The Next Seattle: Memoir of a Music SceneNeal A. Yeager / Humor
The Next Seattle
Memoir of a Music Scene
by Neal A. Yeager
I’m not French. I’ve never been to France or even to any French-speaking country. For that reason I really couldn’t tell you whether it’s true that the name Terre Haute is French for “high ground.” That’s just what some musician told me. At the time I was ordered to fly to Terre Haute to report on their supposed burgeoning music scene I was in such a God-awful pathetic state that I never got over to the Research Department to find out even the most basic details about the place to which I had been sentenced.
But if there’s one thing I can tell you it’s this: if Terre Haute does mean “high ground” then somebody screwed up. Durango, Colorado: That’s high ground. Not this place. Not only that, but I haven’t seen a single Frenchman the entire time I’ve been here.
I suppose that I could do my journalistic duty and actually do some research. But truth be told, I’m not really much of a journalist. Although I’ve managed to make a living writing for rock music publications since I was 25, it has really all been just one incredibly successful scam. I always liked music, I seem to be able to keep tons of music trivia in my head (do you know the date of The Doors’ first gig? I do.) and I read enough music magazines when I was a kid to be able to mimic what a big-time rock journalist is supposed to sound like.
I could mimic the writing style, but to tell the truth I’ve never really understood the reason for that style, this pompous style in which music journalists are expected to write. Basically the goal is to come off sounding like an intellectual who happens to curse like a sailor. Scribble brainy sounding, but basically meaningless phrases such as “socio-cultural milieu,” toss in a few instances of the F-word and you’re set.
Well, screw that. I’ve been faking it that way for more than 20 years and I’m done.
I’m not sure that I even like music anymore. I’m pushing 50. And the one glimmer of hope for something worthwhile in music put a shotgun to his head 3 years ago.
At any rate, supposedly there was a burgeoning music scene in Terre Haute, Indiana and supposedly that was why I came here. It should be noted that I did not volunteer for this assignment nor did I want it. It was punishment for a stupid thing that happened with a stupid, spoiled brat at the White House.
Though in my own defense, on the long plane ride out I had convinced myself to try to approach this assignment, as pointless as it was, the way that I had approached assignments when I actually used to give a shit. I was really going to try. But you need to know that through no fault of Terre Haute’s, I was disliking the place even before I knew where it was on a map.
God, I need a cigarette.
June 17, 1997... Sunny
So, crashing the rental car... that was not my fault.
Not my goddamned fault.
I blame the crash of the rental car on New York. I’ve lived in the city for so long that I haven’t driven in more than 20 years. But here I had found myself out in this dinky place in the Midwest and I assume that they don’t have taxis out here. Do they? I really doubt it.
At any rate, I assumed that they didn’t, so I booked myself a rental car. Although I hadn’t driven in a few decades I assumed that driving was one of those skills that you really don’t forget.
I was wrong. Oh so wrong.
I didn’t even make it out of the rental lot. I backed right into the driver’s side door of a parked rental car. And that was that. The pimply-faced kid at the rental counter actually physically took the car keys from my hand. The little prick.
So, long story short, I ended up getting a ride from the father of the young woman I was in Terre Haute to interview.
Yeah, it was kind of embarrassing.
Plus, it was sunny that June day in 1997. It was sunny and I had left my sunglasses in New York. The only positive thing to happen thus far on this assignment was that when my “chauffeur” pulled up he was smoking a cigarette. So as soon as my butt hit the passenger’s seat, I fired up a smoke myself.
“So you’re from the Big Apple, huh?” asked Mr. Ketchum as I squinted to see him in the horribly bright daylight.
“Yeah,” I said, “but I’m originally from Los Angeles.“
“Ah, ‘The Land of Fruits and Nuts,’” said Mr. Ketchum good-naturedly.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that said,” I replied, “ but now I live in New York.”
