’SEATTLE’S NOT DEAD’
THE FORGOTTEN SEATTLE HARDCORE PUNK SCENE'
(An Emerald City Fairy Tale by Fred Speakman)
PART ONE (1983-1990): "Drunkenness and Desperation"
"Mine's a tale that can't be told...My freedom, I hold dear...Of year's ago, and days of old, where magic filled the air..."
(Led Zeppelin- "Ramble On" )
...Or, where beer and puke filled the air. Maybe a parking lot outside of an all-ages club like Washington Hall in the Central District was the scene…or something like that, I can't remember. All I remember is that some independent towing guy put a wheel-lock on my girlfriend's used car. Out of all of the cars in the lot that were parked illegally, he had to pick on hers. I was drunk, seventeen, and was supposed to be inside in 5 minutes to play guitar with my band, Last Gasp. My girlfriend started yelling at the towing guy and threw her 40 ouncer his way, causing it to shatter in the parking lot, insuring that no one would be able to drive out of there without getting a flat tire. Some big toothless lug/door bouncer/drug dealer named Orin came over and threatened the towing guy, and I was able to talk him down to half of the price to release it. I payed the guy all the drinking money that I had left...and went in and played the show- drunk off of my ass. Typical everyday shit.
Yeah, those were the days, or whatever I can remember about them, or heard about through my older friends. The local sleaze-bag hardcore punk rock scene in Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia started around the early-to-mid 80s, along with a combined infusion of bands and people from the Tri-Cities WA, Spokane WA, and Boise Idaho. Once the whole SST thing filtered up from California, along with issues of Maximum RockNRoll, Flipside, and those shitty Doug Moody Mystic compilations, I was done for. You may have had the same experience as I had. If it made you jump out of your skin like it did for me, then you were done for and you never looked back. It was the oft-overlooked junkie stepbrother of what became the basis of the burgeoning popular-and-publicized Seattle Scene of the late 80s-early 90s. In the early 80's, when I got tired of Ozzy and Judas Priest singing ballads on their new albums, I turned to chaos and my life would never be the same.
I was still in middle school when I saw this whole thing take shape. I wanted to be a musician, and with my sense of humor, I was naturally attracted to the dark side. All it took was one viewing of "Decline of the Western Civilization" at the Neptune Theatre, and I was fucked for life. Those were also the days when you could take one trip down to Second Time Around on the 'Ave' (University Ave. in Seattle), and you could buy yourself a $100 piece-of-shit guitar, a warped vinyl copy of some second-pressing punk record (DI, Circle Jerks, Butthole Surfers, Dead Hippie, etc.), a used leather jacket that some idiot sold for dope money, and maybe a Black Flag bumper sticker. One stop shopping. Pretty cool, eh? Down the street, you had Cellophane Square. We avoided Tower Records most of the time, unless you wanted to buy an Iron Maiden record or something. There was Time Travelers downtown, and Fallout Records and Skateboards on Olive St. near the Broadway District. Penny Lane…Rubato Records…Golden Oldies…yawn yawn, the list goes on.
You had a few radio stations to listen to…KCMU FM (now KEXP), KYYX FM, KJET AM. The local publication The Rocket was promoting bands like The Young Fresh Fellows, The Allies, Mondo Vita, The New Age Urban Squirrels, Uncle Bonzai, etc. This constituted what was a kind of a punkadelic college vibe...or basically, just good time rock and roll made by people who were influenced by the best and weirdest parts of pop-rock culture from the last two decades. You also had the experimental/ improvisational music crowd, influenced by Captain Beefheart, John Cage, Killing Joke, P.I.L., and the like. Many people in that crowd fused all of the aforementioned with rock, punk and/or metal, and went on to make what most outsiders know as 'The Seattle Sound'. There was also the local creditable hip hop scene, with Sir Mix-A-Lot, Kid Sensation, etc. There was the mostly-suburban metal scene (Band names have been omitted to protect the innocent...ok? Props to Jeff Gilbert of KCMU's 'BRAINPAIN' fame. Ask him about the Northwest metal scene sometime, or Google him). Hell, there was probably a music scene going on in the underground tunnels of Seattle's Chinatown for all I know...but if The Rocket didn't cover it, nobody knew about it.
