For the past couple of weeks, I’ve examined various generations of American youth; i.e., the “Lost Generation,” the “Beat Generation” and the “Now Generation.” Today, the process whereby new generations are labeled and promoted may be over. Since the mid-1970s, the process has become rather muddled and transient in part because the mass media has become more diffused, especially owing to the Internet, so now it’s more difficult to dictate and control public opinion.
When the Punks came along, as typified by the Sex Pistols in the mid-1970s, there were feeble attempts to promote them as a new, significant generation. You may have heard rumors of the “Blank Generation” and, a couple of years after that, there was an “X Generation.” But long after the Punks had taken over Manhattan’s Lower Eastside, they still didn’t have a popular enclave in Seattle. They simply didn’t amount to much in the Pacific Northwest. Alas, they really didn’t amount to much anywhere else either, mostly because their music was terrible and most of them couldn’t even tune a guitar, let alone play one. Their nihilistic image wouldn’t fly without something substantial to back it up.
Between the mid-1970s and 2000, there were several interesting scenes in Seattle. The cocaine-fueled disco trip first appeared in a Pioneer Square club – I believe it was called Shelly’s Leg, but don’t hold me to that – and then spread to the suburbs in places like the Ad-lib on Kent’s East Hill. (I’ll bet some of you remember that one.) Disco was bigger in the suburbs than it ever was in the city.
About the same time, so-called Glitter Rock and several gay bands became popular. The J&M Café, again in Pioneer Square, served as home base for a pretty outrageous collection of flashy costumes and considerable confusion about the sexual persuasion of the fellow or gal drinking next to you at the standing-only counter that ran down the center of the place.
Similar in many ways, the Vogue was another avant-garde, popular gin mill in Belltown. It was also quite stylish by the disco/glitter fashions of the day, but may have been a bit more conservative than the J&M. One evening, while leaning heavily on the bar for support, I turned to my left and found Nancy Wilson, of Heart fame, standing there. (And surely you remember her.) We exchanged a few comments and questions, like “What sign are you?” because astrology was big at the time. Than she left with an older gentleman in a Madison Avenue suit and tie, her escort for the evening.
During the 1980s, the rock scene exploded in Seattle. Several local bands – Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and, of course Nirvana – rattled windows across the country. (And if you haven’t heard of some of those groups, you must be living in a cave.) The local media coined the term Grunge Rock, though the musical styles of the various bands were so different it was a real stretch to place them under one label. At least locally, Grunge became much bigger than the Punks ever were.
It’s generally felt that the world of Grunge was centered in the Crocodile Café, but I never spent much time there. Instead, I hung around the Frontier Room on First Avenue and I’ve always felt that despicable little dive could more accurately claim the title of Grunge headquarters. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam fame would sometimes show up, arguing so loud and intensely he’d get hoarse and nursing a single glass of beer all evening, which is probably why he got hoarse. It was rumored that, on occasion, Kurt Cobain also stumbled about the place, but I never saw him there.
Today, I don’t spend nearly as much time in Seattle as I used to. But I was there the other day and I revisited some of the old haunts mentioned above. Tell you what, friends: in case you didn’t know, things change.
The J&M has been remodeled around a stage for live music and, unfortunately, the standing-bar has been removed. The Vogue is now a hair salon. The Frontier Room has gone uptown with a plush lounge and European beer at $10 a pop.
In fact, Belltown and Pioneer Square are being gentrified. Especially Belltown, as evidenced by the luxury, high-rise condos and apartments sprouting all over the place. And make no mistake, the Punk and Grunge rockers resent being driven off their turf by the moneyed elites. There’s a culture-clash going on, as is frequently reported on the local news.
It’s getting so a self-respecting hip person can’t find a decent place to enjoy a cheap beer.