Wednesday, June 13, 2012

SEATTLE’S NOT DEAD (PT. TWO)

The Rathouse's front porch circa 1992- L to R: TV Kenly (Officer Down), Scott Marquardt (Officer Down), Julian Gibson (D.C. Beggars), Adrian Garver (D.C. Beggars), Steve 'Hoagie' Gero (D.C. Beggars), Astrella Norell (Officer Down), Carla Sindle (D.C. Beggars), Fred Speakman (Officer Down), Bradley Stevens (Officer Down)

(Picture: © Dan Halligan/ 10 Things Jesus Wants You To Know)


SEATTLE’S NOT DEAD’: THE FORGOTTEN SEATTLE HARDCORE PUNK SCENE (PT. TWO)


(An Emerald City Fairy Tale by Fred Speakman)



PART TWO: "Happily Ever After Means Eternal Hell" (1990-1996)

"...And I-hi, hoe-whoa, I'm still alive, yarrrrll!" ("Alive" by Pearl Jam; from 'Ten')
 

When Seattle turned the page from the 80s to the 90s. I remember feeling like the end was definitely near, even though most of our lives were very young. The change was so abrupt and shocking to me that I had to ignore the significance of living in one of the most popular cities in America...by getting completely shitfaced almost everyday. Starbucks Coffee was getting really big, Microsoft was gaining power to unleash worldwide insanity upon us all, and Soundgarden had just signed with A&M Records. This news was exciting to some of the glamorous booty-swirling chicks and chicksters in this town, especially those who bought anything/everything that SubPop put out...but for those of us who wanted to continue to play loud, abrasive and fast punk fused with speed metal, we ignored this new Seattle yarl rock, and continued to punish our own and each other's eardrums, each other's braincells, with our unpolished, immature brand of insanity, while exclaiming "FUCK SUB POP !!!" (and that was only a small lot of us). SubPop was not saving my life by any means.

This is not to say that everything that came out on SubPop was bad, or that most of us didn't secretly like Soundgarden (one of my top ten desert island discs is definitely "BadMotorFinger"). I would rather have listened to Mudhoney, or The Fastbacks, than Alice In Chains at the time. We also realized that that a phenomenon was beginning in Seattle that would change the face of popular music forever. Time has proven, as with all fads, that it was a brief shining moment that still has a minty aftertaste and obviously has influenced enough terrible bands on a global level to be considered significant enough. Seattle contributed an overwhelming mass of radioactive sludge that contaminated the airwaves. As for I and most of my peers past and present, we did our best to ignore this pest called 'grunge', and listened to bands like Celtic Frost, Slayer, Poison Idea, Napalm Death, Christ On Parade, Deicide, Morbid Angel, and........Neurosis (more on them later).

Jerry from Christ On A Crutch

Maybe you've noticed that a lot of the aforementioned bands are of the punk or speed metal genre. See, most of us punkers here in Seattle were really heshers at heart, and we were still sort of stuck on the crossover phase of punk metal that started in the mid-80's. Mix shitty generic beer in with some of the most mind-numbingly potent marijuana in the United States, add louder-than-fuck hardcore punk metal dirge...and you've got a recipe for one of the heaviest mind fogs, only akin to the natives of the Pacific Northwest region. Not enough rain for yah? Wanna make a sunny day cloudy? It's easy...Hang out with a bunch of NW heshers. Make sure one of them is 21 or older to buy beer…and please stop spilling the bong, dude!! The bong water is seeping through the cracks in the floor, and the rats in the basement are drinking it!!