Sometime around 1982-1984, many Northwest kids like me who were already into heavy metal started seeing the possibility of fast hardcore punk being worthy of a listen. Punk Rock awareness first happened to me, when a twisted family member gave me a recorded cassette copy of "In God We Trust, Inc." by The Dead Kennedys in 1982, which blew my mind with it's obnoxiousness. I started playing guitar, skateboarding, and was introduced to Fallout Records and Skateboards. Here is where I bought my precious copies of the "Not So Quiet On The Western Front" compilation on Alternative Tentacles Records, and the "P.E.A.C.E." compilation, put out by MDC's record label 'R Radical Records'. Fallout is where I discovered Black Flag and every other SST Records band that the label had to offer. SST came off like a punk rock Microsoft because they pretty much monopolized the record collections of little buck-toothed, crew-cut punkers all over the USA. The Minutemen influenced me personally to no end. Pretty soon, skateboarding started to seem ridiculous, and that is when I realized that most of my friends were jocks disguised as punk rock wanna-bes on wheels. Most of these kids went on to play sports in high school. I became a bonafide and proud punk rock nerd. Sell the skateboard...buy more records!!
Around the same time Kurt Cobain was still growing up in Aberdeen smoking pot, getting arrested and sleeping under bridges and stuff, the teenagers of Seattle were wreaking havoc and breaking ordinances on Seattle city streets, either at all-ages teen clubs like 'Skoochie's', or at punk rock shows. Most shows around '84 and '85 seemed to be put on at legion halls, where small-time promoters would rent the hall, and invite about 5 bands, and no one would get paid. These shows were often shut down by the fire department. There was a club in Chinatown that ran under the monikers of Gorilla Gardens, Omni Room and Rock Theatre, overseen by a sleaze-bag slumlord dude named Tony Chu. Bands were never payed very good there. The club would get shut down and reopened as often as every day. Tony Chu eventually moved the club to the Fremont district, which was the site of the Circle Jerks riot in the winter of '85. The fire marshall shut the show down about three songs into the Circle Jerks set, when they were playing "Killing For Jesus". Most of the audience did not like this very much, and they started throwing bottles. Cops came running into the entrance, one way in, one way out, and starting smashing punker's heads with billy clubs. A full-scale riot started, with people smashing things, starting fires in garbage dumpsters. The climax was when a bunch of people tipped a cop car over. I was still too young to go to this show and it was on a school night. My parents and I watched it all on the news that night. I wanted to run out of the house, and go down and see it live!
That's when I decided that I needed to play in a punk rock band, because I was missing too many good shows that older people told me about due to my age and my parental situation…shows at places like Community World Theater in Tacoma and the short-lived UCT Hall in Seattle. Still, I was going and seeing the 'safe' shows at the Hub Ballroom. I saw The Young Fresh Fellows open up for The Meat Puppets there once. I saw The Fallouts open for a Beatles cover band at Lincoln Arts Center. I saw Hüsker Dü play their last show in Seattle there. But these weren't the dangerous shows that I wanted to see...I wanted to see people SLAMDANCE!!! It was young kids like me that constituted the future of Seattle hardcore punk rock...poor, lower middle-class kids from fucked-up backgrounds, raised on MTV, drugs, alcohol, and peer pressure. There was more than this out there somewhere. We just had to grow up to find it.
Local bands like The Dehuminizers (straight from the "Kill Lou Guzzo" controversy) and The Accused were out on tours, playing fast, belligerent punk rock with stuttered beats, inspired by bands like D.R.I. (Dirty Rotten Imbeciles). I put an ad in the Rocket as "Punk guitar player wants to form a band...". Back then, Seattle was still a much-smaller music community, and people were much more friendlier too. I must of had about 30 people call me in the first week. One of them was Steve Roy, brother of Shannon McConnell of The Fallouts. I jammed with Steve, a phenomenal drummer, for a couple of years, mostly Hüsker Dü and Clash covers. We used to watch The Fallouts practice in their basement near their house in Wallingford. Steve and I were also lucky enough to be allowed to watch The Fallouts record their EP "Here I Come" at Reciprocal Studios in Ballard, with a pre-grunge Jack Endino at the board.
Another person who answered my ad was a guy named Erick Erickson (not the Eric Erickson of 'Squirrels' fame, but the one who drew the cover of the first Dehuminizers 7 inch). I jammed with him for a while, but I think that I was too young and weird for him, and didn't fit into his peer group, as he was about to graduate from high school, and I was still in 8th grade. He did turn me onto bands like Bad Brains, The Vandals, and The Angry Samoans, who became one of my favorite bands, and played a hand in influencing my musical tastes for the next few years upon entering the 9th grade. Other influential things like alcohol, pot, LSD, and various nose drugs played a hand in my future around this time too.
