Poster above by Ed Foderingham. Printing by the Vera Project. There are still a limited number of posters for sale. Proceeds go to Music for Marriage Equality. Starting on August 27, 2012, you should be able to buy one at www.music4marriage.org. Nice, professional, B&W photos below by Niffer Calderwood. Video by Chris Swenson. Blurry color photo of Ed Foderginham’s feet by me and my Droid Incredible.)
I saw an impromptu reunion of the band Flop last Saturday night in the living room at my buddy Whiting’s house. For those who don’t know them, Flop was a band from the era of the Seattle grunge explosion, but never quite of the Seattle grunge explosion. They made three great full-length records, filled with melodic pop/punk. Then they disbanded around 1995.
In a alternate universe, destiny might well have delivered to Flop the fame that Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden received in ours. Meanwhile, Kurt Cobain, after years spent touring and trying to make it in the music business, might have put his art skills to use and stumbled into a successful career in web design, all the while continuing to play music shows and release records of great quality.
But in our universe, that fate belongs to Rusty Willoughby: art director by day, musician and songwriter 24/7/365. Whether with Pure Joy, Flop, Llama, or his most recent project, Cobirds Unite, few Seattle musicians have matched Rusty for longevity and consistent quality of output. Indeed, the Cobirds Unite album is easily one of my favorite records of the last 5 years.
Rusty may have never amassed a fan base comparable to that of the icons of grunge, but his audience remains passionate and loyal, a fact that was plainly evident last Saturday night. People were in high spirits, and Rusty, Bill, Paul, Nate, and Dave did not leave them disappointed.
The show somehow managed this amazing trick of being filled with wonderful nostalgia while simultaneously remaining absolutely rooted in the now. Maybe it was having everyone packed into such a small space (a great call on Flop’s part). Maybe, because Rusty’s current songs are still so great, nobody had to feel secretly sad that all the good stuff was in the past. Whatever the reasons, Whiting’s living room felt refreshingly devoid of ironic self-consciousness.
This, in and of itself, was notable. For few in the annals of history have wielded the protective shield of cynical, self-aware, irony more proudly and completely than the people of my generation. Boomer hippies have their free love, patchouli, tie dye, consciousness raising protest marches, and self-righteousness. We have our irony.
If I had any doubt about just how much our ironic outlook marks us as creatures of a particular time and place, a recent weekend spent amongst the sincerely earnest young songsters at the Doe Bay Music Festival made it plain for me again.
But last Saturday there was no one foot in the water and one foot on the shore. Everyone in the room seemed to want to be there all the way. And they looked like they belonged there too. Scanning the proceedings, I had an odd sensation, as if somebody had taken a picture of a house party from 1992, put it in Photoshop, and applied the “middle-aged” filter.
I know that probably doesn’t sound very attractive in the abstract. But it was really quite awesome in the flesh. The years had not transformed anyone into a sad, unrecognizable caricature of their younger self, and Flop was still great too. Yes, there were some bald heads and grey hair. But cosmetics could not obscure the unbroken thread running from Whiting’s living room all the way back to where it all started for Flop years ago in a shared U-District house.
Video by Chris Swenson
I’m not sure how the night could have been any more right. For my people have always been mostly about little cultural moments like this, shared with our immediate community, in places like basements and living rooms. We might not have invented doing it yourself, but our most significant cultural contribution has probably been making it something that everyone throughout the world immediately understands when they see the letters “DIY”.
The ethos of DIY is a modest one. Rarely, does its reach exceed its grasp. To a large extent, it exists in opposition to the grandiose. Indeed, it was probably observing the very public foibles of the Greatest Generation and the early Baby Boomers that led many of us to cling so tightly to the more modest goal of keeping things real enough that they don’t get too overblown and polluted.
Perhaps, it’s fair to criticize our lack of grand, widescreen audacity and ambition. But on the other hand, our DIY ethos seems to have aged better than tie dye and patchouli.
And that’s no accident. It was by design. For metaphorically speaking, DIY isn’t one particular suit of clothes or a specific fashion trend. It’s whatever you happen to be wearing at the moment you decide you’re going to get off your ass and do something, however small or personal it may seem in the grander scheme of things. In this regard, DIY is a timeless outfit that’s always in style.
Over the last 30 years, we’ve helped grow a lot of cool stuff out of the DIY soil. Even if it wasn’t a stated goal to begin with, some of it has changed the world. In the process, we’ve acquired power. Many among us are now the Man or the Woman.
So it’s both foolish and impossible to pretend that we are still part of some sort of underdog insurgency. Our sensibility is everywhere, in all kinds of improbable places, like State Farm Insurance commercials and sports talk radio.
Indeed, it increasingly feels like the entire mainstream is populated with people like us, cultural omnivores, making sly references to things like Gilligan’s Island; John Cage; Rush; Miles Davis; the Three Stooges; Apocalypse Now; and Tony Orlando and Dawn. It’s not just for margin dwelling hipsters anymore.
That can be pretty weird to contemplate sometimes. But still, even in middle age, a different thread also remains, one running slightly under the surface, but nevertheless hardwired into our collective identity. We don’t seem to know any other way than to keep going back to the DIY soil, wherever we may find it.
When in doubt, go to the basement, the living room, the practice space, the workshop, the drawing board, the word processor, or wherever else you do your thing. Make something.
Why? Because you want to. Because you have to. Because the act of doing it feels good in and of itself, even if the process ends up being more important than the outcome in the grand scheme of things. Express yourself. Remind yourself that you are still alive. In doing so, maybe help remind your friends and family that they are alive too.
That’s what Flop invited us to do with them so joyfully last Saturday night, put our hands in that dirt, rub it on our sweaty, beer-soaked faces, and remember something that has shaped so much of what we’ve done to date: No matter how much our worlds may change, with careers, kids, and lots of other cool (and not so cool) distractions and responsibilities, that soil remains ours to work in. We don’t need anyone’s permission to sow our seeds there. All we need is a little inspiration, the tools at hand, and the will to follow through.