Every so often a convergence of personalities, circumstances and events occur in a single location at just the right time to change the world for the better.
It happened in Paris in the 1920s.
It happened in San Francisco in the 1950s and ’60s.
And it happened in Seattle in the 1990s.
Grunge, the so-called “Seattle Sound,” remains a crucial and indelible chapter in the saga of American culture even as its influence becomes ever more indirect on the present, the progenitors less distinct.
Andrew Wood and Layne Staley are gone. Chris Cornell, too. Kurt Cobain is a Hot Topic T-shirt icon. The Paramount still stands, but Mercer Arena has been demolished. And though the genre’s heyday is in truth only about 25 years past, hardly ancient history, the staple songs now sometime seem like the soundtrack to a strange shared dream; a misplaced, irrecoverable yesteryear that promised a better, more earnest tomorrow that never came.
But it did happen. And we have the music — and the photos — to prove it.
A collection of such images, taken by lifelong documentary photographer Steve Schneider, will be on display at the Jeffrey Moose Gallery (181 Winslow Way East, Suite F) through Sunday, June 30. The exhibition, “Seattle Rocks: The Grunge Years,” features photos of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, among others, from the prime years of that iconic flannel-clad fad.
And it was huge. For those who weren’t around, or those who forgot, gallery owner Jeffrey Moose, himself a longtime area musician (now a member of Ranger and Re-Arrangers), can attest.
“I was in a couple of different bands, and you almost had to pay to play,” he said. “At a lot of these [cheap] little places in Seattle, we had to sell 10 or 20 tickets to even get in the door to play.
“Every night there was like 20 bands even at the little [cheap] places,” he recalled. “I remember playing at some [dingy] pool hall up near Northgate where there was like seven or eight bands on a Tuesday night. That’s when everybody in the world, not just the United States, people were coming here from all over the world thinking they were going to get famous on the grunge thing. It was so crazy to see, and I was just old enough to not go down the drain or get sucked in by all the craziness.”
Yet craziness there was, and also history, which Schneider was there to document, somehow managing to be present at a string of seminal shows, camera in hand. In the space of less than a week, Schneider managed to shoot two crucial 1993 shows: Pearl Jam at Mercer Arena on Dec. 7, and Nirvana’s now-infamous MTV “fake New Year’s Eve” concert at Pier 48 on Dec. 13.
“He was credentialed by United Press International, and if I understand right he was either the only one or one of the only credentialed photographers in the room,” Moose said. “Steve has good stories about a lot of the photos.”
A special reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. during First Friday on June 7. Admission is free and all are invited to attend — appropriate grunge attire is encouraged, of course. Schneider himself will be in attendance — as well possibly some celebrity guests, including Nirvana drummer Chad Channing and Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd.
“It’s not going to be a big VIP party or anything, but I’m thinking a few grunge rockers will show up,” Moose said. “And even if they don’t, Steve will probably be here to talk [expletive] about all of them, so that’ll be a kick in the butt.”
Bainbridge, Moose said, is an unlikely but ideal place to stage a show of Schneider’s Grunge photos.
“It’s cool that there is this connection to this small town,” Moose said. “Bainbridge Island, home to seminal hair metal band Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood, is a perfect place to stage this show, as members of that band went on to form Pearl Jam and work with Chris Cornell of Soundgarden to [form] Temple of the Dog, a tribute to Wood.”
Before he became one of the great grunge chroniclers, Schneider actually became famous for shooting a prior, though no less timeless, musical icon: The Grateful Dead.
“He’s originally from Southern California, and at some point when he was in the Bay Area … he became a fan of the Grateful Dead and he sent them a photograph, a huge color print that cost a lot of money he said, $100, maybe a couple hundred bucks to print back in those days … and they loved it,” Moose said. “And they reached out to him and then they allowed him on stage and to shoot through their shows and he became kind of part of the family.”
His photos of the band appeared in numerous publications, as well as on DVDs and CDs. And, when Jerry Garcia died, it was Schneider’s photo of him (at Memorial Stadium in Seattle) that Time Magazine ran with the story.
Having had the Seattle photos on display since May 3, Moose said his gallery has become something of a shared trip down memory lane these days, a trip he said he’s glad to make.
“Because I have these shots up, people come in and they just open up about their concert stories,” he said. “And that to me is just so groovy — I’ll just use the word. It’s just so cool to get deep into the anecdotes and where people were and how they got to the show, how they got home, how they almost got arrested or lost their girlfriend or the car got towed — all this crazy stuff.
“Because most of these stories come from a time when we were all younger, in our 20s or 30s, or even younger, the memories are intense.”
It was, Moose said, in many ways an indescribable thing to have experienced, and a phenomena that still affects the Emerald City to this day.
“I remember, sometime in ’90 or ’91 thinking, ‘Holy [expletive], this is the middle of a scene!’” he said. “‘This is the real deal, man. This isn’t some flash-in-the-pan thing; this is a musical movement, just like what happened in the Bay Area during the ‘60s with Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin.’
“Seattle became international on the backs of these dead grunge rockers, who were basically angst-ridden kids,” Moose said. “The economy here sucked. The sawmills closed down. Boeing fired all their people. There was no work at all. Parents, families were falling apart. There were tons of divorces and bankruptcies — and the kids were freaking out. They didn’t have a safety net of any kind. And you can hear the anger and the anxiety in their music. It was almost like a white version of the blues to me, because all these kids were crying out for attention and for love and compassion.”
Visit www.jeffreymoosegallery.com or call 360-598-4479 to learn more. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, as well as by appointment.