“Bobbing For Pavement” Compilation (1992)

My “To Listen To” shelf is getting ridiculous.  It currently has records from my last visit to Daybreak Records, at least one of my RSD pick-ups, stuff from our recent trip to South Korea and Japan, and this weekend I added a handful of comps I picked up while we were in Denver to see Devil Makes Three live at Red Rocks Amphitheater.  It’s an embarrassment of vinyl riches, and frankly it stresses me out a bit to see so many things I haven’t gotten to yet.  Because I’m neurotic that way.

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I spun Bobbing For Pavement the other day and initially didn’t plan on writing about it.  Not because I didn’t like it, but it’s another Seattle grunge comp, and it’s not like I haven’t written about a bunch of those in the past.  But hearing those great tracks by The Gits got me thinking about Mia Zapata, which lead to a downward internet spiral of interconnected searches and links, and now I feel a bit compelled to share.

I felt like I knew all the late 1980s/early 90s Seattle comps, most of which came out on labels like Sub Pop and C/Z and Glitterhouse and Amphetamine Reptile.  But I saw Bobbing For Pavement at Denver’s Twist & Shout Records, and I never heard of it nor the label, Rathouse Records.  A little digging revealed that The Rathouse was the Capitol Hill (♠) residence of members of D.C. Beggars and The Gits and anyone else in their music circle who may have needed a place to crash.  The location itself, 1900 E. Denny Way, is in many ways the poster-child of the gentrification and insane real estate prices afflicting Seattle.  Back in 1992 this was a fairly rough neighborhood, at least by Seattle standards, and I was able to confirm that this is indeed the right place thanks to a period photo of members of the Beggars on the house’s front porch, which match the general appearance of the house as it appears online today. The earliest sale info I could find have the house selling for $216,500 back in 1997.  Estimated value if today per Zillow?  Just over $1.2 million.  My, how times (and neighborhoods) change.

Was Mia Zapata of The Gits headed back to The Rathouse the night she was brutally raped and murdered in 1993?  We’ll never know.  I’m sure it’s a walk she did many times by herself – she knew the area and it wasn’t that far.  She had a powerful personality and her loss affected many in the local scene deeply.  I feel like I was vaguely aware of the murder at the time, but honestly I can’t be sure.  I’d just graduated college and was trying to find my way in the regular world on the other side of Lake Washington from Seattle, fairly sheltered in my very middle class apartment in a safe neighborhood.  I certainly can’t make a claim to having been part of the scene that was happening just a 20 minute drive away, other than through my collection of records and CDs.

The Rathouse crew are all over this comp, which includes multiple tracks by The Gits and D.C. Beggars as well as a pair by Big Brown House, a band that also included Beggars’ bassist Adrian Garver.  There are some other recognizable Seattle-scene names here as well like Gas Huffer and Hammerbox.  One of the things I love about Bobbing For Pavement is the number of women singers on it – three of the bands (The Gits, D.C. Beggars, and Hammerbox) were fronted by women and I enjoy the attitude they bring.  Riot Grrrl was bubbling up at this point, bringing with it a much-needed (and unfortunately short-lived) wave of female empowerment, and that’s reflected in the punk-ish sound of these artists.

Bobbing For Pavement is one of the great Seattle comps, one that captures the feel without relying on any of the big names.  It’s definitely worth a spot on your shelf and frequent spins on your turntable.

(♠)  I’ve also seen it referred to as being in the Central District.  It’s more or less on the border between the two Seattle neighborhoods, but given that it’s north of Madison I think that puts it more in Capitol Hill.  Long-time Seattle residents may disagree, but whatever.  

“Hype! Boxed Set”

I’ve bemoaned the selling off of my precious Sub Pop singles many a time on Life in the Vinyl Lane.  I’m not entirely sure how many I had, but it was maybe around 20 or so, probably a few more, most of which came to me via the great indie record store Cellophane Squire (RIP).  I had some great stuff – Nirvana, Mudhoney, Dwarves…. tons of if on colored vinyl.  <sigh>  I promised myself I’d stay away from the nostalgia train and wouldn’t spend a bunch of money trying to reacquire that group, and so far I’ve been pretty successful in sticking to that.  The only one I have is a newer release, the 2013 Mudhoney 7″ “New World Charm” / “Swimming in Beer.”  But then I went to Easy Street the other day with too much time on my hands and not enough common sense in my back pocket, and walked out of there with the 1997 Sub Pop 7″ box set called Hype! Boxed Set.

But how could I resist?  Mudhoney, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Gas Huffer, U-Men… all in one box set!?  Eleven songs on four different color 7″ records.  Nestled all snug in a nice little box, with a poster inside.  It’s like the warm embrace of flannel and a mullet to keep the back of my neck warm on a cold fall day circa 1989.

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Hype! was a documentary about the grunge scene that came out in 1996, and this box set is a shortened version of the full length soundtrack.  As such most of the material dates from between 1987 and 1992, with only Girl Trouble’s “My Hometown” (1993) and “Return of the Rat” by Portland’s The Wipers (1979) falling outside that range.  “Return of the Rat” may seem like an odd choice, but the song is widely cited by Seattle musicians from the late 1980s as an influential track, perhaps most notably by Kurt Cobain, so it definitely fits.

One of the cool aspects of this set is that four of the songs are live recordings – Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick,” Gas Huffer’s “Hotcakes,” Mono Men’s “Watch Outside,” and Fastbacks’ “K Street.”