There was a church in Ballard on 24th Ave. NW, near my friend and future band-mate Chris Tretton's house. There was a hardly-functional multi-track studio in this place, and it also served as a rehearsal studio for bands. I formed a short-lived band pathetically named 'Nuns In Bondage' in the winter of 1986. We would get drunk and try to practice, until one of the guys who ran it, Walter, would come and kick us out so Crisis Party could practice. We used to come down with 40 ouncers of Mickey's and watch Crisis Party practice. Their drummer at the time was Erik Erickson, the guy from the Rocket ad. The other guy who ran this place with Walter was Gordon Raphael, a really nice guy, who went on to produce the first two Strokes records. They also used to throw parties, and bands like The Accused would play there. These would get shut down by the cops very quick. Someone set fire to the church a couple of years later.
I spent high school playing music, and sometime I and my friends would hang out on The Ave to buy drugs and have adults buy alcohol for us. Characters with names like Jimbo, Leggo, and Chuck, would walk up and down the street, whispering, "Acid? Acid? Acid? Acid?..." to passers-by. Fake skinheads who wouldn't know a real skinhead from Telly Savalas terrorized many of the street punks. There was also a local skateboard gang called "The Bopo Boys" who hung out, and eventually merged with the Jaks. These were kids who were either authentic runaways from fucked-up households, or suburban transplants who wanted to run away from their rich daddy and mommy's estates, and be poor. They were affectionately known as 'Ave Rats'. After my friend Chris ran away from home in 1988, he became an Ave Rat, and I spent most of my time hanging out down there with him, until my curfew was up. This is where I became aware of local punk bands much scarier, filthier, and drunker/druggier than the ones I was used to. Many people in these bands who either lived near the Ave in real apartments or were living on the street would congregate at a church up the street every Friday night for "Teen Feed", a volunteer program put on by the church to help the homeless. The food wasn't bad, and we would eat for free so that we'd have beer money for later. 1988 and 1989 were two years full of hanging around, underage drinking, and Teen Feed.
Around this era in 1989, I saw Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Tad at The Moore Theater. At the time, I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. I thought that Mudhoney were a MC5 Stooges rip-off (it never occurred to me at the time that they were actually just paying tribute to the bands that they liked), watched Tad eat an egg salad sandwich that someone threw up on stage, and watched as Kurt Cobain suffered through obvious electrical difficulties in his guitar circuitry. I had a flash in the middle of their set, where I was actually drawn in, and I had a feeling that they were probably going to be as famous as Hüsker Dü. Didn't matter! I decided then and there that I was going to denounce everything that Sub Pop stood for...a dumb-ass stupid fucking hype machine. Also, there had been a show on local television called Bombshelter Videos that played mostly Sub Pop and SST videos. I knew that Soundgarden were good, but I just 'didn't want to know' because I was against anything that seemed to be leaning towards the mainstream. I had a punk rock code to live by. All of my personal envy for one of Seattle's greatest times in music history would eventually subside into respect and admiration, but for now- I needed to FUCK SHIT UP!!
This is around the same time that I joined up with a band called Last Gasp. The other people in this band were all mutual friends of mine, and we would party and hang out with our acquaintances in The Jesters of Chaos at their house in Wallingford. They had a 7 inch vinyl EP out, and had been together for the last five years or so. They were gods to us. It was through this scene that I joined my first real gigging band Last Gasp, with my friend Chris (later known as Diamond C from 'The Midnight Idols'), John Bort (later known as Johnny Abortion from 'Sick And Wrong' who put out a one-off 7 inch EP out on Sub Pop), and our insanely energetic front-man Ajax Wood. We started playing a lot of shows.
We played our first show at The Party Hall in the CD, which eventually turned into the first version of The Twilight Exit. This was in the summer of 1989, and I was still in high school with a mouth full of braces. The lineup was us, Subvert (from Tacoma), and The Accused, who we looked up to. Shit, they were on the same label as the Circle Jerks at the time. Subvert were Tacoma's gutterpunk darlings, with Eric singing, Shawn on guitar, Jerry on bass, and John on drums. They were one of the first D.I.Y. hardcore punk bands from the Northwest besides The Accused that put out a 12 inch vinyl record in Europe, and that was the big time to us. This was a time when even major labels were still mostly putting out vinyl. At the Party Hall, I saw the Treepeople play there, a talented band that later went on to form Built To Spill. I watched bald straight edge boys bounce on trampolines and shoot each other with baby powder and stuff. Really, an interesting and important time in the history of rock and roll.