Bands like Aspirin Feast, Fitz Of Depression, NMF, Model Citizens, The Derelicts, Three Legged Dog, Christ On A Crutch, Dumt, Date Rape, Whipped, T.F.L., Positive Greed, Morphius, and North American Bison were slogging it out at all ages halls all over the region. My band Last Gasp were kind of known as the young local nut-balls of the scene. In the middle of it all, you had characters like Orin (mentioned in Part One), who was like a compulsive-lying drug-dealing punk rock Godfather to most of us young punks. If you had Orin on your side, things were ok and skinheads would probably not fuck with you. Hey man, I mean, he hung out with El Duce and shit. There was a sweet side to Orin...a big baby type of deal...and a really scary side to Orin too. Only those who had to deal with this bad side know. To those who did...my heart goes out to you.


Duane and Ian from The Derelicts

1991: By this time, the Jesters of Chaos had broken up, and Aspirin Feast just imploded like a toxic punk rock zit. All ages punk shows were getting harder to put on, because kids didn't want to behave, and alcohol is not exactly a mellow psychedelic. Last Gasp was ending it's patience with one another, and we too, by the end of 1991 had broken up in sad circumstances. Our lead singer Ajax had lost the will to be creative with us. Our bass player John started playing drums in a band called Sick And Wrong, known for their front-woman 'Mr. Wendy', who wore a strap-on flatulent penis. Chris the drummer and I joined up with Robert Jenkins (Hells Smells), TV Kenly, Scott Marquardt, Brad Stevens, and Astrella Norell, our ages ranging from '19' to '50', in a seminal noise experiment called Officer Down. Looking back from a personal perspective, Officer Down just might have packed one hundred years of continuous drug and alcohol abuse for one person, into two years among seven people.


Meeting the people mentioned above introduced me to a much wider social circle than before. This scene combined a select few from the upper echelon of Seattle rock royalty (Kim Thayil and Soundgarden), Jesse Bernstein (who sadly commited suicide two months after Officer Down was formed, halting the ongoing production of TV and Robert's never-released cinematic masterpiece "Gorefest"), Richard Peterson (yes, Richard Peterson, the notable Seattle musician and Johnny Mathis super-fan), and people from new bands like 7 Year Bitch, DC Beggars, Alcohol Funnycar, and of course The Gits. A whole flux of people, many in their mid to late twenties, had flocked from the Midwest to Seattle. Two notable areas of interest were Chicago obviously, and Antioch University in Ohio. Also, many Evergreen College alumni were involved in this scene. A lot of these people that I met were artists of a higher caliber than just playing in punk bands. For a brief moment, most of the newer bands sounded more sophisticated than the hardcore bands. Even Officer Down had it's moments. Hands down, I considered The Gits to be the best out of us all back then.


Carla from D.C. Beggars
Now, this is the point when everything seemed to get the most negative, at least for me. The fast, fun speed and energy of punk rock dwindled until it sat like a pile of shit in the middle of a rendering plant. Sure, some bands continued on playing with the same energy...bands like The Gits and the DC Beggars played semi-fast and made it sound fun and soulful at the same time. 7 Year Bitch took Selene Vigil's poetry and set it to mid-tempo polyrhythmic punk in a fully-realized original form that sounded like themselves and no one else. It was good to finally see local bands that sounded very different from one another.

Officer Down went the other way- a way that I detested from the beginning. Chris added sheet metal alongside his normal drum kit. Our band was so off-key at times, and possibly this could have been because everyone was always really fucked up. Sometimes, we practiced on acid, and things would get really weird...discordant, flat, and bitter. However, there were times when we played and things would just snap right into place. Smiles all around. During those times, we sort of sounded like Romeo Void on heroin. Other friends of ours from other bands were doing the same thing: playing slow industrial bottom-heavy, sawtooth-grinding metal and utilizing multimedia presentations simultaneously, like ChristDriver, formed by Eric Greenwalt after Subvert (from Tacoma) broke up.

One half of Aspirin Feast went on to form Laceration, a band that followed suit when all of the Napalm Death-influenced bands slowed down too. Bands like TCHKUNG! kickstarted the whole new Northwest industrial mud dance. This, in my opinion, was a step backwards into territory being previously explored by the forefathers of Grunge, and then maybe continuously explored too much, because most of us were too fucking STONED to pick our feet up out of the mud puddle.

