Sunday, November 8, 2009

Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music by Greg Prata

This is another one I got for my birthday and read on my camping trip. I was going to review it at the time and I realized that I had been asked to be interviewed for it but never got around to answering the questions. So then I wrote to the author to ask if it was ok to post my answers here and he said he'd rather I not do that, since I hadn't bothered to turn in my interview. Fair enough, but then I never finished the book...but here's what I remember:
Old school Olympia/Tacoma scenester/punk photographer Tracy Marander is interviewed in the book, which is cool because she was a big part of the early "grunge" scene in the late 80's/early 90's. Donna Dresch wasn't interviewed, but Kathleen Hanna and Allison Wolfe were, which seemed a little weird...since Donna's music fits more into the "grunge" category than Kathleen or Allison's does...but really it's cool to hear some female voices in there.
There's a lot of stuff by bands I don't care about at all, like Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam...I liked reading about Malfunkshun, who I really thought was a great band and Mother Love Bone, who I never saw. I also enjoyed learning about Soundgarden who I did see often but never liked and know very little about. The author is not from Seattle, but the book is done in the Please Kill Me style so it doesn't really matter. It has some cool interviews with the guys from Mudhoney in it and it's always interesting to read a version of history that you were a part of.
I guess the major criticism I have, is that I am only really interested in the Seattle rock scene insofar as it is a small part of the whole history of NW music, which would include writing on Olympia, Tacoma and Portland well as Vancouver....that book LOSER does that a little better, but there are so many factual errors in that one point I wrote down a page worth and those are just the facts I knew were wrong.
It's not really that exciting, but neither was that particular scene/era of music if you ask me...not a lot of conceptual ideas and nothing that great really happened...some people got famous, a few of the bands were good, one of them was great and they got more famous then everyone else, that impacted the local economy/music scenes and then things got weird/bad. But even that amount of context is missing from this book, which fails to really capture the larger setting all these events happened in. They do talk about fame, drug addiction and that kind of thing...but really what is there to be said about any of that that hasn't already been said?
I guess I kind of missed out on a lot of the exciting time period because I didn't turn 21 until halfway through 1990 and I moved away in I was around in '87 (or was it earlier) when Nirvana first starting playing shows and then I was back in 89, but I still couldn't get into bars and there were all ages shows happening locally and in Tacoma so I'd see these bands if they played an all ages show, but that really didn't happen that often. In 1991 I moved away again and by the time I moved back at the end of 92, things had gotten pretty weird...anyhow, yeah.

Check it out from the library if you are a local music obsessive like me.


Tobi Vail said...

In case you are interested, here's the list of questions I was supposed to answer...this is narrowed down from a much longer list...but I didn't really feel inspired to answer them at the time:

Beginnings (where you’re from, how you got into music, etc.)
Memories of the Olympia music scene early on
What were some venues to see live music in Olympia at the time? Please explain.
How did you meet Kathleen Hanna? Initial impressions?
Formation of Bikini Kill
The Riot Grrrl Movement getting started
What was the public's initial reaction to Bikini Kill and the Riot Grrrl Movement?
Memories of Bikini Kill shows/tours from over the years
Why did Bikini Kill split?
Your relationship w/ Kurt Cobain (I know this is a personal question - I totally understand if you want to skip over this...)
Kurt’s death

Tobi Vail said...

I think it's because they didn't really sound like questions, but more like...a list of things to write about.

I don't know, I've been interviewed a lot and this seems kind of unusual...

whatwewantisfree said...

it seems like he was trying to get you to write the book for him, which I guess it that style of rock history book-please fill in the blanks! there's a bay area one called gimme something better that just came out. everyone here is really outraged by it, and it is pretty cheesy/exploitative-but there's some cool stuff about punks hanging out at the vats, the Dicks, this rad sounding punk girl gang who hung out at gilman/on telegraph.



richjensen said...

. . . . & dude, Eugene!

Somebody told me to read it for the Mark Arm interviews. Maybe I will. But I'm getting so slee. . . .zzzzz