Click Here To Purchase The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge

Author:  Stephen Tow

Publisher: Sasquatch Books
ISBN-10: 1570617430
ISBN-13: 978-1570617430
 
 
I admit, I remember Grunge only from the records I heard in the early ‘90s from the likes of Sound garden, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains. Being older than the generation who lionized these bands, I was glad new listeners had new voices to speak for their times. I was aware the publicity for the sub-genre was typical music industry hype, including the nonsensical New York Times claim they had a glossary of “hip grunge slang.” This was a list of terms a record company executive completely made up for a very out of touch reporter. The musicians only used the expressions after the paper published the list to have fun with the flood of media types wanting to find out what the Grunge thing was all about.
 
That was all I knew, so I didn’t know much. But, judging from the details in  Stephen Tow’s history of the scene, few outside of the Seattle underground knew much more either. Unless you were there, much of this book is likely to contain rock stories you haven’t heard before. Over ¾ of Strangest Tribe deals with Washington state musicians and their milieu from the mid-1970s until the early 1990s before the outside world was aware something was going on in the Pacific Northwest.    Back then, for the most part, local bands were like local bands everywhere, enthusiasts for their brand of rock, whether metal or punk, just looking for places to play. Small clubs and venues would pop up for underage crowds to listen to their hometown heroes.
According to Tow, the ethos was no one was expected to go commercial, A.K.A. “sell out.” Promotions centered on posters stapled on telephone poles and records were mainly distributed on cassette tapes.    Then came 1986 and an album called
Deep Six which featured six of the more popular bands. Then came the Sub Pop records label and two bands in particular, Green River and Soundgarden that defined what Grunge was claimed to be. That is, the use of muddy, heavily distorted guitars, angst-filled vocals, and normally slow-tempoed songs. That’s the oversimplified definition, Tow explains, ignoring the humor and musical experimentation of many bands such as Mudhoney, TAD, and Nirvana. Then, listenership grew as major labels began to take note. Latecomers like Pearl Jam were better known outside of Seattle than within and groups like Alice in Chains, screaming trees, and The posies were grouped in the Grunge category even if they weren’t from Seattle or had any of the so-called Grunge characteristics.
 
Then came 1991 and the Grunge explosion hit everywhere—except Seattle. For the hometown where it had all begun, the Grunge scene had come and gone and what followed was contrived image making to fit international expectations. Flannel became the expected uniform of an “alternative” rock star, unintelligible vocals were mandatory, and young people began imitating what they saw in the movie, Singles. In short, the usual rock cycle of boom and bust, fermentation, acceptance, explosion, and implosion. 
 
What comes through Tow’s exhaustive recital of the build-up toward the Grunge phenomena, based on many first-hand interviews,  is that Seattle and surrounding towns were largely in a realm unto themselves. Few musicians expected more than regional success, and success was measured more by artistic concerns than potential   income. As a result, Tow chronicles the stories of bands like The Fartz, The Melvins, Young Fresh Fellows, The U-Men, The Fastbacks and many other groups that will not be well-known to many readers.  What might surprise some is Tow’s minimal discussions of the short glory years of Grunge and the post-Grunge influence, not even mentioning Pearl Jam’s work with Neil Young. (The alleged “Godfather of Grunge” is only mentioned twice, once by an admirer in Mudhoney, once as being a backstage celebrity at a Pearl Jam concert.) Then again, the stories of Nirvana and Pearl Jam are told often enough elsewhere, so Tow may have felt there was no need to repeat information readily available in many other sources.
 
So Strangest Tribe is a rock and roll saga that’s both familiar—in the general sense of any rise and fall story of a cultural “movement”—and unfamiliar in that most of the players and participants performed music known only in certain circles. After the story is told, Tow provides useful appendices that should inspire readers to track down samples of the bands we’re now introduced to twenty or more years later. Now, we can find out what all the excitement was about before the excitement went away.

 Click Here To Purchase The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge