Seattle Still Shines for The Monks
By James Marshall Crotty (Jim Monk)
It was good to be back in Seattle, a place where people actually cared about art, performance and ideas. And HADN’T seen it all. And even if they had, still gave us the benefit of the doubt. Seattle was still fresh. And met us like we were Odysseus returning from sea, as heroes, as lovers, as friends.
Seattle is one of the few cities in America where, when we walk down the street, we literally FEEL people responding to us. Eight years after we first learned about bumbershoots and the lingo of lattes (long before the rest of the nation caught on), eight years after we hung out with Kurt, Courtney and Frances Bean, the love affair between the Monks and Seattle was still alive and strong.
Though folks come and go, the hallmark of Seattle remains community. Seattle is now a major American city, yet locals still yearn to know each other, help each other, have simple fun together. A city where people don’t generally rip each other off, where crackies don’t run unchecked through the streets breaking into cars and apartments.
While locals heatedly debate the merits of “Feasco Field” (aka “Seattle Screw”), runaway real estate prices, and whether Amazon sucks up Seattle’s best and brightest Lit grads into digital serfdom, life is still pretty good in the Emerald City. Heroin chic is passé. Smackhead jokes no longer apply. The amorphous corporate beasts of Microsoft and Boeing loom on the fringes, chains cut a swath right through town, but in the city’s core, in no particular place, but, still, in the air, in the heart, the Seattle vision lives on.
Jimi Hendrix didn’t get his own museum after all (his family killed that), but he is a major part of Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project Museum, honoring all of the Northwest’s sonic heroes. And the music? The vaunted Seattle sound? Well, those “grunge guitarists” have learned to play a few more chords, just as Kurt would have wanted, and are now fronting bluegrass, swing, country and rockabilly bands. The musical forms may not be new, but the Seattle swing and rockabilly scene is hot, hot, HOT.
Just three and a half years ago there was only DJ Hubba’s Born Bad night at the Croc. Now, seven nights a week, from Ballard to Pioneer Square, at places like the Tractor Tavern (5213 Ballard Ave NW), Showbox (1426 First Ave.), and the Century Ballroom and Cafe (915 E. Pine), you can catch zoot-suited hep cats and mad greasers, whose dance moves could make any girl swoon. Proving that Seattle will take any musical craze and make it its own, along the way making that trend tighter and of far higher quality.
This spirit of excellence is also found in high-brow art forms, including the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Seattle Repertory Theatre and especially in the new Benaroya Symphony Hall. Built on top of a bus transit line, train line and a busy downtown intersection, Benaroya is considered one of the top ten symphony halls in the world, largely due to innovations like its box-within-a-box air-lock sound-proofing (courtesy of Seattle architects, Loschky, Marquardt & Nesholm) and classic shoe-box design. It’s a fitting venue for the Napa quality wine at the Oakland price! Seattle Symphony, which has been nominated for several Grammys and has made it seven times onto the Billboard classical charts.
The same excellence even carries over into local media. Though it’s gotten predictably agitprop in recent years and has made that tired publishing mistake of hiring arrogant Brits to snarl at us clueless Yanks (then again, maybe Everett True is a brilliant send-up of snide alcoholic Brit crits), Seattle’s second major weekly, The Stranger, is still more original than most other second weeklies in the country. Ditto for The Rocket, the NME of the Northwest, which puts most other regional music rags to shame. Even The Seattle Weekly has improved. After they realized The Stranger was stealing half their market, they got their Birkenstocks into gear and started covering local rock and roll (only weakness: they still have that knee-jerk need to characterize anyone making a pile of dough, say Paul Allen, as COMPLETELY greedy and self-serving; then again, someone has to uphold Seattle’s damn-the-WTO, save-the-trees PC tradition).
Excellence is a quality Seattle-ites prize in all sectors of public and private life. Why? It could be the weather, the eternal gray “lid” over the city which forces innovation and the high per capita book and arts consumption. It could be any number of other reasons.
The bottom line is that Seattle promotes intelligence, but not intellectualism. The city is so spread out, and surrounded by enough nature that, even with the horrific I-5 traffic jams folks can properly balance body, mind and spirit (as opposed to claustrophobic cities like New York, whose constipated overintellectualism becomes comically annoying after awhile).
Seattle remains the kind of place where local guys drive cabs for a living (and not just as a summer lark or an embarrassing in-between gig while they wait for their “big break”) and read Fitzgerald and Durrell on the side. Where a conventional hotel chain like the Westin has a juice bar in the lobby. Where, instead of destroying a treasured piece of vernacular architecture, like the Hats and Boots Gas Station, locals fight over which neighborhood gets to display it!!
The originality of the locals is seen everywhere: on the gasworks of Gasworks Park (“Josh was there”); on t-shirts (Pigpen’s “Rehab is For Quitters”); in the hilarious unabashed honesty of Miss Fyre and her Lusty Lady compatriots; in Kevin Kent’s inimitable Sister Windy; at Timberline (the country’s largest gay country dance hall); in Ruby Montana’s yearly Spam-carving contest in Pioneer Square; in avant-garde performance spaces like Theater Schmeater; in the bold names of local businesses (e.g. Bimbo’s Bitchin’ Burrito Kitchen); at the one-of-a-kind Gravity Bar; at Bumbershoot, the yearly Seattle Arts Festival that’s become one of the top three Labor Day Weekend events in the country (along with Wigstock and Burning Man); at funky area landmarks like the Troll, the Soundgarden, the Fremont Rocket, the Elephant Car Wash, Archie McPhee’s, Coffee Messiah, the almighty Space Needle; and even in the arena of sports memorabilia (downtown’s Ebbetts Field Flannels carries Negro League jerseys, Puerto Rican jerseys, and even those of the Roswell Rockets, whose Joe Bauman hit 72 home runs in the 1954 season, setting a record McGuire, Sosa and Griffey may never break). Heck, the water ski, Happy Face and Oreo cookie splitter were all invented in Seattle.
Grunge may be dead, Kurt may be dead, substance abuse may have tainted the city’s “most livable” status, but, by God, Seattle still celebrates the new with infectious enthusiasm. The citizens seem a bit more jaded then our last visit, but they haven’t given up on their metropolis. Believe it or not, there is a serious proposal on the table to at long last extend the monorail around the city. Now THAT would be inspired!!
We could say Seattle is back, but the truth is, we were back. Seattle never went away.
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