If I sound obnoxiously bitter, it's because I am. Everyone's favorite band at the time, Neurosis, took most of my friends down into the dirt, rather than up in the sky to find a way to escape from the planet Earth. These were the gardeners of the punk scene, in my opinion, even though they are mighty talented at what they do, and have gone through hell like the rest of us to get to that point. I'm not knocking them...my tastes are not for everybody and to each their own...but I would say that almost everyone in my band and a lot of people that I knew wanted to get on this band's jock at the time. Our practice space became a noise club, where ten hour-plus industrial jams became the norm (and two members of Neurosis once participated in one of these jams…it's on some videotape sitting in a box in my closet as we speak). No songs were ever written from these jams...but you had people beating on anything they could find; four or five guitarists, all playing completely separate parts with different time signatures, maybe three tone-deaf bass players, three or four people screaming incoherently into rusty microphones. Truly, this was music of the mentally tortured. I took part in maybe two of these jams, but ceased very quickly to be a part of these ear-splitting fuck-off fests. If only the Nazis would have allowed drum circles in their concentration camps...

All in all, I would say that we got to play some pretty cool shows, went on tour, met some great people. Other great bands, like Zulu Chainsaw, formed around this time. 1991 zoomed into 1992 like a blackout drinking binge. 1992 was the year that Jeffro from the Jesters Of Chaos died in a motorcycle crash, which hit very close to home for all of us who knew him. I can't say enough about how cool that guy was. Stefanie Sargent of 7 Year Bitch died that year too. Officer Down heard the news while we were on tour. This kind of dampened our already dark souls even more. Even still, one of our favorite local punk bands, our friends Christ On A Crutch, broke up around this time.



7 Year Bitch, 1992
Officer Down consisted of five guys and two women. In my life so far up until then, I had only played music with guys. Here I was, in a scene with many feminine human beings at the height of the whole Olympia Washington Bikini Kill riot girl era aftermath. I felt a very strong competitive force from all of the women around me, and this is while I wasn't even trying to compete with them at all. It was sometimes intimidating for me to be around, since I was about 7 years younger than most of the girls in my scene. Sometimes, along with a serious chip that I had to automatically carry on my shoulder (more akin to a Cheeto than a poker chip), I felt that anything that I had to prove musically seemed to be turned on a deaf ear in favor of an unspoken resentment from women towards men at that time.  Having to deal with the chip on their shoulders was not my cup of tea. My attitude was, "I don't care if you're a girl or a guy…if you can't play or sing, then I don't want to even talk to you and this is a waste of my time". So, occasionally I felt resentment coming from certain ├╝ber-women, and I was forced to talk to the hand on many occasions. I was pissed and confused because of this. I had just left my childhood home, grew up with and rebelled against strong dominant female figures in my family, and I didn't need a bunch of drunk surrogate punk rock mommies with tattoos and piercings bossing me around. I wasn't bossing them around and didn't deserve to be a statistic, or painted into a corner. Alas, I understand that this all had to happen in it's own special way. I realize that this was a very important time in the history of music and humanity in general. Some of these women were trying to find their place just as much as I was trying to find mine.

This is not to say that I was more mature than any of the older women or the men that I hung around at the time anyway. In fact, I was so immature, that I just simply couldn't handle the normal dynamics of highly creative women who were a bit older than me. I was constantly blacking out drunk and pissing everyone off in Officer Down. I did some very "punk rock" things not worth mentioning…ok, they were mostly things, like accidentally projectile vomiting across some punk rock woman's Capitol Hill apartment kitchen at a party I was never invited to and never would be again, and therefore pushed out a back door into a huge mud puddle to continue my vomiting…things like attempting to do a striptease in front of a lesbian bar called The Wild Rose before the usual babysitters had to drag my blacked-out drunk ass away…things like inviting Nazi skinheads to drink with us in our van before the show when I was already blacked out, and threatened the security of my whole band…lots of things like that. Harmless stuff really. But I hate Nazis. And I love lesbians. And I love gay men. And I love cheeseburgers. Fuck you. Ok, I'm done now.

