“Women Who Rock” and wear sparkly things

Tina Turner, represented by two dresses. All photos on this page by Wendi Dunlap.

The new “Women Who Rock” exhibit opens today at the EMP Museum. I saw a preview this week, and though I enjoyed it, as I left the exhibit I had definite mixed feelings about it.

The exhibit opens with a great photo of Joan Jett with a “takes no shit from anyone” look and a guitar slung over her shoulder. The next thing you see is a timeline, then a piano — Lady Gaga’s childhood piano, as it turns out. Appropriately, the exhibit starts with the music, or at least, one of the tools to create it.

Around the corner you go, seeing memorabilia of some of the earlier influences including Bessie Smith, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and LaVern Baker. It’s good that the exhibit reaches into pre-rock history, though I wanted more of it, history geek that I am.

Turning to your right, you see an impressive US-flag-style dress on a headless mannequin in a glass case, next to another mannequin frilly black and yellow dress sprinkled with tiny musical notes. The flag dress was made for Wanda Jackson by her mom; the yellow one was worn by Ruth Brown. There are some other memorabilia pieces in the display — Jackson’s guitar, Brown’s record — but what draws your eye here is the costuming. And this focus continues through the rest of the exhibit.

Joan Jett has a “Bad Reputation” and also NO HEAD.

We see sparkly dresses worn by members of the Supremes, really short sparkly dresses worn by Tina Turner, and flowing dresses worn by Stevie Nicks, Mama Cass, and the Wilson sisters from Heart. Loretta Lynn’s dress is essentially a 1980s wedding dress in pink: sparkly beaded bodice, big puffy shoulders, and a chiffon skirt. And a nice guitar next to it, but the “ooh, shiny” steals its thunder.

Some costumes are less girly: Joan Jett, of course, with a leather jacket (sporting a Keep Abortion Legal badge), and the outfit she wore on the I Love Rock & Roll album cover. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth is represented with a shirt bearing the phrase “Eat Me” and the Rolling Stones’ tongue logo.

The definition of “rock” is pretty broad by the time you get to the Britney Spears and Shakira outfits, basically sequined pants with bikini tops. Both mannequins have belly buttons. I think Shakira’s gets a six-pack; no such luck for Britney.

There is a case nearby with a mannequin wearing something that looked like something out of a horror film, red and gross. Yes, it’s Lady Gaga’s meat dress — “meat jerky by now,” we were told. At this point I heard one of the other reviewers mumbling thoughts similar to mine: “Why is it all clothes?” To be fair, it’s not all clothes. Quite a few of the mannequins come with guitars, and some have album covers or magazine articles on display showing the clothing being worn. A few have handwritten lyrics or letters. There is a wealth of text to read about each performer. But the fundamental format of the exhibit is basically mannequins wearing cool stage costumes.

Cyndi Lauper: “She’s So Unusual” because it is definitely unusual to have no head!

The focus on the costumes seems to be both a positive and a negative. On the negative side, the heavy emphasis on costumes seems to crowd out memorabilia that I have seen in other exhibits — more letters, press, vintage posters, tickets, etc. It tends to define almost all the artists by their clothing, displayed on those (mostly) headless, nearly interchangeable mannequins. (The only ones with heads were ones with hats. And those heads were generic.) What’s important, it says, is what’s below the neck. This is what defines each artist. And this is problematic.

Women in rock are not about their clothes — the clothes are a sideline and kind of a distraction. Show me more video, show me more memorabilia — how about the kind of display where it feels as if “you are there” seeing some of them perform, instead of dead faceless mannequins wearing pretty clothing? What was it like to see Ruth Brown sing “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” at the Mambo Club in Wichita, Kansas in 1956? What was it like to see Blondie at CBGB’s in 1977? The display is more “Nordstrom window” than “rock and roll.”

On the positive side, seeing so many mannequins does give you a bit of a feeling that “hey, there are a lot of women in rock, and this is only touching the surface.” And at the same time, it gives you that sense that they are just people like yourself — maybe shorter than you are, maybe thinner, maybe not — not some onstage demigods glowing under a spotlight.

I must admit that I personally find costume interesting. I’ve researched it, and it’s one of the aspects of history that draws my attention, so I enjoyed seeing the clothing, but I did not like that it really seemed to be the focus. Having costumes there is good, but the exhibit seems kind of imbalanced.

That does not mean you shouldn’t go see it anyway, though. Imbalanced or not, the exhibit is still fascinating. I just wish it could have been more.

