Sunday, March 12, 2017

How We Finally Know We're Old: Grunge Tours Are a Thing in Seattle

It's 10 a.m. on a Thursday, and I'm standing in front of the (recently rebranded) MoPOP Museum waiting for my ride. I'm here to go on Stalking Seattle, a driving tour billed as "A Rock & Roll Sightseeing Tour."

And it's certainly not hard to feel stalker-esque when climbing into an unmarked black Dodge minivan with tinted windows. Two couples, visiting from the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic, sit in the back. It's not what I had pictured—which, to be fair, was some kind of double-decker bus, or maybe a Ride the Ducks "I'm embarrassed for everybody here" type of situation.

"Oh, it's not a real tour," owner and operator Charity Drewery insists, "just a van full of fans." Drewery, who grew up in Seattle, spent her musically formative years "going to shows and chasing boys" in the early 1990s grunge and rock scene.

She starts the tour in a parking lot in front of the Queen Anne apartment where Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone overdosed in 1990, just before the band's debut album was released.

"If Andy hadn't died, Mother Love Bone would have made it. And then of course, after Andy died, Chris Cornell wrote the best album of his life, Temple of the Dog," she explains to us as we head to the next location. Drewery says she wants to bring up more Seattle grunge-era bands in her tour than "just the big four" who made it, playing bands like Gruntruck, Mudhoney, Green River, Screaming Trees, and Skin Yard on her iPod as she drives.

The highlight of the tour is easily Black Dog Forge. After almost kicking the door in because the key was stuck, Drewery leads the tour inside the blacksmith shop and down some rickety steps to the basement space where both Pearl Jam and Soundgarden used to rehearse.

It's still a practice space for the Briefs, a punk band formed in 2000 that includes Lance "Romance" Mercer, Pearl Jam's former photographer, Drewery points out. Maybe because it's still used, the rehearsal space manages to almost preserve the very smell of the—dare I say it—teen spirit that catalyzed a movement.

Guitars are stacked haphazardly in the corner, piles of PBR cans and ashtrays threaten to fall over. Like the Moore and the Paramount, both spots on her tour, it has life—it is still fulfilling its intended purpose. But, as became obvious from driving past all the new construction sites downtown, few other places still are.

Drewery, for her part, is keenly aware that the Seattle she is stalking on her tours is by now almost a ghost town: RKCNDY, Tower Records, and the Off Ramp are all long gone. As is a cheap bite at the Hurricane, all the record stores, and the bowling alleys.

"This used to be a working man's town," she laments as she pulls into the parking lot of a Madison Park Starbucks after visiting the house where Kurt Cobain killed himself. "Everybody worked at Boeing, or they were loggers and fishermen. You know, that's what your dad did. That's why people wore flannel, because their dad had flannels!"

The Crocodile—since remodeled—is still there, as is Re-bar, where Nirvana started a food fight and got kicked out of their own record-release party for Nevermind. But the parking lot she used has been replaced by construction, so she doesn't even bother stopping there anymore, just points it out from the van. Sometimes, though, tourists will ask her to take their picture in front of the legendary venue.

"If you just look at the building you're standing right in front of, and you don't look to the side at all the new construction, maybe you can feel like you were back there."

by Amber Cortes, The Stranger |  Read more:
Image: Amber Cortes