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My Great Northwestern Adventure: Part 6

On the way back to Seattle, I found out I’d missed a reading with Bruce Pavitt, co-founder of Sub Pop, at Fantagraphics Bookstore with a gallery of grunge luminaries in attendance. Tad Doyle, Mark Arm, and Charles Peterson were on hand to celebrate the release of Pavitt’s book, Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989. As a fan of the music of these bands and the photography of Peterson, I wanted to stab myself for missing this event. But I was rewarded with a pretty decent consolation prize when I woke up the next morning and found out Mudhoney was performing a “secret gig” at an ice cream shop that night. I notoriously miss stuff like this. I could not believe my luck. Actually, I kind of didn’t want to believe it–the thought of seeing Mudhoney in a tiny, up-close environment sounded way too good to be true. I mean, this was classic Seattle story in the making. The way these bands were intended to be seen—in a tiny, grimy venue, screaming in your face.

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The only way to preoccupy my hopes of seeing Mudhoney up close was to continue my self-guided tour of all things grunge. The husband and I kicked off the day with a revisit to Discovery Park, the filming location for Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike” music video. This time, we took the entire trail to the beach for a better look at the landscape. I even pinpointed the patch of tall weeds that famously dwarf Eddie Vedder at the beginning of the video (It’s aaaaalllll the way at the end of the trail and then up the beach near some interesting piles of driftwood.). Because I’m a nerd. Like there’s any point in denying this. I may have even tried a burrito at Taco Time because it’s mentioned as a certain musician’s biography. Even Seattle’s fast food is better. What’s up with that?

 

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Somewhere around here, Chris Cornell head-banged and Matt Cameron drummed from a sandbank.

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Obligatory standing-in-Eddie’s-weeds photo.

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A sea lion barked at us from the water while we were down by the lighthouse. He must’ve been goin’ hungry.

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Driftwood fort on the beach. (Or Hobbit house??)

Next on the agenda was a trip to the former site of Reciprocal Recording. A strange little wedge-shaped building on the edge of a neighborhood, this windowless phenomenon was once owned by Chris Hanzsek and Jack Endino. The studio hosted a number of local bands, including Soundgarden, TAD, Green River, and Mudhoney. Superfuzz Bigmuff was recorded here, as well as Mother Love Bone’s initial 8-track demos. Reciprocal is where Nirvana recorded their demo tape with Jack Endino, which was then sent to Sub Pop. Formerly Triangle Records (and before that, Triangle Grocery), the once-yellow building is now painted brown and recently housed Chris Walla’s Hall of Justice studio.

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That’s a lot of sound to come out of such a small building.

Of course, my tour of 90s Seattle wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the OK Hotel. This building is truly the stuff of legends. Now an apartment building, the OK Hotel was once a bar and music venue that hosted everybody who was anybody in Seattle’s emerging music scene in the late 80s and early 90s. Mudhoney, TAD, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, and Soundgarden all played here. It holds the distinction of being the venue where Nirvana first played “Smells Like Teen Spirit” live. You also might recognize this old building as the coffee shop in Cameron Crowe’s Seattle-centric film, Singles. In 1997, the Queens of the Stone Age played their first show here; four years later, the OK Hotel would end its days as a music venue after a 6.8-magnitude earthquake damaged the building and it was bought by redevelopers. I was very happy to see the new owners took care to restore the building and maintain the integrity of Seattle’s historic downtown.

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It’s really hard to take a picture of the whole building without getting hit by a car. Standing in a busy street here under an overpass, dodging traffic.

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As seen in Singles.

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Lobby shot of the OK Hotel as seen creepin’ through the front window.

Not far away in Pioneer Square is the Central Saloon, interesting not only for its proclamation of being Seattle’s oldest bar in town (Technically, it’s not.), but also for holding Mother Love Bone’s final show. Take a peek inside its cramped quarters and you can better appreciate how the band was only on the verge of breaking out before Andy Wood’s untimely death.

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Wasn’t here during a peak drinking hour, but the interior sure looked cool.

Next, I made a point to see the former location of the infamous Gorilla Gardens in Chinatown. Now a faceless carpeting business, the white building used to house some of the wildest shows in the city. This nefarious underground club saw a ton of police intervention before it was closed down, and saw the likes of the Fastbacks, the Circle Jerks, Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, the Melvins, the U-Men, Green River, and Guns ‘n Roses. If you have never heard of this short-lived, crazy-ass club, look into it, if only for the Butthole Surfers chainsaw fire escape story.

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The guy in the car wouldn’t leave until I took the picture. Congrats on your fame.

