filmed in SEATTLE after the initial wave of GRUNGE had crested and crashed, HYPE! (HELVEY-PRAY PRODUCTIONS, 1996) is very much a contemporaneous attempt to make sense of what turned out the be the last organic pre-internet mass cultural phenomenon in AMERICAN history.
utilizing interviews from participants from bands the likes of SKINYARD, THE MONOMEN, BEAT HAPPENING, THE MELVINS, SCREAMING TREES, SOUNDGARDEN, THE FASTBACKS, MUDHONEY, TAD, GAS HUFFER, COFFIN BREAK, THE SUPERSUCKERS, LOVE BATTERY, 7 YEAR BITCH, THE GITS, DEAD MOON, PEARL JAM and THE WALKABOUTS among others and scene producers like JACK ENDINO, STEVE FISK, FRANK HARLAN and photographer CHARLES PETERSON as well as local indie record label founders CALVIN JOHNSON (K RECORDS) and BRUCE PAVITT and JOHNATHAN PONEMAN (SUB POP RECORDS)
it has been repeatedly said that due to this scene's relative isolation from all but major touring acts in the 80s that a void was filled by local bands that had a fierce DIY ethic informed by HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK of the period. when this insular scene burst open nationally in the wake of the success of ALICE IN CHAINS, SOUNDGARDEN, PEARL JAM and, of course, NIRVANA, things became more unbalanced in the scene once a financial motive got involved. suddenly catwalks where filled with flannel and opportunistic bands moved to SEATTLE to be "discovered" and outright careerism polluted the once vibrant scene that house and nurtured misfits.
i found the crux of this film to be that intersection between art and commerce. that point at which expression is informed by winds of passing fad. once your scene is a fad, where do you go? what do you do?
the film never really answers that question but offers an amazing look at how such commercial interests affected that small intimate scene at a time it was wholly unprepared for it. and yet it seems inevitable that once you become en vogue, your season will ultimately fade and another thing will replace you. i think fortunately for SEATTLE, to this day that city name is synonymous with highly influential strains of ALTERNATIVE ROCK, INDIE ROCK and even SLUDGE METAL. it is still relevant to anyone who loves ROCK AND ROLL. there is still a purity to listeners to this day. of course, this idea of commerce affecting a scene's perceived purity makes no sense in today's climate. through technology there is no more isolated local scenes, the playing field is relatively horizontal in terms of means of exposure and music distribution. when nobody is making money anymore from music, those lines that existed during the filming of this documentary seem rather quaint by comparison.
interestingly, director DOUG PRAY 20 years later revisIted the scene and talked to some of the same participants again (video embedded below) about the impact of that initial wave. for most of them they just kept on their same path and nurtured upcoming artists. for band that came about long after GRUNGE came and went, the true legacy is that commercial viable artistry that is vibrant can come from anywhere, even SEATTLE.
photo & text by nacrowe
SING BACKWARDS AND WEEP (HATCHETTE, 2020) is probably one of the more harrowing memoirs i have ever come across. its author MARK LANEGAN, gifted singer/songwriter and former frontman of SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK icons SCREAMING TREES, recounts an drug-addled existence that ranged from the 1980s through his final successful rehab stint in the early 2000s. and that addiction literally cost him everything he valued: relationships, collaborations, touring opportunities, friends, love, money. the list goes on and it is brutal.
there is no doubt that many who investigate this book are interested in the PACIFIC NORTHWEST INDIE/PUNK music scene that exploded in the early 1990s, of which LANEGAN was a central figure within. there is some ink here dedicated to his relationships with other participants such as KURT COBAIN (NIRVANA) and LAYNE STALEY (ALICE IN CHAINS), but the real dominant actor here is DRUGS. and by that i mean literally every make and stripe. COBAIN, STALEY as well as numerous other victims such as KRISTEN PFAFF (HOLE) and JEFFREY LEE PIERCE (THE GUN CLUB) are integral to his narrative in that they exemplify the cost of participation in this downward spiral of needless suffering.
