Tuesday, January 27, 2009

1989 turns 20!

Let’s start with a list of Northwest and/or grunge records born in 1989: Nirvana’s Bleach, Soundgarden’s Louder Than Love, TAD’s God’s Balls, Mudhoney, Gas Huffer’s “Firebug,” Love Battery’s “Between the Eyes,” Blood Circus’ Primal Rock Therapy, Fastbacks’ “Wrong, Wrong, Wrong,” Journey to the Center of Cat Butt, Screaming Trees’ Buzz Factory, The Melvins’ Ozma, Mother Love Bone’s Shine, Beat Happening’s Black Candy, Skin Yard’s “Start at the Top,” The Young Fresh Fellows’ This One’s For the Ladies, Swallow, and Coffin Break’s Psychosis and Rupture.

If you want to argue that other years produced better music in the Northwest, but you may fail to convince me. And while critics remember 1991 as the year that grunge and Seattle broke, in my mind, 1989 ranks higher in importance. You have Nirvana’s debut. You have the first major label output (Louder Than Love and Shine, which Mother Love Bone released on a fake indie). You have seminal releases by Gas Huffer, The Fastbacks, Skin Yard, etc. You have the cavernous, cramped original Cellophane Square and the OK Hotel and the Central Tavern and a fair amount of attention from the music press. You don’t yet have Tabitha Soren interviewing Tad Doyle for MTV or the new, spacious Cellophane Square or Candlebox or a distressing increase in the number of heroin casualties.

Nirvana at the HUB Ballroom

(Okay, fine, you could also make a solid argument in favor of 1988 based around “Touch Me, I’m Sick,” Ultramega:OK, and Sub Pop 200. . . . )

1989 also marks the year that Seattle became SEATTLE in the larger cultural sense--the year that it transformed from a rainy backwater city, where people channeled their boredom into sludgy rock, into home for California diaspora. Our housing prices started increasing, our sports teams started sucking a little less, and the hippest hipsters on the planet began declaring that grunge was, like, yesterday’s news, maaaaan.

It was also in 1989 that I began working at the A206 copy center at the University of Washington Medical Center and where I photocopied medical texts with long-time lamestain friend Steve Mandich, who educated me about the still nascent grunge scene via mix tapes. Those tapes, some of which I may still have, featured Mudhoney, the Stooges, Gas Huffer, the Clash, and tons of other pieces of greatness.

But, of course, more happened in Seattle than just grunge.


In the mid-80s, our parents used to reward Tom and me with periodic trips to the gone-but-forgotten Kingdome to watch the perennial basement-dwelling Seattle Mariners. Whoever managed the M’s back in the mid-80s hadn’t yet gotten the hang of running a baseball team, so although they fielded a handful of decent players (Richie Zisk, Alvin Davis, Mark Langston, Spike Owen), they also had a tendency to acquire novelty players, like former Seattle Pilot Gorman Thomas (Mariner career batting average, .194) and geriatric spit-baller Gaylord Perry for the final season of his fine career.

In 1989, things finally started looking up: Ken Griffey, Jr., made his big league debut. Omar Vizquel made his big league debut. The Mariners acquired Randy Johnson (and lost Mark Langston) via a trade with the Montreal Expos. Manager Jim Lefebvre took over the reigns that year (“I’m a Lefebvre Believer” bumper stickers were all the rage.) This line-up (plus Edgar Martinez, who had already been a Mariner for a couple of seasons) didn’t produce fireworks immediately--the Mariners still had a losing season--but they did finally start breaking .500 in 1990.

The novelty disease hadn’t worn off entirely by this point. Around this time, the Ms acquired Ken Griffey, Sr., and attempted to speed Griffey’s younger brother up through the minors to create a Griffey hat-trick. This didn’t pay off. Furthermore, who can forget the Ken Griffey chocolate bar? If you have, well, eBay can help you remember.

But 1980s retro is fashionable right now, and the Mariners are doing their part by sucking again.

In other sports news, Brian Bosworth ended his disastrous tenure as the Seahawks’ designated bulldozer target in 1989. The Sonics were in their Xavier McDaniel and Nate McMillan phase and played pretty decently. And in the 1989 Apple Cup game between the Huskies and Wazoo, security maced the shit out of fans who stormed the field to ransack the goalposts and toss them into Lake Washington. And we, at this point in time, largely hated sports.


Two game-changing articles were published in 1989.

First, Money Magazine ranked Seattle as the country’s #1 most livable city in 1989 (revisited here). This praise--which actually was major news, in the days before blogs and magazines ranked everything, all of the time--came as a bit of a surprise to those of us who loved our hometown but thought that, you know, it might be a bit damp for most people. Local mossbacks shook their fists in outrage that such attention would soon spoil our fair city. Whether this article, and the deluge of Californians that moved north after its publication, really spoiled the city can be debated, but the culture really did change radically in the span of a few short years. The biggest changes were that housing prices skyrocketed, traffic grew worse, and Emmet Watson got hot under the collar.

Second, Everett True wrote the infamous Sub Pop article for Melody Maker. (You can find a cool pdf of it here). The article appeared after Bruce and Jon at Sub Pop flew True out to Seattle and wined and dined him--it was basically Sub Pop’s first major marketing ploy. With the exception of Beat Happening and Screaming Trees, all of the reported bands were on Sub Pop (Screaming Trees would release an EP on Sub Pop in the following year, and Beat Happening would later co-release their last two LPs on K and Sub Pop). There’s nothing about, say, Skin Yard.

It’s amusing to note that, in the opening sentence, True describes Mudhoney as “thrash metal merchants.” Thrash metal?

But in spite of my best intentions, I keep falling back on music-related events from 1989. I should stop this blog entry here, before I get into 4 Bands for 4 Bucks at the HUB Ballroom, etc. For your listening pleasure is a mix of notable songs from 1989.

Here's your awesome 1989 mix tape: Gas Huffer -- "Firebug" The Fastbacks -- "Wrong, Wrong, Wrong" Screaming Trees -- "Where the Twain Shall Meet" Mother Love Bone -- "Thru Fade Away" Skin Yard -- "Start at the Top" Tad -- "Nipple Belt" Blood Circus -- "White Dress" Love Battery -- "Between the Eyes" The Melvins -- "Eyes Flies"