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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Audacity of Grunge - 25 Years After, There's Still Something In Seattle's Water Baptizing Boys Into Men of Golden Words ~ Whose Music Is Keeping The City's Heart Beating Now? And Why Do They Call Jefferson Angell "The Bee Charmer?" An Open Letter to Rolling Stone Magazine

Photo by Ernie Sapiro 

The year was 1988. The location - Kent Skate King, Kent, Washington. It was a promising, warm August night and the energy was high as three local bands were about to take the stage. Hundreds of kids packed the room in their Guns N' Roses t-shirts and torn jeans. With flowing blonde hair and big sunglasses was Mother Love Bone front man Andrew Wood, a.k.a. The Love Child. Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell played with a severity even then that stood out. As many would say over the years, this would be the show that sparked the interest for many a young man in attendance to pick up an instrument and begin screaming life. 

Living with Soundgarden's Chris Cornell for several years and writing music daily around and even with Chris, Andy had become a great writer and had already gained a healthy local audience as the singer and bass player for Malfunkshun, even selling solo cassettes of his own music at record stores. It was a fun time to live in Seattle and it was cheap. Having a creative and positive home enviornment with Chris seemed key to his writing. Listening to the music Andy wrote in those years, it seems to reflect a time of contentment and zest for life, love and music. 

One of the things I remember the most about Andy as a performer was his sense of humor. One night at The Central Tavern, he was imitating one of his favorite singers, Joe Cocker. Jeff and Stoney were laughing so much that they could barely play. Everyone was cracking up. He was the only singer in Seattle who could make his audience laugh & cry at the same time. His theatrics and KISS-influenced white face paint in Malfunkshun were by this time refined, and the audience, whether large or small, was treated to shout-outs at a non-existing balcony. His imaginary stadium audience got all of his attention. He was truly a joy to watch. 

At home, he was a comedian and wore my hippie skirts with his hair in a bun... while watching football. We listened to lots of Kate Bush and Prince. I never used drugs with Andy, but I was young and naive and always felt I could have done more to protect him. 

Unfortunately, his addiction to heroin won.  And by spring of 1990, Andy was gone. An overdose had left him in a coma with severe brain swelling. Once doctors unplugged the life support and left the room, I held him until his heart stopped beating. He died quietly in my arms, never having the opportunity to spread his "Love Rock" to the rest of the world or reach that big arena.  

I spent the next few years in New Mexico. Nothing looked or felt the same. Through my eyes, everything that was beautiful about Seattle died along with him that day on March 19th, 1990. I was 21 years old.  I spent my days and nights in New Mexico alone driving around the desert  in an old Plymouth Valiant. One night, I pulled over and started to walk. As I walked down this dirt road near Tesuque, New Mexico, I saw what looked like pages of a magazine. I picked it up. It was a month-old Rolling Stone. I opened the torn pages and in huge lettering was "Andy's Dead."  It was an interview with Cameron Crowe in which he was speaking about the overdose of Andy Wood. Reading it, my heart broke, seeing that personal things I'd shared with Cameron were revealed. I couldn't believe that, in the middle of nowhere, this discarded or lost magazine had somehow landed at my feet. The audacity of grunge, to follow me to the desert. I knew then the story of Andrew Wood was not over. 

Please know that I don't believe that there is one person who owns the memory of any other person, living or dead. What I'm expressing here is inspired by my experience and mine alone. And aside from the obvious pain of losing Andy to heroin addiction, it's been my privilege to witness the success of all of the Seattle bands who have aspired to stardom. They are the pillars of hope for all future musicians and I couldn't be more proud of the remaining members of Mother Love Bone. Pearl Jam has become much more than a band, and one of the first to donate consistently and in vast amounts through their own philanthropic organization,  Vitalogy Foundation. Alice in Chains are always going to be hometown heroes, and in my opinion, Layne would be incredibly proud of what they have accomplished. 

