The Mark Blog

Seattle, I'm Sorry

I’m starting this blog post on a plane returning from a brief trip to Seattle, where I re-connected with old friends and saw a play called These Streets, about Seattle's underground music scene in the early '90s. I lived there for most of that period and for the majority of my 20s. Just being in the city again brought back many memories, and seeing the show on top of it only dipped me further into this endless pit of nostalgia.

Each city block triggered the memory of some life-altering event, some drama played out in a house I lived in, a bar I drank at, or a park I frolicked in. Seattle is rich in so many ways, in trees and greenery, in rain and greyness, in drinks, drugs, depression, and damn fine coffee. When I lived there, I drank it all, devoured as much of life as I could, and often shat it out on stage in a punk rock theater group I co-created called Piece of Meat Theatre.

More than the city’s sights and sounds, it was the people who changed my life. I cherish the bonds I formed, both at Cornish College of the Arts, where I studied theater and befriended artists from all disciplines, and afterwards performing with Piece of Meat, where I met literally hundreds of crazy, talented, audacious, and adventurous souls, thriving in a small but vibrant little scene.

We were poor, we struggled, but we were creating. We would go to each other’s shows and party late into the night discussing them. We made flyers collage-style, copied them at Kinko’s, and staple-gunned them to telephone poles. We lived in hovels for next-to-nothing, so we could work less and create more. Nobody had cellphones. Nobody was online. Without these distractions, we were more prolific. We put up shows as often as we could, wherever we could, and as cheaply as we could. We were lucky to break even. We once used all the profits from a play to fund a weeklong camping trip.

Piece of Meat could adapt to many venues: black box theaters, art galleries, warehouse parties, and rock clubs. Some of my favorite gigs were with the post-industrial, anarchist, tribal-noise band Tchkung, who would use rifles, chainsaws, and fire in their shows, and clear rooms with smoke bombs, only to continue the gig out in the streets. One time they drove a truck into a club and passed out drumsticks, encouraging everyone to pound away. There was always a sense of danger at their shows, that things could spiral out of control at any moment, which made it all the more wild and fun, something I rarely find these days.

My favorite venue was the legendary OK Hotel, a classic old bar in Pioneer Square with a big stage in back, that housed anything from “grunge” bands to avant-jazz groups, poetry slams to experimental performance cabarets, which was where Piece of Meat got its start, and often returned, until the Nisqually earthquake in 2001 shut it down for good. The club, as well as many others, was name-checked in the play These Streets, which is mostly about the female-fronted rock bands eventually usurped by the rise of grunge and somehow written out of the history books. I admired the play’s attempt to correct this, to shine light on a time when people were creating for the pure love of it, with little concern for commercial gain.

I dedicate this blog to another forgotten Seattle scene, the unclassifiable performers who mixed theater, comedy, music, and mayhem in alternative venues all over the city. The spirit lives on still, and has been carried forth to other cities as well. Piece of Meat relocated to LA, but, for various reasons, called it quits after a couple years. Some friends of ours like Reggie Watts, Lady Rizo, Filastine, and Lauren Weedman, to name just a few talented ex-Seattlelites, have found great success elsewhere without losing their awesomeness. Not to mention the many others who continue the fine tradition of independent performance in Seattle to this day.

So why am I apologizing?

Because, despite all the vivid memories and rich details of the city readily available in my writer’s toolbox, I’ve chosen to set all my stories in California. Why ignore this seminal place in my life? Since my stories now chart one character’s journey from middle school to middle age, I simply have too much material. It’s already daunting enough to cover all these various ages, but to try and navigate the details of a whole other place… it’s overwhelming.

But don’t worry, Seattle. If nothing else, my recent trip, as well as writing this brief post, has inspired me to save you for another book, if not several. You’ll have your day. I just hope I do you justice.