Is this the Nordstrom half-yearly sale? How much for the dress in gray?

24 years ago this week: YEAH! Magazine #5, Bumbershoot Preview

This week I’ve got YEAH! Magazine issue #5 for you: the 1987 Bumbershoot Preview. We posted capsule previews for all of the local bands playing at that year’s Bumbershoot festival. If you were around here in the 80s, these names should bring back a lot of memories.

This was the last weekly issue. The weekly grind was a bit much for us so we switched to biweekly after this one.

(Click on the cover to download the whole issue as a PDF.)

24 years ago this week: YEAH! Magazine #4 is missing!

I went to scan YEAH! Magazine #4 today, and was disappointed to find that I don’t have a copy of #4. I thought I had a complete run of the ‘zine, but apparently not. I’d like to appeal to anyone who may have a copy of #4—I would like to copy it if you have one.

Since I don’t have this week’s issue for you, here’s a review of YEAH! #3 from the September 1987 issue of Blue Suede News instead.

Next week: The YEAH! Bumbershoot ’87 issue!

(Click on the image to see a larger copy.)

24 years ago this week: YEAH! Magazine #3

Following up on last week’s post, here’s YEAH! Magazine #3, featuring the Life, the Young Fresh Fellows, Sam Smith, the PopLlama Picnic, and more. (Click the cover to download the whole PDF.)

YEAH! #3, featuring The Life

This issue was reasonably solid, I think. The magazine’s volunteers weren’t burned out yet, and we were all pretty motivated. Some of the highlights this time around included another episode of Rob Morgan’s Two Katz and a Toaster, several references to Stump, The Band, and an early review of Soundgarden, sort of (as Sound Garden), by Danimal:

“Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron from Sound Garden, along with original Garden drummer Scott on bongos, were up next. Chris and Matt both played acoustic guitars; Chris played one of those with way too many strings. They played ‘Train Train,’ and a song, probably from this here new album, called ‘Painting My Face.’ A Syd Barrett tune and a great Zeppelin medley, then Scott got to sing Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Sloppy Drunk Blues.’”

Notice also that “Sound Garden” is listed twice in the week’s show listings—both times, as an opening band at a club show. Ah, the old days.

A famed Squirrels performance was also immortalized in this issue—the PopLlama picnic show at which the band jumped into the lake.

24 years ago this week: YEAH! Magazine

What were you reading 24 years ago this week? If you were in Seattle at the time, it might have been this:

Or this:

YEAH! Magazine was published off and on in 1987-88. I founded the magazine during the summer of 1987, after a long conversation with friends at the Hall of Fame club in Seattle’s U District. I had just gotten back from touring with Prudence Dredge as a vocalist, and a few of us were bemoaning the state of local music-oriented media.

The Rocket, where I had been writing for a couple of years, was good, but only came out monthly, and included a lot of national and international acts, not just local bands. That year, an issue of The Rocket had Bruce Springsteen ocn the cover, and some of the locals were not pleased. Springsteen didn’t need the press, they felt. Why not feature the local talent? The Rocket was great for what it was, but a lot of people felt the need for more. There was so much talent in the Seattle area, and so much going on.

So I figured there was room for a “local music supplement,” as it were. Something that would come out every week and list all the upcoming shows in the area, and write exclusively about local bands. Let The Rocket have Springsteen and U2—we’d write about the Squirrels and the Fastbacks.

One of the bands I was peripherally in at the time (Prudence Dredge) was on Green Monkey Records. Other bands I saw a lot at the time, such as the Young Fresh Fellows or the Fastbacks, were on Popllama. The Popllama/Green Monkey groups tended to have a common fan base, and most of the volunteers I was able to scrape up for YEAH! were friends or fans of those bands, so we tended to have an (unhealthy, probably) emphasis on that aspect of the Seattle scene. There was a lot happening elsewhere, and perhaps if I’d kept publishing longer I would have improved the ‘zine by covering the rest of the scene a bit more. But it was difficult to do when I was relying so strongly on friends/fans of the bands I knew well, and my own limited experience. Later that year Dawn Anderson’s Backlash started publishing, and it covered the Sub Pop groups and other stuff that YEAH! wasn’t doing a great job of covering.

We introduced YEAH! to local music fans by showing up at one of KJET’s Mural Amphitheater shows and distributing as many of them as we could. (I think we only had 250-500 copies of the first issue.) It was fairly well-received. The next week, we did it again, and people were actually waiting for us to show up. It seemed as if we were a success, but then again, the magazine was free.