Of course, we weren’t leaving Seattle without seeing the Coryell Apartments in Belltown. Pray tell what is the significance of this U-shaped building? You tell me if this looks familiar.

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The fountain in the courtyard was added for the movie, but otherwise the apartments have barely changed since Singles was filmed here.

 

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Chris Cornell appreciating a new speaker system right before it blows out the car windows.

There were two more places of significance I wanted to see before we ended our self-guided tour. The first was the Re-bar, where Nirvana was kicked out of their own release party for “Nevermind” after starting a food fight. Re-bar used to feature one of Seattle’s Mother Love Bone’s murals, which is also featured in Singles.

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Re-bar as it stands today.

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How Re-bar looked for Singles.

Even though it doesn’t offer up much aesthetic value, I really wanted to see the Motorsports International Garage. On September 22, 1990, Nirvana played what was then their largest audience ever—15,000—and a dude named Dave Grohl was in the crowd that day. He ended up behind their drum kit three days later. Many see this high-octane show as the turning point of the band’s career.

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I couldn’t find out if this is the original building, but this is at least the address for the Motorsports International Garage where Nirvana played.

After another day filled with musical tourism, we headed over to Full Tilt Ice Cream, where I came an inch away from being permanently known as “Bass in the Face.” But that deserves its own post.

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My Great Northwestern Adventure: Part 4

As the saying goes, it’s good to put a name with a face. Descriptions go a long way, but a description is only one person’s opinion. Thus, I decided to go to Aberdeen, Washington, and see the town where Kurt Cobain grew up for myself.

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I first passed through Aberdeen and saw the town welcome sign on the way to the Olympic National Forest; it still reads “Come As You Are,” in tribute to the town’s most famous son. For those who know Kurt’s story, the sentiment feels ironic, as the man who wrote the line never felt the same kind of acceptance growing up in this shuttered logging community.

Aberdeen has been described as a small town with not much culture to offer, though Kurt wasn’t the only artist to come from here. Dale Crover, drummer for the Melvins, was born in Aberdeen; the local band served as an inspiration for budding musicians like Kurt and Krist Novoselic. Krist moved to Aberdeen with his family in 1979, which is how Kurt eventually met him and the two ended up forming a band together.

Early Nirvana photo. Kurt, Krist, and Chad Channing circa 1988.

Early Nirvana. Kurt, Krist, and Chad Channing.

The hotel I stayed at was literally on the Wishkah River, but even in all its quasi-familiarity, Aberdeen looked a little different during my visit than it does most days. The girl at the front desk kept looking out the window like a spooked animal, prompting me to ask, “Do you guys usually get this kind of snow here?”

“No. We usually get snow once or twice a year,” she said. “And never this early.” She was worried this onset of early snow meant Aberdeen would be getting more than their fair share over the winter. For all her worries and the horror stories I heard about Washington drivers in the snow, the roads were as clear as they would be in any other small town, and the drivers were no more panicky than anyone in the Midwest. Unlike Seattle, the town of Aberdeen is relatively flat and doesn’t feature the same hair-raising hills that can make snow driving a thrill ride. The town sits in the middle of Grays Harbor, between Hoquiam and Cosmopolis, and is conjoined to the former so that it’s hard to tell where one ends and one begins. The town is split by the boat-clogged Chehalis River, which the Wishkah pours into. While city people may consider the town “small,” Aberdeen is three times the size of the town I grew up in, so I came to it with a different perspective.

Former site of the Hoquiam Eagles Lodge, where Nirvana played in 1988.

Former site of the Hoquiam Eagles Lodge, where Nirvana played in 1988.

Yes, Aberdeen is run down. Yes, it clearly has a lot of poverty. More than a few houses sit abandoned in the neighborhood where Kurt’s childhood home still sits. The closing of the lumber mills in the 1970s and 80s did this town no favors. But honestly? It’s not much worse than some of the small Midwestern towns near where I live now. Maybe it’s just a place that got too big for its britches. It still has some nice things, even a community college, and while the surrounding hills bear the scars of their pillaging, it doesn’t look like a bald-faced ghost town. Some of the trees have even grown back in the surrounding area. To me, Aberdeen looks like a town with possibilities. If you look hard enough, you can see the buds of an artist’s community starting to grow, the route many old mining towns in the West have taken on the road to salvation.

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Young Street Bridge spanning the [muddy banks of the] Wishkah River.

Statue of Kurt's Jag-Stang guitar in Riverfront Park.

Statue of Kurt’s Fender Jag-Stang guitar in Riverfront Park.

