Song Of The Day 3/5/2017: Big Star – “The Ballad of El Goodo”
The Final 25
Hype!So now I’m in Seattle. I mean, then I was in Seattle. I’m in Seattle now, too, but back then I was there as well. I’d go away again but then I’d come back.
Seattle was much different back then. It wasn’t exactly sleepy—this was when it had just been coronated as the current capital of rawk, and Pearl Jam was just getting off the ground. But it wasn’t like it is today. The internet was still a few years away, so you could still get around downtown without running into a dev on every block. Not that I dislike devs. There’s just so many of them now. And they all come out of these hot new real estate jewels.
These things were still around: The OK Hotel. RKCNDY. The original Funhouse. The Off Ramp. The Seattle Supersonics. Record stores.
These things weren’t even in existence yet: Amazon.com. T-Mobile. Any web properties.
The University District smelled like old bread rolls.
Welcome to Seattle, Now Join the ResistanceThe first thing I wanted to do in Washington State was get a radio show at a public station. I’d done a few shows with my friend James when he was at KDVS on the campus of the University of California at Davis. He called himself “The Thin Man.”
So at some point in the first couple of months I applied at KCMU, the college radio station on the grounds of University of Washington. Like, within weeks. They were taking volunteers in pretty quickly. I knew it would take some time volunteering at doing things like filing records and paperwork before I had a shot at an on-air shift.
I went to my first station-wide staff meeting sometime in the autumn after school started. I was excited to get to know some people and start from the ground up. Unfortunately, in the weeks after that staff meeting, a lot of people there were “fired.”
What happened next will amaze you! But instead of recounting it myself, here’s a more or less accurate summary from Metafilter:
The station shifted directions again in the 1990s, moving away from volunteer DJs and to syndicated programming, rising the ire of some DJs and listeners. The focus for many was World Cafe, a program produced by WXPN (a non-commercial station licensed to the University of Pennsylvania), and distributed by NPR. Listeners asked why local diversity was being replaced by adult-contemporary programming from Philadelphia. Up to 1992, KCMU was a "community radio station," and CURSE (Censorship Undermines Radio Station Ethics), an activist group comprised primarily of volunteers and listeners, wanted the station back to the way it was. A no-criticism policy was instated, and volunteers who voiced criticism on- or off-air were fired. CURSE had that policy struck down by the U.S. District Court, but there were more changes to come.The flagship public station for the kind of rock music that was ruling America at the moment was saying that the kind of music they played had to go because—according to the new-agey, Robert Bly-chipping station manager—it “made people fucking sicker.” I believe that quote was in response to a record by Soundgarden.
Stop me if this starts to sound like the punk rock episode of Quincy M.E.
So my first radio-related activity was protesting against a radio station. Just like I planned it. The organization needed a newsletter, so I volunteered to do it. I was one of CURSEword’s two editors, sharing the job with Seattle rock writer Marsh Gooch. We published everything on a Mac from a houseboat on Lake Union. When Rolling Stone did a story about the KCMU/CURSE flap they called CURSEword a “smart publication.” I wore that around my neck for a hot minute.
We had a lot of support. Peter Bagge did one of our covers. A guy named Chris did some artwork for us before he started a band called The Presidents of the United States of America. A zine published by a local experimental musical maven Ricardo Wang also gave us some publicity. (That’s right Ricardo, I just called you a “maven.” My thesaurus is offline.)
On the basis of my working on CURSEword, I was named the organization’s secretary. I hadn’t been on the air one millisecond at KCMU and I was made an officer of the protest movement.
I suppose we won. The station manager resigned. Ween did a benefit show for us. That would be enough for me, anyway. But thanks to having my name alongside blistering rebukes of KCMU’s station management, I was probably blacklisted from ever having a show on KCMU again—or what it turned into 16 years ago, a very good station called KEXP.
Some of the people I ran snark on are still at KEXP in programming and managerial capacities (as are some former, vocal CURSE supporters). But in hindsight, they were kind of in the same boat against what the management was trying to do, they just had jobs to protect. I don't blame them. I hope time has lessened the rancor they might have towards the stuff I wrote.
All of them were trying to contend with the baseless, evidence-free assumptions from a delusional despot. That Could Never Happen Now!®
Other Vital InformationMy most notable job the first time I was in Seattle was with a book publishing company. They were called Book Publishing Company.
Their offices were in a vaguely industrial part of town near Westlake Center on Harrison Street. This was the second job I had, after the College for Recording Arts, that was on a “Harrison Street.”
Book Publishing Company didn’t publish everyday books. They only published municipal codes. They edited the rule books of several American cities. Right now there are a few very official city law books in America that bear my stamp of WordPerfect excellence. I worked there the last nine months I was in Seattle, the first time.
Marsh also sold me his guitar for $600. I bought The Guitar Handbook and started learning how to work that thing. I made an L. Ron Shrubbery-esque album under the name Duck Drake called Deprivation with my drum machine, a keyboard and a synthesizer module I got at American Music. The title cut of Deprivation is one of the four or five songs I wrote that I remember with fondness. The album also had the aforementioned cover of LRS’ “Screwed By Love,” but it was more like a sequel than a cover.
I occasionally sat in on jam sessions with David, my best friend from high school who moved to Seattle after college to work at Microsoft. My one contribution to their repertoire was writing the words to a song they had called “My Mama’s Nuts.” My wife at the time contributed a couple of lines.
I saw Nirvana live exactly once in my life: a benefit to raise funds to find the killer of the Gits’ Mia Zapata at the King Street Theatre, a few months before In Utero came out.
I'm Not Saying Anything More Until the Lifetime Movie Deal Comes Through(Sigh) All right, crap, let me get this out of the way.
Eventually my wife and I moved to the outskirts of Lake City (practically Lake Forest Park) into a very nice one-bedroom condo with a view of Lake Washington. I took the bus to work.
Full disclosure: We started hanging out together during the time in San Francisco when I was “defiantly noncommittal,” to cop a phrase I used a couple days ago. After a year or so I stopped fooling around and decided to settle down. We got married in Tacoma after we’d been in Seattle about a month.
I could go into a lot of detail about certain long weekends away from the house and various accounts of what went on in the area of what we now call gaslighting, but it’s enough to let you know that it happened.
There were a lot of mysterious incidents that I’ve never received a full explanation for, like how I woke up one morning to find the entire front end of our car completely totaled. The explanation I got was that there must have been a truck that ran into it and she didn’t notice it when she left the club.
But whatever happened, it wasn’t her fault and she definitely wasn’t too drunk to drive home. Yeah, it was definitely someone else’s fault, because that’s one thing that she’d never do. She just didn’t remember exactly obviously major event happened to get our car completely bashed in. It was a totally inexplicable mystery!
I’m going to drop off the subject here. Just use your mind’s eye on certain other examples of total coincidences and related fuckery that might have happened in your lives, or the lives of someone you know. Chances are I had to deal with one or two of them over the next three years. I’d rather save my breath for the ones that are most critical to the story. I hate spending time on this part. It's fucking embarrassing.
I was pretty close to graduating college. Again, with my sporadic scholastic record, the University of Washington was having none of me. But we found a liberal arts college with an exceptional reputation, and a really interesting model. No grades, no strict regurgitation of rote facts. And best of all, their own volunteer radio station where Nirvana played their first radio gigs. The aforementioned Ricardo Wang was already doing a show there. That was the kind of radio work I had in mind.
The Evergreen State College accepted me. After a little less than a year and a half in Seattle, we packed up and moved down the road to Olympia.