When I was in high school, a chunk of my friends were skater boys. In the mid- 1980’s, skater boys in our town were typically middle-class and generally pretty sunny in disposition and future. They were going to college and going to wind up lawyers and doctors just like their fathers. One of my friends, with red hair and the sweetest boy smile I had ever seen, went to Seattle and he died.
We’ve never quite known what happened to John. I’ve always had a hundred, thousand questions about his last two years, but there’s no one to ask. His family shut that door firmly, not even posting an obituary that any of us can find, so all that we have is speculation and rumors. I’ve always wanted to know if he was in college or working, was he a junkie? We’ve always heard that heroin was involved, but that can mean too many things to be any answer.
I’m reading Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge this week and I’m not sure why. I mean, I really will read an oral history on almost any topic, but grunge is not my music. Grunge really isn’t a music at all, just a label slapped on bands from a specific place and time. And, while I am from that time, I’m not from that place.
Seattle in the 1990’s is a dark, violent place. The musicians profiled in the book talk a lot of about how fun it was in the early days, in the 1980’s, but by the time the Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden are getting big, the scene doesn’t sound so fun anymore. (Guns ‘N’ Roses toured with Soundgarden and nicknamed them Frowngarden.)
I guess when a handful of your friends get famous, it’s normal to think that it should be you getting the money and the record deals. And by the time Nirvana has come and gone, everyone is a cannibal. A surprising number of people in the book blame all the problems of Seattle on Courtney Love, which is kind of fascinating to read. It’s like she’s the Yoko Ono of an entire region, creating factions and isolations and death. She could have gone so many ways with her widowhood, becoming the beatific saint of musicians gone too soon, but I guess she really could only be what she is – too damaged and self-promoting and angry to do anything but lash out.
Oh, the deaths. The first few are shocking to Seattle musicians and they still remember that rawness these 20 years later. As the ‘90’s wear on, the scattered names of the dead become a roll call, with no surprise left. There are only a small handful of musicians profiled who didn’t die at some point. Apparently there are lots of ways to revive a dead man and the people in Seattle learned them all the hard way. They didn’t all come back to life, though, and I’m reading this account thinking that there must be dozens of dead audience members for every dead musician. There are people just like my friend in every concert photo. Kids who though moving to Seattle would fill some empty space in them and didn’t get to grow up. I guess that’s why I’m reading intensely - I’m looking for John on every page.
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