What I write, I write from the heart with the belief that reflective stories provide encouragement, understanding, compassion, and even closure to some. I hope that my words are also acquainted to many of the family, friends, and fans of Seattle music with finding one's own self worth and by virtue, a sense that their support and presence over the years has entitled them in belonging to something wonderful and ever-evolving.

Today, Seattle shines brighter than ever in my eyes. Imagine a beautiful painting, one that's been gradually and painstakingly created over more than 25 years. Imagine one painter after the next applying strokes of color, shading, and adding texture and contrast; every artist working around and with each other, displaying kindness and mutual respect for each others' contribution to the painting.

 That's what Seattle's music community is like. It has absolute unity, and that is a divine thing to possess. As rock and roll refugees, they have earned what all survivors of tragedy have coming to them - peace, unity, and comradery.

 I've seen a continuous flow of amazing musicians over the last few years. Amongst them are a handful of what I like to refer to as "special monkeys" - Stardog Champions, if you will. These are the ones that took every lyric, musical note and experience and turned it into something magical; something tangible that resonates with you deeply. These musicians' work defines and beautifully represents the influence of all the combined musicians of the 'Grunge' era. Here are a few of my favorites that I feel need some immediate attention:

Jefferson Angell 

If you don't know who Jeff Angell is, then I should fire my publicist! But he's a monkey and he works for whiskey and banana nut bread and you have to admit that's a pretty good deal! 

Prior to Post Stardom Depression
Jeff Angell was a talented focal point and lead guitar player in the band Sedated Souls. Back then, there was an overtone of L.A. "glam metal" within the Seattle underground music scene. At its peak in the summer of 1989, Jeff's aspiration to live his dream started to materialize in the midst of a trending Seattle music scene that was getting lots of attention from A&R scouts throughout the music industry.

Bands like Alice in Chains and Sedated Souls seemed to be both drawn to and then away from the somewhat forced influences of California bands like Jane's Addiction, Guns N' Roses, and Smashing Pumpkins, with the Sub Pop-esque and East Coast punk influences of their youth winning and beautifully mixing with what became the "Seattle sound." This uninhibited openness toward a fresh look and sound began developing Jeff into one the most prophetic songwriters and performance artists in the Northwest.  

Michael Alex of The Missionary Position
Seattle's Most Adorable Drummer, fact-not opinion

In 2008, Jeff started The Missionary Position with Ben Anderson on keyboard/piano. Trust me when I say Seattle has never had its ivories tickled by anyone like this before. Their drummer, Michael Alex, is frequently referred to as "Seattle's Most Adorable Drummer," but that pet name doesn't begin to describe the experience of seeing him play. Gifted, precise, endearing, and original are also words I'd use to describe him.

 Ben & Jeff's songwriting style is also unique, often described as intoxicating with influences of Morphine, The Stones, and possibly some Vaudeville carnival music. Subtle additions of saxophone with deeply personal and intriguing storytelling lyrics define their sound. Add all that to Jeff's dirty blues guitar riffs and you get The Missionary Position. Yet for being as different from grunge as they could be, this is not a band that could come from anyplace but Seattle.

In 2012, Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees, Mad Season, Skin Yard and Duff McKagan of Guns N' RosesVelvet Revolver, & Loaded started Walking Papers with Jefferson Angell and Benjamin Anderson of The Missionary Position. 

The buzz was loud and the project had immediate attention. Successful European and U.S. tours are reflected in their immediate and loyal social media following. Duff's obvious star power and lean, mean, rocking machine stage presence combined with Barrett's exquisite drumming completely compliment the chemistry that Ben and Jeff have already perfected with each other.

 So why, you ask, do people call Jeff Angell "The Bee Charmer?" Well, if you ever get to see him perform with either band, you'll feel like a fool for asking! I've seen women as well as men of all ages, shapes, and colors simply vapor lock over this guy. When Seattle is gifted with a solo show by him, you'll see people stop talking, push out their chairs, stand, and within minutes they're swaying and singing as if under some sort of spell. A humble, hard-working blue collar worker by day, he seems oblivious to this attention and sometimes even surprised. There have been few song writers that have actually made me cry and he is one of them. Have you ever seen a grown monkey cry? It's not a pretty sight.

