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(back to Music Travel)
For a few brief years, at the end of the 80s and into the early 90s, Seattle dominated rock music like Liverpool or San Francisco in the 60s, or London in the late 70s.
The city was an unlikely contender as a capital of bohemia, located in the far north west corner of America, but its isolation allowed the rock music of the city to develop an alternative character. Far away from the intense fashion wars of the big music industry cities, the subcultures of Seattle still mix freely.
In the 40s and 50s Seattle was a jazz town – Ray Charles and Quincy Jones both sharpened their skills in the clubs down on 12th Avenue. Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac occasionally made the trip to the north west to take in the scene, and to read some poetry.
Like any city, the classic clubs come and go. The Off-Ramp (109 E Eastlake Ave) was a club that played a role in the growth of so-called grunge, but it is now closed. Nirvana played a legendary four hour concert at the club in 1990. The Vogue (2018 1st Ave) was very much a hard core alternative rock club; Nirvana played here in 1989. It, too, has closed.
However, there are still plenty of good clubs, including the Crocodile (2200 Second Ave) which presents everything from poetry to punk, and the Velvet Elvis (107 Occidental S), which presents independent movies, fringe theatre and rock.
Garfield High School (400 23rd Ave)
Young James Marshall Hendrix was Garfield’s most famous graduate. He grew up with his father Al in a house at 2606 Yester Way. Hendrix left town in 1961, and did not return until 1968, when he addressed the school assembly one frosty morning in February. The school now has a bust of Hendrix (and prefers visitors to check in at the front desk before having a look at it).
Young Jimi bought his first guitar from Meyer’s Music Shop (corner of 1st Avenue and Seneca Street). A pawnbroker now occupies the shop, but a large mural of Hendrix is painted on the wall of the building.
Lake View Cemetery (1554 15th Avenue East Seattle)
Both Bruce and Brandon Lee are buried here.
Greenwood Cemetery (350 Monroe Ave Ne Renton, Washington NE 3rd St, Renton)
After he died in London, Jimi Hendrix was flown home to Seattle, and buried on 1 October 1970, in the town of Renton where he grew up. The grave is located in the Azalea Gardens section, at the back of the graveyard, near a sundial and some marble benches. There is a Hendrix guest book at the office, which is collected by his father every few months.
Experience Music Project (Space Needle)
This museum was founded by billionaire Paul Allen, the owner of the largest collection of Hendrix artefacts in the world, and many years ago, the founder of Microsoft Corporation along with Bill Gates. The hi tech museum opened in 1999 and features many rare audio recordings of Hendrix and other significant rock memorabilia (including the original sheet music to Louie Louie).
SubPop Office (1932 First Ave)
Sub Pop records is run by Bruce Pavitt, a local music fan who wrote a regular pop column for local mag, The Rocket. Like their British counterparts, Factory records, the owners of Sub Pop did not like the idea of contracts. It was only because Nirvana insisted on putting something in writing, that they got a contract (which ended up saving Sub Pop’s skin by forcing Geffen records to hand over a healthy slice of Nirvana’s revenues when the band went to work for the gigantic rock conglomerate). 
Kurt Cobain’s House (171 Lake Washington Blvd East)
Cobain grew up in Aberdeen, a couple of hour's drive from Seattle, but when he had some success with his band Nirvana, he moved into one of the nicer suburbs of Seattle. Kurt had it all: charisma, a nice wife and kid, a good job, and it is hard to see what went wrong. Maybe he was just a mixed up guy who got mixed up with a seriously ego bending industry or maybe he felt like something important had been sold out. Or maybe it was just the drugs that dried up his hopes (or more likely all of the above).
Re-Bar (1114 Howell)
In the late 80s and early 90s, this club was a popular hangout for Seattle’s grunge aristocracy. The members of Mudhoney were frequently seen at the bar, and Nirvana launched Nevermind at the club.
RKCNDY (1812 Yale)
This club used to be one of the core grunge clubs. It was opened in 1991 by one of Pearl Jam’s inner circle of friends and acolytes, and was the venue for the Mia Zapata benefit gig in 1994. Mia, who was murdered in 1994, was the singer for a local band The Gits.
The club is showing its age, and is not quite as hip as it used to be, but it still puts on good shows, and has an all-ages policy.
The Happening / Showbox (1426 First)
Every big city in America had its hippie dancehall in the 60s. And this was Seattle’s. The venue was built in 1939 as a ballroom with a sprung dance floor. After the summer of love had faded, the hall was turned over to the forces of darkness, and operated as a bingo hall, and then as a comedy club. However, in 1995 the hall reopened as a rock club. Over the years it has presented acts ranging from Iggy Pop to Sun Ra to the Ramones.
Centre of Contemporary Art (1309 1st Ave)
In the early days of grunge, say around 1989, this was frequently used as a venue by Nirvana, and may other Sub Pop bands. These days, it is simply a good place to check out some of the more interesting artists around town.
Blue Moon Tavern (712 NE 45th St)
Many years ago, the Tavern was a favourite of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg when they were in town promoting their latest Beat masterpiece. These days, the bar has managed to retain its bohemian atmosphere. It is located in the ultra hip University (“U”) District, which is chocker block full of interesting coffee shops, bookshops and record shops, all catering to the local student demographic.
Muzak Corporation (964 Denny Way)
This indeed is the home of the anti-Christ of rock, the Muzak Corporation, which conspired with the dark forces of capitalism, to use the power of music to boost productivity in the factory and increase consumption in the supermarket.
In the 70s and 80s, the psychological tools of Muzak were subverted by people like Brian Eno and The Orb, who were more concerned with creating an ambient escape route from the mundane world of working life.
The Sound Garden (7600 Sand Point Way)
This sculpture park, features large metal erections that are designed to extract music from the winds that blow in from the lake. One of the leading bands of the grunge rock movement of the late 80s took their name from the park.
The old coal-mining town was used as the location of the Northern Exposure television series, which became very popular in the first half of the 90s.
The other major TV location was Twin Peaks’ Snoqualmie, North Bend (the Snoqualmie Falls were featured in the show’s opening credits). The Mar-T Cafe still sells cherry pies and coffee, but mainly to regulars.
Further south, in Portland Oregon, there is an active rock scene. However the most significant rock icon in town must surely by the Northwest Recorders Studio (415 SW 13th St), where the Kingsmen (and a few years later, Paul Revere and the Raiders) recorded the garage rock classic Louie Louie.
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