Jubilation and Paradise

Day 23:  Seattle

Today has dawned a stunningly blue, beautiful warm day – the absolute definition of a perfect day.  This is going to be a good day, I think to myself.  Yesterday I couldn’t see Mt Rainier from either the seaplane nor the Space Needle, but today I think the Gods are smiling on me.  As they have been since the moment I arrived in this awesome city.

Sub Pop Records Silver Jubilee

Happy 25th birthday Sub Pop!  Hip Hip Hooray!  Anyone who knows anything about the grunge scene in Seattle, knows the name Sub Pop.  Founded in 1986 by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman, SubPop achieved fame for first signing Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and many other bands from the Seattle music scene and are often credited with taking the first steps toward popularizing grunge music.

In early 1988 Pavitt and Poneman quit their jobs to devote their full attention to Sub Pop and “almost went bankrupt after a month”.  That August, SubPop released “Touch Me I’m Sick”, the first single by Mudhoney.  They intentionally did a limited first pressing of 800 copies to in order to create demand, a strategy which was later adopted by other independent labels.

Pavitt and Poneman studied earlier independent labels and decided that virtually every successful movement in rock music had a regional basis.  The pair sought to create a cohesive brand identity for SubPop.  The label’s ads promoted the label itself more than any particular band.  The label also sought to market a “Seattle sound”, which was accomplished with the help of producer Jack Endino (also known as the Godfather of Grunge).  Endino recorded cheaply and quickly; in order to operate this way, he utilized some consistent studio techniques, which gave the records a similar sound.

In November 1988 Sub Pop released “Love Buzz”, the debut single from Nirvana, as the first entry in the Sub Pop Singles Club which was a subscription service that allowed subscribers to receive singles by the label on a monthly basis by mail.  At its peak in 1990, the club had two thousand subscribers.  The club made Sub Pop a powerful force in the Seattle scene, and effectively made the label’s name synonymous with the music of the Seattle area and helped to secure the label’s cash flow.  They made a deal out of a self proclaimed “Loser” ethos, any shirt or cap from Sub Pop will tell you that, hell – they’ll tell you that.

Losers for 25 years
Losers for 25 years
Sub Pop Gum Ball
Sub Pop Gum Ball

Mindful that gaining the attention of the American mainstream music press was difficult for all but the largest indie label, Pavitt and Ponemen took inspiration from alternative bands like Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers and Dinosaur Jr and sought to publicize the label via the British music press.  In March 1989, Pavitt and Poneman flew Melody Maker journalist Everett True to Seattle to write an article on the local music scene.  As Pavitt had anticipated, the British press became enamoured with Sub Pop and the grunge sound.  Poneman explained the label’s success like this: “It could have happened anywhere, but there was a lucky set of coincidences.  Charles Peterson was here to document the scene, Jack Endino was here to record the scene.  Bruce and I were here to exploit the scene.”

After the mainstream success of Nirvana, many successful grunge bands had left Sub Pop for major record labels.  Soon afterwards, a joint venture was formed with Warner Brothers Records, thereby ending Sub Pop’s status as an entirely independent label.  The label opened offices worldwide and began major investment in new artists, but without achieving great commercial success, prompting a scaling down and a return to Seattle.

Just so happens that Sub Pop are holding their 25th anniversary bash today in Georgetown.

In honor of our 25th anniversary year, we at Sub Pop Records will be hosting an altogether free event in Seattle’s historic Georgetown neighborhood. Along and surrounding Airport Way, we are fairly certain there will be some combination of… Actual live bands, playing actual live music! Some sort of art-related something or other! Like, in a gallery space, we’re thinking! A record fair-type event! Food! Beer and wine! (The food and beer and wine and soda or whatever, you will have to pay for! These parts are not free!) Good times and opportunities to embarrass yourself and those who’d always hoped for better for you! Plus, bands!

Further details will be forthcoming…

Saturday, July 13, 2013
In the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle, WA

Jubilee advert in the local newspaper The Stranger
Jubilee advert in the local newspaper The Stranger

Unfortunately I had already made plans for the majority of today, which means I miss all the bands that are playing.  An hour before I arrived on Thursday, Mudhoney made history by playing on the top of the Space Needle (first band to ever do so) to celebrate the occasion, which would have been fabulous.  But at least I’m still in town for a bit of the party, so I decide to grab a cab to Georgetown and just having a wander around.  The day commences at 10am, but Loser ethos is fully apparent when by 11am, most things are still not set up – food stalls with no food, goods stalls not able to take payments yet.  It almost feels like a wasted trip until I get a free CD from one stall, probably one of the only perks of being here so early.  I spy the temporary Sub Pop Mega Mart and head on over to check it out – this would be the jewel in the crown.  But it’s not open.  A couple of minutes the guy says.  A couple of minutes later, he says a couple of minutes.

While I’m waiting, I reflect on all the stuff I learnt yesterday:

  • Chris Cornell was stinky back in the day, as were most of the guys in bands;
  • Zanna, Andy Wood’s fiancé, is back in town and apparently not doing too well, having lost custody of her two children;
  • Stone Gossard drives a Prius;
  • Mike McCready is a really nice guy and has a bobble head doll created in his likeness;
  • Pearl Jam are creating a new album, which is according to Mike McCready’s discussion with Charity, much more rockin;
  • Courtney Love is not very popular in this town, and has a penchant for just taking off down the street after people; and
  • Jeff Ament spent too much money redecorating his apartment, and then had trouble selling it.

