Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan wants to save the Showbox
No sooner had Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan’s plane from Reykjavik — the last stop on an eight-week tour of Europe for the band — landed Wednesday night than McKagan, taking advantage of access to wifi, checked his phone to find that his “texts just blew up.”
While McKagan was in the air, the Seattle community found out that the Showbox may face the chopping block to make way for a new apartment building. An application has been filed to turn the 79-year-old First Avenue theatre into a 44-story high-rise.
McKagan told his longtime friend, KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson, that it was far more than just fellow musicians who texted him in shock over the news.
“It wasn’t all musicians at all — it was architects, it was builders, people just who have gone to shows there,” McKagan said. “They’ve had experiences there that have flavored their lives in a positive way, and a city has to keep those kinds of things.”
McKagan immediately took to Twitter to protest against progress that comes “at the cost of the soul of the city.”
Seattle has long been at the forefront of trends in the music world, McKagan said, and the Showbox is an irreplaceable piece of that history and culture. McKagan, who has been vocal in the past about his views on Seattle politics, added that in the midst of heated political disagreement in the city, the Showbox serves to bring people together.
“We’ve got to all agree that music, and the soul of music, have flavored Seattle and its character so much,” he said. “We can argue about politics and all that stuff until we’re blue, but we can all agree that music is a big part of the soul of our city, and the Showbox is at the center of that.”
The rock star remembers going to his first concert at the Showbox at just 15.
“We all have been to the Showbox 20 times, and I’ve been there 120,” he said. “I’ve played there a bunch of times and I grew up going to shows there.”
In its eight-decade history, the Showbox has featured everyone from Jazz era artists like Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole, to classic ’80s rockers such as Blondie and the Police, to more recent icons such as Coldplay, Daft Punk, and Lady Gaga.
There are very few historic theatres left in Seattle, McKagan said, naming the Moore and Paramount as some of the last holdouts. With a capacity of just 1,100, the Showbox creates an intimacy between artist and audience that few other venues have.
“You feel that history of the place, and the sound, the acoustics are so good … it’s a real communal type of building, you’re playing with the people there,” he said. “Those places are becoming fewer and far between. We’re really blessed in Seattle to have that place.”
It looks like the best way to stop the bulldozers may be to hurry up and get the stamp of historical significance on the iconic theatre. A petition on Change.org to name the Showbox an official City of Seattle landmark has already garnered over 37,000 signatures.
Progress can be made, McKagan said, without robbing Seattle of its culture and turning the city into a collection of uniform, personality-less skyscrapers. He suggests building up while keeping the Showbox as the bottom level.
“We can’t stop progress — I don’t have my head in the sand — but keep the Showbox as your first level, your storefront,” and build up, McKagan said. “Or just make it a historic landmark.”
In his extensive travels while on tour, in particular during the eight weeks he just spent in Europe, McKagan has witnessed the way that other world-class cities, such as Madrid and Moscow, are able to grow and modernize while still retaining their historic buildings.
“There is development all around it, but there are these key places … that are going to stay there,” he said. “The Showbox is definitely in that category of a place that’s got to stay there.”