 I love his music so much and believe in it so much that I want to play it for the dying so that they can tell the angels in heaven that there's hope for the planet. 

Shawn Smith 

Living proof purple auras exist

It's completely unbelievable to everyone who hears Shawn Smith that he's not a huge signed recording artist. With many feathers in his cap including being in the band BRAD with Stone Gossard for many years and Satchel with Malfunkshun drummer Regan Hagar, he has still seemed to fly under the radar when it comes to his music being out there for the masses to enjoy. Professional and precise with a highly tuned outstanding vocal range, he is iconic and beloved to Seattle. I don't know a single person who sees him as anything less than royalty. He's also the only person who officially has my blessing to cover Andrew Wood songs, because he does it for his love for Andrew and he does it beautifully. 

Johndus Beckman 

Let me tell you why anyone living in Seattle is lucky as hell right now: Because they get to go see this special monkey perform around Seattle for practially nothing. John's last project, a band called The Mothership, recently released what is probably the best grunge-esque hard rock album to come out of Seattle in over 20 years. Drummer Will Andrews, bass player Ryan Thornes and guitar player-songwriter Paul Frasier recorded two albums together that will never be forgotten by their fans. If you love Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, and The Arctic Monkeys, you will love The Mothership. Since the days of Mother Love Bone, I have never seen a new Seattle band whose massive audience knows all the words to every song, dancing and singing in unison. some of their biggest followers are members of other Seattle bands. I haven't seen that since the late '80s when Chris Cornell, a.k.a The Mustache, would be in the front, headbanging at an Alice in Chains show. It's snowing? So what. Raining? ....Thank God. Twenty miles away?  ....We'll figure out a way to get there. If The Mothership is playing, everyone wants to be there. John's voice is haunting and sweet at the same time. His lyrics instantly evoke every known emotion good and bad known to monkey and man.  Bright Side of Dim, which they released last winter in 2014, is so good, it makes me want to simultaneously cry and get naked on the regular basis. 

 There are many albums that represent the continuation of ' Grunge ' but these  pieces of loud heavy sexy art will go down in Seattle music history as some of the most pure and honest. 

Ayron Jones 

I recently filmed and live streamed Ayron Jones and I like what I wrote about him that night. He colored our world with hope. For years I've followed the career of Eric McFadden, another African American who rocks and plays guitar like no one's business. Eric's Texas and L.A. upbringing are apparent when you hear the Spanish classical influence. You'd think the roots of blues and rock would make a more inviting platform for the modern African American but you just don't see it much. And since Jimi Hendrix was from Seattle (chalk another one up for The Emerald City), you'd think there would be plenty more bands with African Americans. Luckily, we have Ayron! This kid absolutley channels Hendrix. Inner city hip-hop and punk riffs compliment his youthful hybrid style. He is "Absolute Seattle" and has been produced by Sir Mix-A-Lot and is now actually in the studio with Barrett Martin as a producer. Don't miss your chance to have Ayron color your world. You won't be sorry. 

So why is this addressed to you, Rolling Stone? Well for one, you're the only respectable rock publication left. And I guess I feel like the universe owes me one for that night in the desert. I also single-handedly brought back the word "chode," and successfully re-named Chris Cornell "The Mustache." That's gotta count for something! Please, dear editor, I am on my knees, which is very uncomfortable for my Mexican bird legs, and I am begging you to publish this letter. Put The Bee Charmer on you cover, and give these musicians the attention they deserve. You can even borrow our monkey, Sancho, if you need further writing and editing help. Like I said, the cheeky little bastard works for almost nothing! 

Siempre, Xana La Fuente 

For Hunter S. Thompson 
and every kid that got zapped by The Love Child that night 
at the Kent Skate King 

  1. Gonzo journalism is a style of journalism that is written without claims of objectivity, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first-person narrative. The word "gonzo" is believed to be first used in 1970 to describe an article by Hunter S. Thompson, who later popularized the style.

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