So at last, after a marathon scramble involving planes, trains and automobiles, I was back in Seattle. A place I have been lucky enough to visit several times on previous trips to the US. A place which I fell in love with during my K! Towers days and somehow never got over. A place with plenty of cool rain and hot men.
Here we are now, entertain us.
The first time I pitched up in Seattle was a few months after my friend, Commie K, had eloped with P. P had been the flatmate of Stone Gossard from Pearl Jam. This was a complicated story, but P had stayed at my flat on a trip to London in early 1992, which had necessitated Stone leaving a message on my answerphone on at least one occasion. This was, of course, tremendously exciting – almost as exciting as when we got to out for dinner with him when Pearl Jam played in London in Feb ’92. I’ve still never got over that.
Commie K ran away to Seattle later that year, and has been there with P and now their two children ever since. She tells me she lives in Hillbillyland, and sometimes I believe her.
The last trip I had out here was in the mid 90s. The grunge era was subsiding, though a number of the bands who’d been around during my first visits were now megastars. There was still a vibrant gig scene. The city itself is a stunning place. If you like lush greenery, tick. Mountains, tick. Ocean, tick. Coffee shops (that serve tea), tick. Boho, record and vintage shops, tick (though not as many as there were on my last visit). Cool bars and restaurants, tick. Everything eco-friendly, tick.
Yet there has been plenty of change since I was last over. Many of the funky neighbourhoods are now gone, as property prices here have skyrocketed in the wake of what happened with the music scene, and so many of the old buildings have been knocked down and replaced by huge glass fronted condos. There is definitely a shortage of live venues. Even RKCNDY, the legendary music club, has disappeared and made way for some huge anonymous block. There are also an awful lot more homeless people, who are very visible even in the wealthiest areas. Like London.
I remember London when it used to look like an episode of The Professionals, where there were multitudes of derelict warehouses down by the Thames, houses were squatted on every road, there was a pub on every corner. Everywhere was as if Lewis Collins was going to pelt across a warehouse yard at any minute, shoving aside some oil drums and clattering through a pile of cardboard boxes shouting “Cover me!” before flinging me across the bonnet of a Capri. (I’ve never felt that would be the case in Seattle, mind, everyone’s too laid back.)
Like London, Seattle now appears sanitised, smarter but not always as interesting. I suppose that’s what an influx of cash does for an area. And yes, there are plenty of Starbucks, on literally every street corner. But hey, it still feels like home so I’m not complaining.
So for the past week me and Commie K have been hanging out, reminiscing about “the old days” like a couple of old crones, much to the amusement of her kids, poking around vintage and thrift shops and doing the sights. For some reason, in the middle of Fremont there is a huge statute of Lenin, so that seems like an appropriate meeting place. Quite why there would be a giant model of the communist leader in the middle of Seattle’s equivalent of Hoxton is anyone’s guess.
(Above clockwise: Mercer Street, my friend Commie K at the Lenin Statue in Fremont, the Mediterranean Inn in Queen Anne district, outside Stone Gossard’s ‘secret’ Studio Litho in Fremont, looking down towards Puget Sound from 1st Avenue.)
As Commie K and her brood – which includes a pack of dotty hounds inclined to set up a-howlin’ every time anyone goes past the house in Hillbillyland – have a houseful, I ensconced myself at the Mediterranean Inn, a fantastic hotel in the Queen Anne district. I can recommend this place to anyone visiting Seattle, since it is a total bargain, being about half the price of the central Downtown hotels which are just a 10 minute bus ride away and with its own laundry, gym, roof terrace, and kitchenettes in every room. And of course, is attached to a Starbucks which is open 24 hours.
Commie K was a little worried about me getting the buses all over town to see her. I don’t know why, since I’ve been approached by far more weirdos on public transport in London, and here even the hobos are pretty laid back, like everyone else in the city. Commie K is worried that I will be accosted, or shot, but once you’ve had to face down a client in the Old Bailey cells who’s just been convicted of murder, then getting across Seattle on the bus doesn’t really pose too many problems.
And schlepping about on public transport, there are plenty of cool places to discover. Like the High Dive bar in Fremont, where we caught the dulcet tones of local legend Shawn Smith performing a solo set one night, then a couple of nights later a terrific, if terrifying, outfit called Black Bone Exorcism, who for K! Towers habitués sounded like Neurosis (check them out here) meets my old mates Fudge Tunnel (indulge yourselves here). BBE have apparently just been in the studio with Tad Doyle producing, which may turn out to be truly frightening: find out more about them here.
And not forgetting the Mecca Café, a place straight out of my TV fave Diners Drive-Ins And Dives, where you can order what purports to be a light lunch and get a plate the size of which would keep me going for a week. For 10 dollars.
The supermarkets here are places of wonder. They seem different even to the shops in other US cities I’ve visited. The local here is the Metropolitan Market, which is like Waitrose on steroids. There is so much fresh produce, you just don’t know where to look. The apples are the size of footballs. The colours on the vegetables are so bright, it’s like you’ve been dropping acid as you wander around the aisles. And it’s all piled as high as a house and as cheap as you like. There are so many sweets and chocolates and pastries, I wanted to pass out.
(Above clockwise: Shawn Smith performing at the High Dive, what passes for a “light snack” in Seattle, the Lake shore area where the hot shots live, the Seattle Arts Museum, the view to the Space Needle, the Mecca Café.)
So it’s a good job I’ve been doing plenty of walking, as I’d be bursting out of my clothes if I kept this diet up. If I stayed here too long, I’d end up looking like Augustus Gloop.
Luckily the tourist attractions are all within easy striking distance. Now if only I could just force down that last plate of chips.