Meanwhile, Nirvana had cracked the punk code wide open, and nothing was left to the imagination anymore. Our little community was being rocked by bands at the Lake Union Pub. Tim from Aspirin Feast formed Chicken, started a little label called Pot Pie Records, and hosted many shows at the Lake Union Pub, a scuzz-hole known for it's serious drug activity and great spur-of-the-moment punk shows. Other places to play were The Off Ramp, RockCandy, The Weathered Wall, and The Crocodile Cafe. SubPop was still putting out pretty good local music by bands like The Fastbacks, Dickless, The Supersuckers, and Mudhoney. Empty Records put out good vinyl by bands like Gas Huffer, The Derelicts…and even The Gits. We were all influenced by a really good 7 inch single they put out called "Spear And Magic Helmet" on Empty. It is still my favorite song that they ever put out.


Mia, from The Gits, 1992
Many people from the Ohio contingent (The Gits etc.) all lived on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Some of those folks, like Mia Zapata and Julian Gibson of the DC Beggars lived in a house on 19th and Denny that they christened "The Rathouse". The Gits and The D.C. Beggars started Rathouse Records to put out music made by their mutual friends' bands. Officer Down's only 7 inch came out on that collective label. Out of all the bands in our scene, The Gits were the powerhouse that was gaining the most momentum, along with Seven Year Bitch. Steve, Matt, Andy and Mia put out an LP on C/Z Records, Daniel House's label, and started doing quite well. With all of the other popular Seattle gutter punk drizzling in one ear, out the other and into the gutter filled with dead punk rock overshadowed by Grunge, it was nice to see one of our favorite bands start doing well. The Gits were one of the most popular local bands and live acts in Seattle in 1992 going into 1993. They went on tour in Europe and the US. They were even being courted by major labels. They probably would have followed Nirvana to influence budding male and female rock musicians alike on a global basis. I always dreamed that they would be huge. Most of us did. 

Everything changed for the worst on the morning of July 7, 1993.

Mia Zapata was found raped and murdered on Capitol Hill. This was the morning after a usual night spent hanging out with her friends at The Comet, a bar on Pike Street. TV Kenly, one of our lead singers, was the last one of our friends to see her alive, and did all that she could to try and talk Mia into staying the night at her apartment or catching a cab rather than walking. Mia, a tough independent spirit who took no shit and asked no quarter, refused. The way she was murdered was insane, very cruel, and immediately unreal to everyone. I went to her funeral along with the rest of my bandmates, because Robert said we should all go, but I felt like I didn't really have the right to be there. Within two weeks, every male within our community was a prime suspect. The remaining Gits hired detectives to find Mia's killer. Immediately, anyone connected or close to Mia was interviewed at least once or twice by detectives. I was one of the people interviewed, at The Comet, while being recorded, along with everyone else in Officer Down, the whole Rathouse crew, Mia's close friends, and the usual suspects. This made most of us question our existence, and made the process of continuing to make any kind of music very confusing and sad.

Mia was definitely one of a kind. She could also get crazy when she was drunk. We all had some good times that revolved around Mia. What a talented force to be reckoned with. She inspired all of us to be better than we were musically, as she was one of the more truly talented people among us. One of the last conversations that I had with her was at a party two days before she died. The pep talk that she gave me was a stern warning that she felt that I was more talented than the music that I was playing at the time, and that I should follow my heart more. It still chills me that she gave me that talk. I will never forget her interest in my artistic welfare, and how much pride it gave me to go on, when I really didn't have much at the time. Her talk helped me get through the 90's more than she will ever know. I was blessed to be one of her acquaintances for the two years that I knew her.

They found Mia's killer in 2003 and sentenced him to 36 years in prison. Hopefully this is long enough, that if he ever gets out alive, he'll be too old to ever kill again.