I continued publishing YEAH! through the fall and early winter that year. We did manage to keep up the weekly schedule for a while, but it was grueling, and no one—including me—was getting paid. Ad sales were eventually enough to pay for printing, and nothing else. (The early issues were mostly printed for free or cheaply via several kind benefactors. The first issue was printed secretly overnight on a heavy-duty photocopier at someone’s workplace. A few more were printed by someone with access to an offset press, for a small fee. Later we went to an actual printer in Snohomish and printed on newsprint like a real newspaper. But the cost was high.) I couldn’t manage the weekly issues anymore, and had to print less frequently. I think my day job that fall was occasional temping or part-time work. I don’t remember for certain. I think I was barely surviving, and it was stressful.

Along with the logistical difficulties of publishing came the problems of publishing a ‘zine about your friends. I should have expected what happened, but I did not. Feelings got hurt, people started to fight, and eventually I decided I had had enough. I packed up my stuff and made plans to move to Minneapolis.

I moved to Minnesota in early 1988. Before I moved, I sold YEAH! to Holly Homan and Joe Davenport for $300. I still contributed occasionally after that, but I was no longer the editor.

I came back to Seattle six months later (long but not very interesting story), and soon ended up writing for Backlash.

Recently I was looking through my collection of YEAH! issues, and I thought it would be nice to get them scanned and online for people to enjoy and reminisce over. The first two issues are here, and I will try to get the rest of the issues from my tenure as editor posted soon. Perhaps I will post them on the anniversaries of their original publishing dates.

I am glad I published YEAH! I learned a lot and had a lot of fun doing it. It did cause a lot of upheaval in my life—much more than I’ve gone into in this brief post. Much of that time was very difficult and stressful. But the net result was positive.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse into Seattle in the late ’80s.

Fashion for your ORCA card

This ORCA card needs a sleeve. Photo by Atomic Taco.

This ORCA card needs a sleeve. Photo by Atomic Taco.

I haven’t been posting much lately — been busy working on the Beacon Hill Blog and other stuff, but one thing I have done a bunch of is riding our new Link light rail trains and using my new ORCA card to pay the fare. I was used to a similar card from our trip to England last year, where we used Oyster cards to pay fares for the Tube.

Oyster cards, as it turns out, are exactly the same size and shape as ORCA cards. And as with Oyster, you might find a need for a storage sleeve for your ORCA card. Sure, you can just put it in your wallet with your credit cards, and, depending on the wallet, sometimes you can even tap the card in without removing it. But then there are times when you have to show your ORCA to a fare inspector, or remove it to get it to tap, and it becomes necessary to keep your ORCA in something easily accessible and quick to find in a crowded purse or backpack, while also protecting the card from damage and wear. No one wants to be late for work and then find out that their ORCA won’t work because it’s bent and worn out from being tossed around a purse with your keys and stuff all the time.

In London, where they’ve used Oyster for several years now, Oyster card sleeves are a booming business. When you get your Oyster card, it comes with a plastic folding sleeve. Our Oyster sleeves last September were bright yellow, sponsored by IKEA, with an IKEA logo, and listing the four London-area IKEAs along with instructions of how to get there by transit — convenient! (This seems like a good way for ORCA to generate some advertising cash without selling advertising on the cards themselves: get local business to sponsor the sleeves.) Other businesses have sponsored giveaway Oyster sleeves. I particularly like this one from The Guardian newspaper and this one from skilljuice.com.

Along with the giveaway Oyster cases, however, you can buy tons of stylish or unusual Oyster sleeves from a variety of vendors, or even knit your own. You can get an Oyster case to suit just about any aesthetic or interest, and some even have added functionality — the London Transport Museum, for example, sells an Oyster sleeve with a map of the London Underground Network. The British Library has sleeves with the art of Olga Hirsch, and Tate Modern features the art of Orla Kiely. A search for “oyster card” on Etsy brings up a bunch of handmade, artsy card cases.

Lots of people use their Oyster card sleeves as their wallets, carrying not just their transit card, but also money, ID, and other stuff. (The sleeves generally have two pockets, one for the card and one for anything else you want to carry.)

Since Oyster card holders are the right size for ORCA cards, if you want your ORCA to be kept stylishly in a London Underground map Oyster sleeve, no problem. Perhaps eventually we’ll have some interesting local ORCA sleeves to choose from, but in the meantime, many of the UK sellers do ship them here. If you find an Oyster sleeve that expresses your personality, go for it. Or you can just keep it, along with all of your money and random stuff, in an old plastic card case like this.

