SONIC BOOM: THE HISTORY OF NORTHWEST ROCK FROM “LOUIE LOUIE” TO “SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT” > By Peter Blecha / GRUNGE IS DEAD: THE ORAL HISTORY OF SEATTLE ROCK MUSIC > By Greg Prato

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While the outside world didn’t know much about the Pacific Northwest music scene until the grunge explosion of the early ‘90s, these two books illustrate how the Northwest-and not just Seattle-had been rockin’ along years before Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, et al. arrived.











Label: BACKBEAT BOOKS
[Rating: 4 STARS]

Label: ECW PRESS
[Rating: 4 STARS]

While the outside world didn’t know much about the Pacific Northwest music scene until the grunge explosion of the early ‘90s, these two books illustrate how the Northwest-and not just Seattle-had been rockin’ along years before Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, et al. arrived.

Peter Blecha’s book gives you the back story. Despite the word “rock” in the subtitle, Blecha actually goes all the way back to Seattle’s founding in 1851, gradually moving forward through the years when there were separate unions for white and black musicians, through the days of jazz and r&b until rock and roll began to rear its head. There are plenty of familiar names-Bumps Blackwell, Ray Charles, and Bing Crosby among them-before the “Louie Louie” era even arrives.

A recurring theme is how artists always strove to leave the Northwest in the hopes of sustaining a viable career (Jimi Hendrix being the most obvious example). Groups like the Ventures, the Fleetwoods, and the Kingsmen might rack up a Top 10 hit or two, but then faded from the spotlight. This stands in stark contrast to the main players in Grunge Is Dead, who, however much they may or may not have wanted stardom, found themselves in the midst of a media firestorm none of them could have anticipated.

Grunge Is Dead is an oral history, which means it’s far more subjective than Sonic Boom‘s detailed narrative approach. In quote after quote, it’s made clear that however much the Sub Pop label and their artists bragged about “World Domination,” no one really expected it to happen, and the participants still seem somewhat dazed by their experiences. There’s less insight about Nirvana, as Chad Channing is the only band member interviewed (which actually ends up giving the band an air of mystery), but there are scores of other interviews, including Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Jerry Cantrell (Alice In Chains), and Mark Arm (Mudhoney).

There’s some overlap between the books, but it’s largely minimal; the bulk of Blecha’s book is pre-‘80s, which is where the bulk of Prato’s book begins. So for the full, sweeping story, you’ll need to read both.

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