I don’t think I’ve ever learnt more in a tour!  But anyway, I digress.  Finally the Mega Mart opens.  I flick through the CD’s and freak out when I see a copy of the Sub Pop 200 CD.  I panic and grab the CD in case other people realise its here, rushing over to the til to claim my prize, at a crazy $10.  Sub Pop 200 is a compilation released in the early days of the Seattle grunge scene, way back in December 1988.  It features songs (many of them first releases and otherwise unattainable) from Tad, Nirvana, Mudhoney, Souundgarden, Green River, The Fastbacks, Girl Trouble, Catt Butt, The Screaming Trees, Steve Fish and The Thrown Ups.  I realise later that a) Seattlites may not be so excited about this CD seeing as they probably had unlimited access to it when it first came out (you could certainly never find this kind of gem in Perth) and that b) it was only $10 and c) I should have taken my time and had a look for any other possible gems at absolutely ridiculous prices.  I grab a couple of gum balls and a colouring in book for my inner child before I stash my treasure into my backpack and run to try and find a cab.

Waiting around for Sub Pop
Waiting around for Sub Pop

Crap, I can’t find a cab and I am scared I will run out of time because I hung around longer than I should have waiting for the mega mart to open.  My tour to Mt Rainier starts at 1pm, I don’t know what time the pick up time for the tour is, it’s getting towards 11.30am and I’m still perhaps a half hour away from getting back to my hotel.  I pop into a motel and ask the manager where the best place to grab a cab from is.  He tells me, “well, this ain’t Manhattan, so you won’t be able to just hail one out in the street, I’ll call you one”.  Very kind.  Thirteen cabs go past me while I am waiting for the one he called.  I am starting to panic, thinking I’m going to miss the tour.  Nonetheless a cab finally turns up, driven by the self proclaimed ‘ugliest taxi driver in the world’ and I am finally on my way back downtown.  The driver is hilarious telling me that he married so late because he’s so ugly and his wife only married him because she felt sorry for him being so ugly.

Ugly or not, the driver gets me back to my hotel with about half an hour to spare.  My phone beeps, letting me know that the confirmation message I sent to my tour group for this afternoon has been rejected – it was letting them know I was confirming the tour.  Oh crap, I call the company and he say’s that yes I am confirmed and that the pick up should arrive at 12.30 (half an hour early, and oh look, it’s 12.29 right now!)  Aargh!  I grab my stuff and run downstairs.  A couple of minutes later, Marty arrives.

Mt Rainier

Marty is my guide for a nice comfortable trip (brand new Mercedes van thank you!).  I am the first pick up on the list, so I get to score the front seat.  There are eight others on my trip, mostly Americans, with one lady from Sydney.  We travel out into the country side, all the time getting closer and closer to Rainier.

Ascending to 4,392m above sea level, Mount Rainier stands as an icon in the Washington landscape.  An active volcano, Mount Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous USA., spawning six major rivers.  Subalpine wildflower meadows ring the icy volcano while ancient forest cloaks Mount Rainier’s lower slopes and wildlife abounds in the park’s ecosystems.

Mount Rainier is a massive stratovolcano located 87km southeast of Seattle.  It’s the considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.  It is on the Decade Volcano list as one of the 16 volcanoes with the greatest likelihood of causing great loss of life and property if eruptive activity resumes – because of its large amount of glacial ice, Mt. Rainier could potentially produce massive lahars that would threaten the whole Puyallup River valley.

Although Mount Rainier is an active volcano, as of 2010 there was no evidence of an imminent eruption.   Apparently it erupts roughly every 500 years – it’s about 70 years overdue.

On the way to Rainier
On the way to Rainier

The scenery along the way is stunning, firs of all types, rocky river beds and beautiful turquoise lakes.  We keep an eye out for wildlife – elks are usually visible along the way, but this is a beautiful Saturday, so perhaps the number of visitors to the mountain today have scared them away, because we don’t see any.  We travel to the part of the mountain called Paradise.  And that’s truly what it looks like.  We have over an hour and a half to go off and do as we please.  There are numerous trails up and around the mountain, catering for different abilities.  I forgot my asthma pump in the business of the morning, and because we are so high up, play the safe road by taking a lower path around the side of the mountain.  And this is what I’m rewarded with…

Panoramic Rainier
Panoramic Rainier

By no means is this second prize.  I can feel the cold air blowing towards my face as I look up in marvel at the mountain face.  I can’t think of anything to say to describe the mountain, but possibly awe.

In full glory
In full glory

I snap away taking photos like every other tourist, making sure I get lots of ‘selfies’ in.  Knowing how much I hate ‘touristy’ photos, posing in front of every landmark in site, I know you’d all be so proud of me.

Me and Rainier
Me and Rainier

Around six thirty pm, the sun is starting to set on the skyline, and we prepare for dinner in the remaining daylight.  Marty pulls out actual table cloths, napkins, plastic plates and wine glasses.  Then a spread of delicious looking food – grilled chicken breast with chimichurri sauce, mixed salad leaves with persimmon and strawberry vinaigrette, quinoa and chickpea salad and grilled mushroom, capsicum and eggplant, with white or red wine and cookies to follow.  Such a divine spread in an even more divine setting.  This continues to be a fabulous day.

Cascadian Feast
Cascadian Feast

Making sure to throw away all scraps, cause we are in bear country now, we pack up the picnic and load back into the van.

You in bear country now!
You in bear country now!

Our last stop on this magical tour is Narada Falls, which is running in full flow.  The spray off the gushing water kisses your face as you watch on.  We linger for a few moments before making our way back to the comfort and warmth of our vehicle for the long ride home.

A Waterfall to end the day
A Waterfall to end the day

We finally arrive back into Seattle around 10.30pm.  It’s been such a long and beautiful day.  It was a tour I thought would be worth splashing out on to do it right, and my gamble paid off.  Seattle has showered me with another perfect day.  I will sleep so well tonight.

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