Natasha's out in Bremerton, notorious for the GBH ferry riot show, was one of the places that we played regularly for shows. It was a rent-able hall, and cops would usually show up and fuck everything up. I saw and played so many shows there, but I was so drunk on Lucky stubbies that I cannot remember most of them. I remember getting on the ferry, but I would never remember coming back. We played there one time, on a Sunday night, opening up for Agnostic Front and The Derelicts, also friends of ours (briefly on Sub Pop). Lori of Spooky Voodoo Productions (later starting Infinite Productions) put the show on. She paid us $10.00 and a half rack of Henry Weinhard Light...IN CANS!!! Back then, we were pissed off, but nowadays, after playing so many shows like this, I realize that it was probably due to the fact that there was not a very good turnout, and Agnostic Front probably had a pretty big guarantee. Nevertheless, back in Seattle, we were becoming rock stars and everyone knew who we were when we walked down the street…so we had to start wearing sunglasses.
(Just kidding…thought that maybe this article would be interesting if I included a lie…)
We also started playing shows at the Washington Hall. They had a fold-able stage that was usually pretty steady, but one of the first shows that I saw there was Poison Idea. The stage creaked and moaned under their combined weight. Pig Champion at one point had to sit down because his side was teetering so bad that it was about to collapse. What a fucking blast these times were. You could walk out to Poison Idea's touring band and drink beer with them. They were nice guys with IQs way higher than you would expect. Washington Hall also was ready to kick skinhead ass if necessary. Orin, king of the scene, and some of his buddies stacked about thirty 2X4s against the door, in case any neo-baldies wanted to fuck with us dirtbags. I saw Neurosis play at Washington Hall too.
A notable ex-Tri-Cities band in this scene that we played with in Seattle more times than I could count, was Aspirin Feast. Mike Fisher, their insane lead singer, was probably about the scariest front man besides David Yow that I have ever seen. Tim, their guitarist, was one of my first local guitar idols. Jim on bass was a complete nutcase, and Joe the drummer was famous for being the crazy mohawked guy on a long-running Washington State Lottery commercial. Through them, we met one of the coolest hardcore punk bands of all time, Christ On A Crutch, who originally hailed from DC, then came to the Tri-Cities (also previous home to Aspirin Feast and many others), then moved to Tacoma, and finally Seattle. We played so many shows and parties with them. Their guitarist/singer, Jerry Brady, became my mentor of everything that was guitar. He introduced me to Thin Lizzy, and made me think twice about how much good music there is out there besides hardcore punk. Their singer Glenn could drink more whiskey than anybody I've ever seen. Their bass player Nate Mendel eventually went onto play with Sunny Day Real Estate, and finally found fortune with the Foo Fighters. Eric Akre was their drummer who hailed from the Tri-Cities, along with his talented sister and vocalist Carrie Akre (Hammerbox, Goodness). C.O.A.C. would probably go down in history for coining the most punk rock album title that anyone had ever come up with in my opinion: "Crime Pays When Pigs Die".
Ron from a straightedge band called Brotherhood put out our first 7 inch, called "Drunkeness and Desperation" on his label Overkill Records in the spring of 1990. We felt like rock stars. We took a little road trip with Christ On A Crutch down to the Tri-Cites (Richland, Kennewick, Pasco WA) right about this time. We crashed in a hotel room that Orin and Jerry from Subvert were sharing. At the show, Orin broke the padlock on the legion hall's liquor storage cabinet. He loaded all of the bottles of booze into the C.O.A.C. van (affectionately known as the "Christburger"). We took off afterwards, and went to some party at some girl's house, while her parents were out of town. Our bass player somehow broke the toilet, cut his hand in the process, and bled all over the bathroom until it looked like a scene out of "Helter Skelter" We were kicked out of the party, and somehow got back to the hotel. Sometime in the night, our drummer Chris and Jerry from Subvert threw beer bottles into the pool (shallow end) and ruined anyone's chances of swimming. The next day, the manager knocked on the door, came in and saw that about 10 people were crashing on the floor. One wall by Orin's bed was covered in green and red loogies. She said "You have thirty minutes to get out of here, or I am calling the cops." Someone also took a dump in the bathtub, which we found out a couple of days later when we made the Tri-Cities Herald due to the liquor theft and the motel vandalism. That was probably the best press that Last Gasp ever got, besides the negative review in Maximum RockNRoll.
Things were starting to get really weird in Seattle, what with this new yarl-filled rock coming out of long-haired bands with shirtless lead singers. I saw it coming, and I started running. Us punk rock idiot fuckups never wanted to famous, and we never wanted to be buried by hair and yarl yarl yarl. The worst was yet to come. We ignored it by consuming copious amounts of shitty beer, and screaming words at the top of our lungs that no one really cared to hear. Soon, within our confined little scene, the music would eventually slow down too, with people starting getting all tribal and dreadlocky, and the simple aesthetic of D.I.Y. hardcore punk, dead to most other localities in the U.S. by 1986, would be infected by a new virus called 'grunge'. The only cure for the infection would be death.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
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