The year was 1991 in Seattle. Chuck Knox coached the Seahawks, logging was blocked to protect the spotted owl, and the Seattle Art Museum’s Hammering Man fell over. Amazon.com didn’t exist then, but grunge did. Grunge music, which started in Seattle, was huge here and gaining international attention.
“There are a lot of different grunge styles, but it was kind of punky and kind of ‘garagey’ and kind of dirty. Just the whole sound was pretty messed up,” says Justin Henderson, author of a new book about grunge music in Seattle.
Grunge Seattle is a detailed history of artists and key players in the music’s development. From Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Mudhoney, to the groups who came much earlier, like the Melvins and Green River. What makes this book interesting for anyone who lives in the area, is that it’s also a guide to locations that were significant for grunge rockers.
This boarded-up, triangular-shaped building at 4230 Leary Way in Seattle was the Reciprocal Recording studio. It was booked up to 18 hours a day in the years between 1986 and 1991, with dozens of bands creating grunge music there. This is where Nirvana did its first demo session in 1988. Two songs from Nirvana’s debut album Bleach were recorded here.
Henderson moved to Seattle from New York in 1991, and says the city in those days was “sort of isolated.”
“Little communities could start up and they wouldn’t be discovered necessarily by the mass media so quickly,” he says. “It was kind of a little local secret.” A lot of people would have preferred to have it stay that way.
Part of the reason grunge was so strong, he says, was that the angst-filled music wasn’t a gimmick. It was good, hard rock.
“These guys were really talented. The concerts just rocked and rolled and people had a great time,” says Henderson. “It was not like people standing around bemoaning their fate. It was fun.”
He also writes about the “fade out” of grunge in Seattle. From the 1994 suicide of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, and the heroine overdose of Hole’s Kristen Pfaff, to the 2002 overdose of Layne Staley from Alice in Chains. In spite of the many sad stories that went along with the music, Henderson says he doesn’t want to end the book on a negative note.
Two decades later Pearl Jam is still jamming and Alice in Chains’ latest album Black Gives Way to Blue – not recorded here, but in Northridge, California – came out last year and is a big success.
“It’s like Neil Young says rock and roll never dies it just keeps evolving, mutating and springs up all over,” says Henderson.
Soundgarden took their name from this sculpture along Lake Washington. It’s called “A Sound Garden” and when the wind blows it wails like an electric guitar. It’s on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration property at 7600 Sandpoint Way NE in Seattle. After 9/11 a fence went up for security reasons, separating NOAA from the nearby Magnuson Park. It is open to the public, but you need to stop at the NOAA gates to get a pass. Worth a trip on a windy day. Soundgarden’s front man Chris Cornell went to Shorewood High School, and worked as a seafood wholesaler and sous chef at Ray’s Boathouse restaurant before starting his music career.
Using Henderson’s information, MyNorthwest.com’s Jamie Griswold has created a Google map to guide Grunge lovers through the Seattle area.