Sunday, March 3, 2013

Living Grunge in 1987 - part 1


Art is a strange thing. When we are drawn to works of art it moves the spirit, the spirit puts the mind to action, and we materialize ourselves externally to the world.  As an aspiring 18 year-old young "Jimi Hendrix" look-alike with a big Afro, bell bottom jeans, and Pike Market t-shirts, I was ready to make my mark somehow in the Emerald City.
I dreamed of changing the world by being in the next rock music sensation, having bright lights, screaming fans, and dreams on a bus.  You would think it was 1970, but it wasn't.  It's 1987, the blooming of mainstream Rap and the infancy of Grunge.  If you were trendy you leaned one way or the other so I stuck to my roots, and waited for "Bombshelter Videos" to come on every Tuesday and Wednesday evening.

The only problem with my dream was that I was African American so musically I was in an awkward position with the trending image of a rock star.  I had no social outlet other that the Satan worshipers that lived in my building, a kooky '80s metal guitar wailing sensation "Johnnie," and my next door neighbor Frank, a shamanistic Pike Market worker who also went by "Raven".  Downtown Seattle was truly colorful if you were fortunate enough to work and live downtown.  The nightlife was a memorizing mix of many cultures expressing their essence.  Not just Grunge, there were piano bars, vegan restaurants, belly dancers, comic shops, and record stores on every block.

So in my studio I would play "bass lines" on classical guitar, mostly to hard rock like Anthrax, or whatever.  I got pretty good considering I did not have a strap for myself.  I was saving up for a Real bass, working as a dishwasher at "Sullivans" restaurant.  I knew it would take a while.

My surroundings were meager; having a second floor studio apartment with my window facing the alley was as dark as it gets without much natural light, my only view the loading area of the Moore theater across the alley with Junkies all pitched inside the overhead area.  The elevator in my building was old, and worn down. The once white finish now turned light green from all the cigarette smoke, and the moldy hallway smell was all I needed to remind me where I was on an economic scale.


I did not care -- I was alone and free to do whatever, and I did.

I would walk to the Vogue and look through the window at the bands playing.  There was also a TV monitor on the outside window so you could see the bands more clearly walking by the bar.  I thought at the time what a great marketing gimmick that was.  Being under the drinking age, I could do nothing but watch and wonder.  Grunge started out a bit weird, there was a literal clash of imagery on stage.  Heavy makeup, power ballads, punk-rock, with dark music overtones.  It captured the essence of our city that I mentioned earlier:  colorful, and confused.  I believe the rampant, and easy access to LSD on the street was having some effect on that for sure.
 Johnnie from my building would often be outside the Vogue watching too.  And he was over 21.  Approaching him after spotting him a few times, I said, "You look like you're 21.  Why don't you go in and have a good time?"  His response was, "Not my scene, man.  I just come down to watch the train wreck." We both burst into laughter and walked home together.

 The innocent and dark demeanor took a turn for the worst for me one day.  I came home from work and walked into my apartment to discover a junkie sitting in my living room, cooking something on the top side of my guitar, my Wrist Rocket strap wrapped around his arm, and eyes totally dialiated.  I was angry and beside myself that someone would walk up my fire escape and enter my home. My emotions took the best of me me, and I reached for the baseball bat in the kitchen.  The guy was trying to apologize but I was pissed, and whacked him a couple of times on his legs.  My neighbor, Frank, "a midget sized guy," tackled me under the legs, and the next thing I know, he and Johnny are dragging me out of my place.  The police came and calmed me down and arrested the guy in my apartment.  I fell asleep mad at the world, and mad at my city, hoping for something other than my bane existence.

Well, a month rolls by, and I find out Soundgarden is playing with "X" at the Moore Theater.  I had seen Soundgarden's video on Bombshelter Vids for "Hunted Down."  I thought they looked pretty cool, and wanted to record their show with X.  Seldom I found it fortunate that the rock concerts at the Moore were so loud, all I had to do was open my window and place my stereo on the ledge and press record.  I got some good recordings like that. Anyhow, I think I see the drummer from Soundgarden loading in.  I could tell he had to be with no roadie in a blue van, unpacking his drums alone.  The last thing he takes in as I'm watching him is an open box, with shirts.  He knows I'm watching him from my fire-escape and says "You want one?" And my reply is, "Sure, I'll take a large."  He smiles and tosses me a shirt.  Well, just what I need.  A nice gesture after the last month of getting over a hell moment.

Later that spring I remember sitting out on my fire escape and notice some trucks rolling up with a bunch of long-haired hippy looking guys.  It looks like a minor production.  I'm wondering who is playing at the venue, but there is no band on the marquee for the Moore.  I yell down at one of the roadies, some skinny dude with long blond hair who looks like he's carrying guitars. He could have even been in one of the bands.  "Who's playing down there?"  The dude is obviously ignoring me, maybe because he's busy, or maybe because I'm the riff raff from the alley.  Quite rude.
Anyhow, I thought I would get my ghetto blaster ready for another round of recording.  I just bought some fresh tapes, too.  So right when I'm getting ready to move the stereo to the edge of the fire escape, I notice another animated blond guy, in a strange hat, with a sports jersey, and he yells up, "Hey, can you record on that?"  I yell back "Yeah!"  He hollers back "Come hang, and record us inside if you'd like...."  Well, kind of a weird exchange of words, but what harm could it be?  Who knows, maybe his band "MotherLoveBone" is as cool as their name. 


Meanwhile, in everyone is Seattle's cassette deck at the time: