This article was originally written for The Monarch Review.
In 1991 I was 14 years old. My music knowledge was limited. I listened to hip hop, heavy metal and stuff my parents liked, which was primarily Frank Sinatra, crooners, doo-wop and Neil Diamond. Oh, and “Weird” Al Yankovic was top on my list, too. A LOT of “Weird” Al Yankovic. There was one particular night, however, during my fourteenth year of life that changed not only my music listening course but millions of others around the world as well. As most teens are wont to do, I was sanctioned in my bedroom, alone, listening to the radio, most likely doing nothing of any particular importance. I was tuned in to a local hip hop station and, just for fun, let’s say Jodeci’s “Come and Talk To Me” had just wrapped up a set of 40 minutes of non-stop music. What came next from my tiny, tinny, boom box speakers was an unexpected but welcomed shift in the sonic pleasure I had been enjoying for past several hours. The sound was piercing, the lyrics somewhat unintelligible but the experience, the experience was life changing. I swear that night I heard a distant but strong collective moan from every hair metal band everywhere realizing that their time on the charts had finally come to an end. Poison weren’t nearly as poisonous, Motley Crue were not as motley and the clock had struck midnight for Cinderella. Nirvana had entered the mainstream and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was soon to be everywhere. My obsession with this band had officially begun.
Now I’m 36 years old, my music knowledge has expanded a bit and I’m on a ferry some sunny Saturday afternoon en route to Bainbridge Island to have lunch with Chad Channing. If you were to travel back in time and tell teenage Sean that 22 years down the line he’d be heading to an island to have food and drinks with one of the men behind the creation of some of the best songs ever written, there would be no words. Here’s the thing, though: the one prerequisite Chad had in order to agree to meet up was that he didn’t want to talk about Nirvana. He was burned out with that conversation. He wasn’t into meeting up until he learned that Nirvana wouldn’t necessarily be the point of conversation. But once he realized that this would be a sort of “where are you now/get to know you” type of thing, he was all in. On the ferry ride over, however, I was very indecisive with how I should actually handle the non-Nirvana discussion as being in this band was a freaking huge deal. I ended up deciding that the topic would most likely come up and to not press the issue.
Chad picks me up in his black Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS and we make our way to the Harbor House Pub for food and drinks. The first thing I notice about him is his hair. It’s down to about the middle of his chest and identical to virtually every photo you see of him everywhere. Chad, also, is welcoming and friendly.
Our small talk turns almost immediately to the topic of Nirvana and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame debacle. As I write this, I honestly forget how it came up but knowing myself and now knowing Chad a bit more, it was most likely my doing. Chad is humble about the fact that The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame snubbed him regarding an invitation to the induction of the band as only Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic were to take the stage. We both agreed that the arbitrary nature of how the Hall makes its induction choices is pretty lame. After a swift ride from the ferry dock we arrive to the Harbor House Pub, exit the car and make our way inside.
Within the first 10 minutes of our discussion I learn that as a child, Chad’s family moved around a lot due to his father’s career in radio – music was a huge part of his life (and still is) and we both really enjoy the band Seals and Crofts and BLT sandwich’s. We place our food order. BLT’s and beer.
Chad tells me about the various bands he’s in now and his busy recording schedule.
“Do you make music for a living?” I ask.
“Well, so far. I’ve always worked when I can like in the summertime with my friend Derek who I’m recording with. He has a landscaping business, which is just his own so he works at a personal residence so it’s not like he goes door to door. It’s pretty cool. I’ve laid some drum tracks for other people in bands and they pay me for my work. I do what I can.”
At times it’s difficult to maintain his schedule as Chad has two kids: a 12-year-old daughter named Lucy and a four-year-old son, Nolan. His girlfriend has a full time job so not only is Chad making music and landscaping but he’s also a stay at home dad.
Throughout his life, however, musical intuitions run in the family. “My dad played stand up bass with some groups in the jazz circuit down in L.A. for a few years,” he says.
“Was your mom into the scene as well?”
“She sang. Actually, she got up on stage one time and sang with Chet Baker.” Chad grins.
“Oh wow,” I say. Not really knowing Chet Baker. I’ve definitely heard of Chet Baker but I’m way more familiar with Chet Faker. Faker is a really talented musician from Australia who will be playing the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland very soon. I’ll be in attendance.
“Chet Baker, he’s an old…?”
“Horn player. Pretty much synonymous with jazz.”
I’ve listened to Chet Baker since and really dig his stuff.
“What would you be doing if you weren’t a musician? Have you ever thought about that?” I ask him.
“I have thought about that and it’s been really hard to figure out what I would do. Because prior to getting into music I was a big fan of soccer and that’s what I really wanted to be. I wanted to be a soccer player. But then I got into this really bad accident and I shattered my femur in seven places.”
It took years to recover, so, um, no more dreams for Chad of Pele-level success on the pitch.
“That’s what got me focused on music,” he says. “That accident. It’s kind of strange to think about. You never really know what’s going to happen in life.”
Violin was the first instrument Chad picked up while his little sister learned guitar. His sister’s guitar would spend more time in the corner of her room than in her hands so Chad decided to pick it up and teach himself how to play. It wasn’t until high school that he would take up drumming. I ask Chad if his kids have listened to any music from the breadth of his career and he says that he doesn’t think so. I’m always very curious as to how people of note talk to their children about what mommy and daddy have done in the past or do presently for their career. A career that us regular ‘ol workin’ folk sometimes really admire. Chad’s daughter, he notes, has seen his gold and platinum records that hang in a small, confined area on a wall in his back bedroom.
“Where they’re at if you open the door it pretty much blocks them all,” Chad jokes. “My daughter is kind of aware. For the first time ever, I think it was last year, she had someone come up to her and said, ‘Your dad was in Nirvana’, making kind of a deal out of it but she doesn’t see it as such. I’m just Dad. It’s even weird to me to think about that because I never wanted to make a big deal out of it, ever, especially with my own kids. I am not a flag waving type of guy.”
I ask Chad if he has any shows coming up and, not surprisingly, he does. We continue to talk as we wrap up our lunch date and our conversation flows in and out between music, hobbies that Chad enjoys (puzzles and model building), his kids, what it would be like to be mauled by a bear and how we only use 2% of our brains.