During that whole time, our leader and mentor Robert Jenkins was accused as a main suspect due to his romantic relationship with Mia over most of the two years of Officer Down's existence. All of the media coverage about Robert being a suspect affected him very badly, and made our band a real bummer to be in at the time. Everyone seemed guilty for no reason. I even caught myself wondering if I was responsible just because I was a man. Then, about a month later, Robert thought up some plan where all of us were going to sell mushrooms grown in horse shit to fund the recording of our new album. The other plan was to dress up in army fatigue uniforms with all of us holding guns so as to avenge Mia's murder. This image was supposed to go on the cover. I couldn't tell if Robert was joking, as he was prone to time and time again with a twisted ironic sense of embracing the worst scenario possible. If this was a joke or not, I wanted no part of it regardless. We were supposedly going to call the album "Purveyors Of Justice" or some bullshit like that. I had reached my limit, and was the first to quit the band by the end of the summer. Chris followed suit a week later.

Jason and Slim from The Vaccines
After that experience, I went back to listening to plain old rock and roll. I formed a few projects for about a year, got kicked out of bars and parties a lot, and by 1994, I eventually joined as a replacement guitarist in a long-time running prog-punk band from Tacoma called My Name. This enabled me to continue playing shows regionally. The Seattle hardcore punk scene was still kicking ass and taking names by 1994-95, even after the terrible sadness surrounding Kurt Cobain's suicide and Mia's murder. The Lake Union Pub was still having shows. Bands like Bristle, Monster Truck Driver, Whorehouse Of Representatives, Shug, Bone Cellar, The Piss Drunks, Inhumane, Patchouli Sewer, 66 Saints, The Kent 3, The Vaccines, and the faster-meaner-than-shit ZEKE played there, and all were doing very well on D.I.Y. terms. 

ZEKE
By 1996, I stopped keeping track of a lot of the old people, since the past was so painful. That year ushered in the newer Seattle bands making it worldwide, like The Presidents of The U.S.A.'s popularity peak that same year, along with the Foo Fighters gaining massive attention (including Nate Mendel, previously with Christ On A Crutch, on bass). As for me, My Name auditioned for Capitol Records in 1995 and Interscope in 1996, with Hollywood muscle backing us up…but the stars were not aligned enough for us to sail the cosmic battleship to stardom. The same thing happened another excellent band from Tacoma called Seaweed. Needless to say, I gained a newfound respect for bands like Pearl Jam. In many ways, they had it much tougher than us. It's not easy to be rich and famous from what I hear. Our goals pretty much changed, especially after going through what our music community had to endure through the tragedies. These tragedies happen in all walks of life, but  these same issues can be sensationalized beyond belief in a music community, since it is all based on entertainment in one way or another.

A lot of us grew up, and just disappeared, or you would see us hanging out at the punk rock baseball league games that people starting organizing in the early 90s. You'd see us in the stands drinking a lot of Schmidt Beer in cans. Lots of people that I knew got into heroin. Nothing new…pretty pathetic. Some musicians get into music to get into heroin, so I'm not sure what to think about that. My first real girlfriend from high school, later Ajax's girlfriend Jennifer Justus, became addicted, along with our friend Shannon McNamara. Jennifer was eventually murdered in the late 90s by a serial killer who picked up prostitutes. She was found in the woods along I-90 near North Bend WA. Shannon cleaned up for a while and became Legs McNeil's girlfriend in New York. We later learned that tragedy struck after she relapsed and died from a fatal flesh-eating bacterial infection while using a bad needle.