LANEGAN is unflinching in his account and i have no doubt that writing this must have been cathartic. it also no doubt took courage to look at himself and unshrinkingly scrutinize his life's decisions and make them public without being patronizing or worse glorifying said behavior. he seems to be a reliable narrator as he relates how the ever-present threat of dope-sickness and withdrawal effectively corrupted his moral compass and led to a never ending search for a fix to maintain his equilibrium and all its attendant decisions that resulted in the suffering of others.
in HUBERT SELBY JR novels there is often an inverse character arc at play whereby as the individual descends into MADNESS, it is their affliction (FAME, POWER, DRUGS, etc.) that prevails in equivalent fashion. for me that is the feeling i get when considering the SEATTLE drug scene and its effect on several key participants in this book, COBAIN and STALEY being the prime examples.
there is a light and that is the MUSICIANS' ASSISTANCE PROGRAM that effectively saved LANEGAN's life. that and his ability to forgive himself and the capacity for other addicts to enable each other in recovery, here COURTNEY LOVE (HOLE) and DUFF MCKAGAN (GUNS N' ROSES) being such examples. you get the sense that despite the absolute depths of DEPRAVITY that drug addicts wade through, that there is an opportunity for RESTORATION. that we can always be REHABILITATED, RECONSTRUCTED and REINVIGORATED by our choices and actions moving forward.
contrary to what others may read into this memoir, i found it inspiring, compassionate and intensely optimistic. maybe this book is his way of paying it forward.
for me the FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS (HBO, 2007-2009) is indicative of a definite place and time. the wildly popular TV SERIES, which only lasted two seasons, followed the antics of newly transplanted KIWI musicians to QUEENS and their inability to acclimate to their new surroundings. essentially its THE BIG LEBOWSKI premise minus the whole film noir plot line. in essence all the plots are excuses to showcase the inventive genre parody songs the duo had built up in their preceding standup career. once those songs, and their corresponding albums, were all published, the series ended.
as someone in the late 00s who had moved to NYC to attend graduate school at COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, the themes of displacement and isolation and the problems of integration with new surroundings was very prescient to me at the time. there is also a slight undertone of gentrification and hipsterdom that follows this film, as the music is wildly eclectic and relays an interest in global sounds and rhythms. in real-life INDIE ROCK bands such as VAMPIRE WEEKEND were being criticized for cultural appropriation at the time, much like PAUL SIMON had a generation before. i think in the contexst of the show FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS got away with it 1) because they were foreigners and 2) the songs were explicitly homages that paid respect to their origins with an eye for details. with INDIE ROCK bands of the time these corresponding sounds just smelled of rank opportunism and the use of foreign tropes as a way selling "exotic" music to a conservative white audience.
its still interesting to rewatch the show and see how they handled that dubious territory that is the intersection between PARODY and HIPSTER CULTURE. in many ways we are still living through that prism today as notions of WHITE PRIVILEGE and INSTITUTIONAL RACISM have only become more apparent in the decade since. i really wonder at times how this show would look like if the duo had come from SENEGAL, PANAMA or THAILAND. is there something about an anglophone country like NEW ZEALAND that gives them the ability to navigate this divide while still being foreign themselves? just a thought.
for me the songs still stand and the TV SERIES is funny and reminds me of the years i was constantly a foreigner in a foreign land. beyond ironic that i feel that way now in my own country after returning to TRUMPLAND after being abroad so many years.
regardless, great show worth revisiting.
part of the fun of having a radio show is creating playlists and discovering music you were previously unfamiliar with. i was pleasantly surprised recently when researching for the SUB POP RECORDS episode of the DEER GOD RADIO show to come across the AUSTRALIAN INDIE ROCK band ROLLING BLACKOUTS COASTAL FEVER who have a melodic, almost SHOEGAZE inspired sound that is hypnotic, lush and intoxicating.
i welcome anyone interested to check them out.
parody by nacrowe
please check out HERE this recent unpromoted SURPRISE episode of DEER GOD RADIO focused on the influential northwestern independent record label SUB POP RECORDS.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
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