TANGENT:  Holly says The Wipers’ “Return of the Rat” reminds her a lot of the Ramone’s “Beat on the Brat” (1976).  I want to disagree, but she might be onto something here in a weird way.

The Mudhoney track is a bit trebly, but otherwise captures all the angst and sneering power of “Touch Me I’m Sick.”  The Wipers may have been the “Lucy” of grunge, but Mudhoney wiped out the Neanderthals and established its supremacy with this song.  The fact that that song is on a 7″ alongside “Negative Creep” and “Return of the Rat” may make this the coolest 7″ record ever.  Ever.  To me it’s 1980s punk rock in one little 7″ vinyl package.

I have to give some props to the Mono Men and Gas Huffer, both of who kill it with their selections (both live) in this set.  I have a Gas Huffer record, but I don’t think I’ve ever owned anything by the Mono Men before.  Bravo too to Fastbacks for their brand of lo-fi pop punk.

TANGENT:  Note to self.  Don’t try to eat a cup cake with gooey frosting while playing 7″ records.

This set of singles definitely took my way back, and while I’m still not a huge fan of the 7″ format (too much work!), it was a great way to recapture my Sub Pop glory days.  It’ll get spun again for sure, especially that Wipers/Nirvana/Mudhoney record.

Mudhoney / Gas Huffer – “You Stupid Asshole” / “Knife Manual”

I’ve written about how much I like both Mudhoney and Gas Huffer before.  So when I ran across this CD copy of their joint single (is it really a single if it has four songs?) from 1992 in the used bin over at Easy Street Records the other day for three bucks, I had to take it home (it also exists on 7″ and 12″ vinyl, but I’m not that picky).

Mudhoney is simply a killer band, and the fact that one of their two tracks is called “You Stupid Asshole” fits.  After all, this is the band that brings you “Douchebags on Parade” on their new album Vanishing Point.  They’ve never been shy about calling it like they see it, and this single is no different.

 

 

You stupid asshole,
You know you’re makin’ me sick,
You stupid asshole,
You can suck my dick.
— “You Stupid Asshole”

 

 

That pretty much sums it up, I think.  The band also contributes a very 60s style garage instrumental called “March to Fuzz,” inspired by The Sonics most likely.

As for Gas Huffer, they provide a sort of punk country number about arson called “Firebug”:

 

Well I can’t help it,
When I see your house
I want to burn it to the ground,
Ya done me wrong,
You know you done me wrong,
Now I’m a firebug, I’m a firebug, I’m a firebug!
— “Firebug” 

 

 

Their other song is the oddly named “Knife Manual,” which is in fact about someone wanting a knife manual.  Go figure.

At under nine minutes total, this is a supernova of grunge energy and sarcasm and ridiculousness.

Gas Huffer – “Janitors of Tomorrow”

I have a vague recollection of Gas Huffer from back in my initial infatuation with Sub Pop – though they never recorded an LP or EP on Seattle’s most famous label, they did do a single and for some reason I think I owned it at one point.  Regardless, the tale of woe that is my selling off my Sub Pop singles collection has been told here before, and there’s no point in reopening old wounds.  If I had that Huffer single before, I sure as hell don’t have it any more.

Janitors of Tomorrow (1991) was the Huffer’s first LP, and while the CD version has 19 tracks, only 13 of these appear on the vinyl record.  The sound is sort of lo-fi-garage-punk… with a bit of a country-rockabilly element.  It’s certainly not grunge, though I suspect Gas Huffer gets lumped into that overall category a lot of the time.  They actually remind me a bit of early Tad, but without nearly the weight that band brought to their records (both the heaviness of the music as well as Tad Doyle’s large size)… I also get a bit of Gun Club here, especially in the sort of country vibe they have going on.  The mix seems a bit low, but the band’s sound is low too so it’s not a major flaw.  Guitarist Tom Price was previously a member of what may have been Seattle’s very first punk band, the U-Men, who were cited as an important influence by a number of guys from Seattle who went on to have successful bands.

The album is concise – it clocks in at around 32 minutes with only one song coming in at longer than 3:05 and almost half the tracks at under two-and-a-half minutes.  Gas Huffer is known for straight forward and often funny songs, such as “Shoe Factory” which is about, well, how much it sucks working in a shoe factory, and the clearly named “Night Train to Spokane” (and please don’t forget the self-depricating album title, Janitors of Tomorrow).  On the B side “Insidious” caught my attention, a majorly slowed down bluesy song on which Matt Wright’s vocals take on a crooning quality that sounds really old school.  “Love Comes Creeping” has what is perhaps my favorite lyric on the album, one that is repeated through almost the entire length of the song – “Love comes creepin’ across the kitchen floor”.  The other, of course, is “My brain’s a caesar salad mama, and it’s bein’ tossed”

Gas Huffer is pretty cool.  Janitors of Tomorrow has a different sound that what was “popular” and coming out of Seattle at the time, almost a reaction against the explosion of grunge that all of a sudden brought different types of people into the clubs… something that many artists admit made them uncomfortable.  Kurt Cobain for one frequently commented about how shocking it was to see “jocks” suddenly coming to their shows – I don’t have the exact quote in front of me, but it was something to the effect of “these are the guys who used to beat me up, and now they’re in the front row at my show”.  For a lot of Seattle punk/grunge artists this was unsettling.  They’d grown up in a subgroup of outcasts, outsiders, and punks, and while all they wanted their bands to be successful, the realization that “success” would bring with it an entirely different demographic shocked and dismayed them.  Anyway… Gas Huffer never had that same level of commercial success, but you know what?  I don’t think it bothered them one little bit.