Someone someday will write part three and part four of this series, with all of the bands that rocked the Storeroom Tavern, Uncle Rocky's, the Rebar, Chicago's next to the Key Arena, the China Club, etc...but the real future of Seattle's hardcore punk scene is a little place next to the Space Needle called The Funhouse. This might be the only place left in town where you can intimately see the crux of the new and old punk and crust core bands from America and Europe coming to visit on reunion tours…and sometimes you might get the chance to witness the pushing, shoving and circle dancing part of punk that was so fun and funny in the first place. You'll find all the hillbilly punks hanging out at Slim's Last Chance Chili, the Nu Metal crowd (all ages or 21+) down at El Corazon or Studio 7, stoner bands at The Comet, bigger National acts at Neumo's and The Crocodile, a straight up mix of all kinds of bands in Ballard (The Sunset, The Tractor), the Skylark in West Seattle, and don't forget Darrell's up in Shoreline. As for most all ages hardcore punk rock shows (whatever that description might entail), it's not looking too good around here. Maybe this will change. The Misfits logo will always look cool on a hoodie...and so our future generations will always latch onto classic punk with spike-gloved hands. Hey kids...keep forming bands!! (Ha ha….like I'm some kind of armchair authority on the subject…)

Lonnie from Bristle
After getting back from a tour one time in 2001, as I was walking through the Greenlake area, I ran into Orin...the Seattle punk rock king...twelve years after I met him originally. He always talked like a toothless pirate, which was always endearing. "HEY FREDDIE, WHA'S UP? HOW YOU DOIN' BUDDY?", "Doing good...just got back from a tour.", "AH YEAH? HEY MAN, SO DID I. I WAS ROADYING FOR TINA TURNER.". I assumed that Orin was lying out of the few teeth that he had left...OR WAS HE?

Three days later, Orin and Pete of Seismic Sound died in a van crash. They both were coming back from an out-of-town show when whoever was driving (most likely Orin) fell asleep and and crashed into an embankment. The equipment in the back crushed Pete to death on contact. Bleeding from massive internal injuries, Orin climbed out to the highway to flag down help, and then died on the scene. I feel like the all-but-forgotten Seattle hardcore punk rock scene died along with him that night...but I am sure that there are existing argumentative contenders for this sort challenge. Prove me wrong, and keep it real. Punk's not dead…it's just back at the bottom of the pile, where it belongs.

**Very sad to say, Robert Jenkins, my former bandmate/ guitar partner in Officer Down, a Vietnam veteran, a hero to many, a great artist with an abstract mind and a master of all things absurd, died on his birthday December 29, 2011. I'll miss you Robert. Thanks for believing and telling me that I was some sort of a genius, even when I could never live up to it. In the words of Robert Jenkins, aka Buzz Gundersun, "Party or die!!".



**END NOTE: Also, this article, along with Part One, was originally written by me in 2008 as a disjointed, drunken, rambling MySpace blog with many misspellings and incoherent sentences. I have re-evaluated and edited and/or added some parts to make the story tell itself more cohesively for the year of 2012. Believe me, this version is better than the one it used to be. Thanks to Dan Halligan for use of the pictures. Cheers!  



About the author:
FRED SPEAKMAN has been a local gigging Seattle guitarist/ keyboardist for the past 23 years since the age of 17. He has been a member of bands: Last Gasp, Officer Down, My Name, Disaster Piece, The Droo Church, Horrible, Zero Down, Midnight Idols, The Beltholes, The Shivering Denizens, The Riffbrokers and about 10 other bands and even more side projects that he cannot remember the names of right now. As of this writing, he is in a band called Gold Records, another one called The Rags, and after 23 years, he is still a member of the original line-up of Last Gasp. He lives in Seattle WA.




Photo's by Dan Halligan   
 



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1 comment:

  1. I was in the experimental band Lithium Paupers in '91 with Tim Tracey and Liam Barksdale. I always wonder what happened to them. They went on to form Patchouli Sewer and I went into visual art and split Seattle in '99. I still have tapes from that era. If anyone has info I'm asmodavid@netzero.com. I'd love to know more. Seattle in the 90's was mercurial and alive. It was a nether period between the Cold War and the internet age. Cassette tapes still ruled!

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