I have to admit I was mildly relieved not to find any hideous billboards dotting the highway with Kurt’s likeness. Aberdeen doesn’t advertise its ties to Cobain—you have to know what you’re looking for when you visit, which is just the way I like it. There are no signs marking homes with historical significance; only the Young Street Bridge is designated with Kurt’s memorial park, and even the bridge exists as a place where only fans know to go and leave their tributes. The bridge isn’t a major throughway, spanning a peaceful part of the Wishkah mostly crossed by locals. Riverfront Park doesn’t have any real public parking, either—the spot sits on the edge of the river, next to the bridge with a few plaques and a sculpture of Kurt’s Fender Jag-Stang guitar with lyrics from “On a Plain:” “One more special message to go and then I’m done and I can go home.” The guitar was erected only in 2011, and is much nicer to look at than the “Cement Resurrection” sculpture, which was never put on public display.

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Underneath the bridge.

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Fan graffiti beneath Young Street Bridge.

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Tributes for Kurt.

Quotes in stone.

During my visit, Kurt’s childhood home was still for sale and sitting unoccupied. There was no sign outside designating this, but anyone who follows a music publication could tell you about it from the blitz of stories on the house this past year. It’s just as modest as you might expect, and has a tiny, tidy lawn and a microscopic backyard. It looked innocent under a blanket of freshly-fallen snow, and a little sad with a couple of broken windows. Across the street sits an abandoned house mocking the $500,000 price tag.

Kurt's childhood home.

Kurt’s childhood home.

I’m glad the house sits unchanged, because I like to see things as they always have been. Inevitably, someone will buy it and probably fix it up. Maybe they’ll make a museum out of it, or better yet, a place for underprivileged kids to come and be exposed to the arts, a safe haven for budding artists who like Kurt, didn’t have a place to go when home stopped feeling like an option.

Downtown Aberdeen has a walk of fame for their local celebrities, and Kurt has a star on the sidewalk in front of the building that used to house the music store where he bought his first guitar. On this day, finding the marker was a bit more difficult, but after a bit of searching, I uncovered the star in the snow.

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The Pourhouse is the only public place in Aberdeen Nirvana (or at least, a version of the band) ever played a show. The saloon is still open, and as it turns out, serves pretty decent food. A recent renovation added a stage for bands on the side room of the building, an upgrade from the tiny space at the front window, the spot our waitress designated as the old stage where Nirvana actually performed.

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The Pourhouse. Can’t help but love it.

Former area where bands used to play in the Pour House.

Former area where bands used to play in the Pourhouse.

Maybe it was the snow, maybe it was the quiet or the lack of tourists, but I kind of liked Aberdeen. While I completely understood why anyone with an appreciation for culture wouldn’t want to live there, I have a soft spot run-down, gritty cityscapes and the history they leave for dead. As an artist, dirt is more interesting than the sanitized; survivors speak about perseverance and the people who abandoned them for something different. This is exactly the kind of place that would inspire a soul to want more out of life, to leave the ruins of a past glory far behind.

Kurt Cobain is not in Aberdeen, but it’s obvious this was the place that shaped him.

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My Great Northwestern Adventure: Part 2

Few things can get me out of bed early after a handful of post-concert hours of sleep. You concert junkies know what I’m talking about—that feeling every ounce of energy has been vacuumed from your body, and you’re so dried out you feel like you woke up in a sarcophagus. But I had major plans that morning, so faux hangover or not, I was jet-setting out of bed to get back to Seattle for a tour of the Paramount Theatre.

The Paramount is now run by the non-profit Seattle Theatre Group, which holds free tours for the Paramount, the Moore, and the Neptune theaters on different designated Saturdays each month. The tour of the Moore was the Saturday morning of our flight home, meaning we wouldn’t be able to see it. Thankfully, the Paramount’s tour was that Saturday, as it was highest on my list of must-see venues. Not only did the Paramount serve as the site for some notable concerts, it’s one of the most opulent, breathtaking theaters in the city.

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The Paramount Theatre in Seattle

Opened by Paramount Pictures in 1928, the theater was originally a movie palace that showed silent pictures. It was designed by Cornelius W. Rapp and George L. Rapp, the same architects who designed the glorious Chicago Theatre; created in the same Neo-Baroque French-revival style with several contractual similarities, the Paramount is truly the Chicago’s kid brother. Hailing from Illinois myself, I had a special appreciation for their resemblances. The first time I visited the Chicago Theatre was in 2011, when I saw Eddie Vedder with Glen Hansard. The theater was so beautiful, I told my husband I wanted to die there so I could haunt it for eternity. (Shooting for the macabre moon.)

