan and 7 UP). I suggest several ideas for an English cookery column for the Portland Mercury: "Cooking with Grease," "The Three-Day Boil Fest," "Cool Gruel," "Fry That!" and "Smashed Pea Parfait." A few days later, someone will tell an obscene story involving a Cha Cha bartender, a tampon, and a chili pepper. I have no way of ascertaining if this tale is common knowledge. My Seattle street legs are still back in England.
DAY 6. My book editor refuses to let me call Calvin a "sexy retard." We settle for "sexy special person" instead.
DAY 7. In Second Time Around yesterday I bought double Christmas albums of both Death Row and the Osmonds for under 10 bucks for the pair. ($9.49 was spent on Death Row.) Score! Monday is spent traveling around art galleries and stonecutters in the company of fab Olympian paper-cut artist Nikki McClure. We eat a cheap Indian meal near Pioneer Square and are dismayed when the saffron turns out to be food coloring. A local journalist asks me why Nirvana favored my company over that of respected, "proper" writers--perhaps it was my giant dick--and inquires as to whether I've ever had sex with a certain Stranger critic. I mishear the question, and thus my answer is more amusing.
Peter "Grunge" Bagge shows me his Murray Wilson "Rock and Roll Dad" animated cartoon on www.icebox.com, and we both laugh copiously. Good to meet an artist who appreciates his own work.
DAY 8. The Sonics whup the Lakers by a 10-point advantage as we whack our whackers enthusiastically in the back row. Two questions. One: Why do the video screens show the action smaller than in real life? Whose idea was it to pick Chewbacca as the team mascot? Also: Where are the Tin Pan Alley team songs sung lustily and lewdly like gay Welsh male voice choirs before and after every game? Don't you think that would be immeasurably preferable to the "Star-Spangled Banner"?
On the way past the $5 colas at the KeyArena exit, it strikes me that the EMP could benefit from being turned into a musical theme park (à la the Funk Blast). Like on the grunge ride, you could slip down the Space Needle into the bloodstream of Seattle rock music and mainline direct to the source.
DAY 9. There was a great lost movie showing in town at the EMP tonight, and only about a dozen of you Yankee assholes turned up to see it: Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. Okay, good call on the EMP boycott, but nil points on the taste-o-meter. YOU NEED THIS FILM! Fabulous Stains premiered in Denver, to no avail, and was never given a release even on video. After 20 years it has attained a cult status, through grrrl fanzines and a couple of arbitrary late-night TV screenings. Patrons of the film include Courtney Love, Tobi Vail, and Jon Bon Jovi--that's some patronage! It also happens to be the best damn rock movie ever.
Fabulous Stains is a post-punk (1981), proto-riot-grrrl movie featuring a couple of former Sex Pistols, Fee Waybill (who was also featured in Xanadu, the second-best rock movie ever), and a whole cast of sassy, disaffected girls. The movie starts with a girl flipping off her boss--she's in a band (which hasn't rehearsed)--and the whole thing snowballs from there, through scarily prescient Go-Go's-style MTV videos and staged riots. The Stains' slogan is "We don't put out," while lecturing gormless Midwestern girls and wearing see-through tops. Of course, the singer fucks the cute Brit boy at the first opportunity.
Favorite line (Stains singer to cynical Brit punk): "You're an old man in a young girl's world."
DAY 10. See a tiny slice of Seattle's heritage preserved among the offices of a Canadian Internet company on the 11th floor of the Terminal Sales Building: a four-foot-wide strip of graffiti from the old Sub Pop bathroom. The nice man babysitting the plush surroundings explains that he's a Screaming Trees fan, and quizzes us closely as to what scenes of debauched mayhem might have taken place on the very spot he's now standing. We tell him that we don't know what the hell he's talking about, we're sure.
Decide I should record a punk rock album in Olympia on Saturday--depending on whether or not my chums show. Now that's punk.
Later, see a scary man with a mutoid guitar/Casio keyboard scream schizophrenic songs of alienation and bondage to his three robot pals at the Crocodile. No one tries to engage me in a triple tongue-kiss, and I start to wonder if this town has lost its edge. Maybe it's me, losing my alcohol. My mother phones to say my cat of 14 years is dying from cancer. Decide to dedicate a Dusty Springfield song to it this weekend.
DAY 11. Cadge a lift to Olympia direct from the stonecutters. Endless cars rest sullenly underneath the mystical mountain. I glance back at Seattle's skyline and note that it's smudged over, like a graying, decaying print of the Emerald City.