I didn’t add that I lived alone in New York. Pathetically alone. Not the kind of alone of a person who wants to be alone, but the alone of a person who has screwed up every relationship with every good woman he has ever known; has alienated every person, of either sex, who it would be worthwhile to call a friend; has fallen to a pathetic level of existence on this planet. That was the type of alone that we’re talking about here. But, as I said, I didn’t mention that.
“Which edge of the country do you like the best?” he asked.
“Well, except for the fact that the weather is quite often a bitch, I much prefer the East Coast to the West.”
“Hmm,” murmured Mr. Ketchum, “Never been to either coast myself. We go up to Canada for a fishing trip every few years, but that’s about the extent of my traveling. Maybe one of these days.”
Soon, we were passing through signs of civilization—a small shopping center, then on through mainly residential areas. I could see a few taller buildings sprouting above the treetops and guessed that we must be nearing this alleged city. Now, coming as I had from New York, I had the New Yorker’s tendency to view any city that didn’t have gigantic buildings stacked one against the other as being, shall we say, nowhere. But I had to keep in mind that even in these days of exploding populations and paving over forests to build condos, America is still a nation of small towns. Take a cross-country drive sometime and this becomes readily apparent. America is mostly gaps, huge expanses of land punctuated by tiny clusters of people.
“So who’s your daughter auditioning?” I asked.
“Hell if I know. Probably called The Skinsuckers, or something like that. They all sound the same to me,” said Mr. Ketchum, “But she’s convinced she’s gonna find the next big band, and that Terre Haute’s gonna be the next Seattle. Stick around very long and you’ll hear her say that damned phrase at least once or twice. ‘Terre Haute’s gonna be the next Seattle.’”
“‘The next Seattle, huh?’ What do you think about that?” I asked.
“I don’t know that much about it myself. It’s all a little over my head.”
I can tell you one thing. The “next Seattle” claim was one that I had heard laid on more than one musical city over the last few years, but I have yet to see a phenomenon like that work itself out again. And to tell you the truth, I’m not sure that it ever will. The whole Seattle scene was quite a unique little period in music history. A place and a time that a bunch of scruffy non-conformists made the industry come to them. I couldn’t see something like that being repeated again, much less out here in a small city in the middle of the country.
As Mr. Ketchum drove, he glanced over at me and said good-naturedly, “Damn. You sure are a skinny one aren’t ya? We’ll see if we can put some pounds on ya while you’re here,” he said with a laugh. "You’re not one of those vegetarians, are you?”
Black cinder blocks...
Loud music echoed through the air as Mr. Ketchum and I stepped into the club Seattle on Third Street in downtown Terre Haute. The club was pretty much the same as the thousands of other clubs that I had seen during my "illustrious" career. Set in an older brick building, the inside of the club carried the familiar motif: cinder block painted black. Ah, the black cinder block—a welcome sight indeed. That was my element. I had spent most of my life in places like this. Spent countless after-midnight hours bouncing from one set of black cinder blocks to another, refreshing my buzz with a new round of drinks at each stop. So to see that such a place existed in Terre Haute, Indiana meant that they had gotten at least one thing right. I had my doubts about the legitimacy of the other facets of this alleged music scene, but at least they had gotten the black cinder block right.
I actually felt a little better.
Like in many a small club, the furniture consisted of a bunch of mismatched tables and chairs that looked as though they had been purchased at garage sales. Above the bar, I noticed the logo for the club. I liked it. The logo looked as though it had been created by a psychopath and depicted a scene of an exploding Space Needle with shards of shrapnel coming together to form the word ‘Seattle.’ I glanced about the rest of the room. There was no real theme to the club. No neon lights. Only a few photos on the wall. No fake Tiki statues. Just the black cinder block walls and a bunch of mismatched furniture. Your basic no-frills club which, incidentally, is exactly the way that I like it.
At the far end of the club was a small raised stage which contained barely enough room for a band to squeeze together upon