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The grand staircase in the lobby was also featured in the movie “10 Things I Hate About You.”

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The Black Crowes’ gear was being prepared for that night’s show during our tour.

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The super cool Knabe Ampico grand player piano looks like a ghost is playing the keys–no human required!

The Paramount has a long and bumpy history, full of ups and downs like most grand movie palaces. By the early nineties, the theater had deteriorated into a sorry state. This is significant because it’s not only when Nirvana played their famous Halloween show at the venue, but also around the same time the theater was saved by Microsoft vice president Ida Cole. When Nirvana played the Paramount, it was literally a grunge palace. Though the tour guides didn’t really seem to like to talk about the rock shows at the theater, it was when Ida Cole was attending a Violent Femmes concert with her son she was moved to step in and rescue the theater from bankruptcy and possibly demolition.

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Still image from Nirvana: Live at the Paramount.

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The Paramount marquee as it is today.

Interesting factoid about this Nirvana show: it was supposed to be held at the Moore, but it was moved to hold a larger audience. The Paramount has 2,807 seats, while the Moore has 1,419. This show occurred one month after Nevermind’s release, during the tempest storm of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” taking over the MTV airwaves. This was literally the eye of the hurricane, before the album hit number one, before the band became jaded with media attention. That November, Nevermind was certified Gold and Platinum. Also worth noting is this show was the only Nirvana concert filmed in 16mm, so if you haven’t yet checked out the DVD, you seriously need to check your priorities.

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Still image from Nirvana: Live at the Paramount.

Because the stage was being prepared for the Black Crowes show that night, our tour guides told us even though they usually take groups on the stage, we would have to respect the crew and stay out of their way. We were guided just about every other place, from the balcony to the backstage and dressing rooms, to under the stage where they keep their Wurlitzer organ. For a  theater junkie like me, it was utter paradise. We hung around talking to the tour guides so long, the crew was done setting up the stage and was now in the underground preparing for the show, giving us the stink eye. The guides pointed us up the steps for the quickest exit, and the next thing I knew, I was looking out at the theater from the stage. I totally lost it at that moment. Overcome by the view, the history, the gravity of what had happened there, the idea it could’ve been bulldozed, and probably my lack of sleep, I just burst into tears. The fact it was set up for a concert made the view all the more visceral.

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One of two pictures I was able to take from the stage before I was shooed off.

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The Paramount from the stage.

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Parting glance.

I tried to hide the fact I’d totally melted into a weepy freak by the time I got back to the lobby. Whether it was from my over-emotive state, or from our clear appreciation of the tour, we must’ve left an impression on a couple of our tour guides. One of them took my husband and I aside and asked if we’d like to join a private tour of the Moore Theatre. Let me think about that for a second. Um, hell yes!

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The Moore Theatre circa 1909.

 Built in 1907, the Moore is Seattle’s oldest continuously-operated theater. Though smaller than the Paramount, the Moore is grand in its own unique way. It’s impossible to keep from gawking at the ceiling—the thing yawns up into the heavens. A seat at the top of the second balcony perches you next to Saint Peter.

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Check out the stained glass in those little windows around the chandelier orb.

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If you can’t find St. Peter, you can chat up your pick of muses.

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No, seriously, there are statues of muses in between the stained glass windows!

Of course, Pearl Jam fans will recognize this theater from the “Even Flow” video, when Eddie Vedder was boosted up into the old box windows and let himself fall into the waiting arms of the crowd below. The Moore hosted a number of notable events during that time period, including Sub Pop’s LameFest on June 9th, 1989, which featured local acts Tad, Mudhoney, and Nirvana. This theater would serve as an important stepping stone in the growth of local acts. Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Mad Season all played the Moore, along with countless other bands that would go on to pack larger venues.

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The window box to the left is where Eddie climbed up and free-fell into the audience.

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Still epic, twenty years later and beyond.

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View from the stage. Impossible to get perspective on a point and shoot camera.

 The last of the old seats were literally being removed from the lower level on our tour. Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out how to finagle one into my suitcase for the plane ride home. Now the Moore is outfitted with super cushy ones, which is great for patrons, even though the old ones had a sort of old-fashioned, creaky charm. The Moore is still going through updates, so more changes and improvements will be developing in the coming years. It’s great to see the theater is being fixed up with the intention of  supporting Seattle’s art community for years to come.