Richard Elliott, reflector artist, RIP

Reflector art on new light rail line

A few months ago I wrote about the lovely reflector art installed on Martin Luther King Jr Way as part of the light rail project, and was thrilled when the artist himself replied to my post. So I am very sad today to hear that Richard Elliott, the reflector artist, died recently of pancreatic cancer. He mentioned “health issues” in his comment, but I had no idea.

Will the City Collegian publish again?

Many years ago I worked for the Seattle Central Community College newspaper, The City Collegian. I’m sad to see that the paper has stopped publishing, but surprised to see that budget cuts and lack of interest aren’t the reason for the shutdown. It does sound as if the paper stepped on someone’s toes.

The administration are being awfully clueless:

“For now, administrators point to other student publications as options for students who want to work as reporters. Seattle Central student government publishes an online newsletter with details of happenings on campus, Mansfield said.

“And last week, that same group of student leaders put out the first edition of a Seattle Central Zine.”

Oooh, a student government newsletter, vetted by the administration. Yeah, that’s exciting journalism.

I hope the Collegian is back operating as an independent (that is, school-sponsored but not school-controlled) entity as soon as possible.

An evening at the Seattle Spelling Bee

In 1979, I won the Seattle city spelling championship. I went on to the regional competition (a huge one — I think there were about 180 spellers in that event that year) and did reasonably well but did not win. So no trip to Nationals for me. And that was my last spelling bee.

Until Monday night. I went to the Seattle Spelling Bee at Jillian’s. It starts out with a written round of forty words. I tied for first place in the written round. The last time I competed in a written spelling bee round was 1979, in the first round of the Seattle championships. I won that one, so, hey! I have a win streak going! At least, in written competition.

The top 12 spellers in the written test move on to the main bee. The first round words were not too bad, words like bathysphere, insuppressible, repercussion. I got the word “apocalypse.” I know the spelling, so it was just a matter of spelling it carefully and not getting lost mid-word.

Round 2, unfortunately, is when I went out. I spelled “louvar” as “luvar” and that was that. (They said it was Italian. “Luvar” seemed more Italian to me. I’ve never seen or heard this word before so all I could do was guess.) The other Round 2 words included idunit, subclavian, pupillometer, glengarry, etc. I could spell most of the other words in the round, darn it.

Round 3 had tougher words: caimatillo, saurophagous, and… hoedown? Wow. One speller got a major gift with that one.

Round 4 was the final round: eisegesis, teetotum, stremmatograph. The guy who spelled eisegesis won.

I finished 6th. Grr. Next time I will do better. And I do think there will be a next time. It was fun! I won a $5 gift certificate to Blue Highway Games by winning one of the mini-games.

My latest project

For the last few weeks I’ve been working pretty hard (along with Jason) on a new project, and this time it’s not knitting or anything like that. It’s the Beacon Hill Blog. If you’re at all interested in Seattle neighborhood goings-on, check it out.

And if not, here’s a knitting status photo from a few days ago:
In progress: Rogue hoodie

Perhaps I’ll finish the hoodie by November after all.

1967 Seattle-area transit plan



1967 Seattle Transit Plan map image posted by afiler.

In 1968, Seattle had a chance to vote in a rapid transit system, as seen in the map here. The Forward Thrust package of propositions contained a variety of civic improvement initiatives, many of which passed (one brought us the late and not-so-lamented Kingdome), but the transit system got only 50.8% Yes votes–and required a supermajority of 60% to pass.

In 1970, it was put back in front of the voters, but failed amid “Boeing Bust”-era recession fears. The large amount of federal money ($881 million dollars) secured for the project went instead to Atlanta, where they used it to build the MARTA system.

In retrospect, of course, this was probably one of the stupidest voter decisions ever made in this region. Can you imagine how different Seattle would be today if the routes shown on the map pictured here existed? By now we could have been spending the money to expand it to Everett and Tacoma, and adding more in-city routes; instead, we are creating a minimal line, and the expansions being planned are nowhere near as useful as they ought to be. (No stops between Roosevelt and Northgate? Only one stop between downtown and the U-District? And the University station way down at Husky Stadium instead of near the Ave? We need to build this anyway, but it’s going to be decades before it’s a really good in-city system, at this rate. It’s frustrating.)

Now we have the chance to vote again to build and expand rapid transit here, and as in 1970, people fear a deepening recession. Will people vote yes, or will it fail and kill transit expansion for another 40 years? I may not live long enough to see a decent rail system here.

(Found via comments on Seattle Transit Blog.)