After our impromptu tour of the Moore Theatre, we stopped by the Pearl Jam pop-up shop at the Showbox. By the time I got there, all of the merch was picked over, but I couldn’t complain. Being able to spend so much time in those old theaters was a way better use of my time than standing in another freezing cold line for a pack of trading cards. On the flip side, I was thrilled to be able to see the inside of the Showbox–I hit a theater trifecta!

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Only decent shot I took of the Showbox. The inside is filled with funky gold and red trumpet lights.

Still exhausted from rockin’ at the Pearl Jam concert, we called it a night to get ready for an early road trip the next day. No offense to the city, but it was time for a little escape into the snowy woods to get a taste of what the rest of Washington had to offer.

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First Listens

I take the art of first listening extremely seriously. So seriously, my husband sometimes looks at me like I’ve got two heads and need to be institutionalized for a spell.

I have to listen to a new album on a physical CD in my car, only my car, preferably alone, and on a roadtrip. Sometimes I will buy a highly-anticipated album the day it comes out, but will reserve listening to it until I can make a getaway in my car.  This is a sacred ritual to me, and to deviate from the formula can destroy my relationship with the album. Why? Because in my world, music attaches to memory in a symbiotic relationship.

I bought Ryan Adams’s album Gold when I was in community college, and I used to play that album from my house the entire 35-minute drive to school. “Nobody Girl” is the point at which I would arrive the back way to campus and my car would be taking the winding road into the parking lot. Every time I hear that song, and the line, “If your horses could talk, I wonder if they would complain,” I know where my car would be at that point during the drive, and it will always be connected.

Achtung Baby

I first listened to U2’s landmark album Achtung Baby on a rainy day after I’d gone with a friend and her family to a trip to Decatur. It was a depressing day, and I bought the CD from Circuit City, feeling I’d finally earned the right to listen to it. (My journey into U2 fandom is another long, long story; I gradually bought their albums one by one, leaving the best for last after I’d become familiar with each one.) This was the first listen I can remember not being in a car, and now I associate it with a gloomy day, rain, and being lost in the limbo of teenhood and adulthood. Even though I have since listened to this album countless times, I will always remember putting that CD into my stereo in my bedroom and turning up the volume to the first unfamiliar guitar riffs of “Zoo Station.” When I listen to a brand-new album, I’m not just putting it on as background, I am letting it absorb me into its strange territory; I’m feeling it out like I would the personality of a stranger. This is why I prefer to listen to a new album for the first time alone, so that the music isn’t interrupted by someone else’s take on it, and I can meet it for the first time on a blank slate.

The Pacific Coast Highway

This is why driving is important to me. Since images and memories bond so easily to new music, a changing landscape gives the songs their own unique impression. As can be expected, I try to take different driving routes for different albums and attempt to stay off the same roads. Sometimes an album brings about its own impression and doesn’t retain its first-listen memories; when I first listened to U2’s No Line on the Horizon, I took a drive with it and immediately felt this was the soundtrack for a drive along Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, with the surf crashing to the left, and the magnificent rolling hills to the right. I wouldn’t be able to make this vision happen for another year, but when I finally turned on that road and put on the album, it felt like the record was thrilling from the experience–it was in its proper environment, meant to be. That was the moment No Line blossomed.

I have an iPod, but I refuse to use it in my car. The car is reserved for CDs only. There is something so impersonal about a handheld device with a list of albums and tracks; gone is the tactile artwork, the lyrics on pages, the ease of knowing exactly where a CD is in your car and not having to look down to pop it in the mouth of the stereo. The iPod is for when I’m working and need a portable soundtrack to drown out the silence or the clamor of people around me–it is not a vehicle for picking apart the beauty and intricacy of music.

When I get a new CD my husband is interested in, he immediately wants to burn it to his iPod before I’ve even had a chance to listen to it. Such was the case for the soundtrack of Pearl Jam Twenty, and I would not let him have it until it had its first car ride. It sounds lunatic to utter aloud, but an album’s first use is the instance of it being born, and burning it onto a computer is like sucking out the soul before it’s had the chance to utter a note. Bat-shit I may sound in these beliefs, but music holds a more important role in my life than it may for most people. Music is inspiration. Music is a life force. Music is the one thing that transcends everything.  The least I can do is to treat it with respect.

I am not of the vinyl generation, though I feel like I could tumble down that audiophile rabbit hole very quickly if I found the right turntable. My record collection is small, but I can see it growing with the advent of Record Store Day and a new surge in artists releasing special LPs. Maybe that will be my next step, but for now, I will stick to my traditions of the road and the newborn cries of a fresh album filling the cab while an ever-changing backdrop flashes by.

 

How do you listen to an album for the first time?

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