The year was 1992. Nirvana and Pearl Jam were all over MTV, and everyone was sweating in flannel. Seattle’s grunge scene had ballooned into a global phenomenon.
So of course, The New York Times came calling.
Megan Jasper, currently the CEO of Seattle-based Sub Pop Records, was working in distribution at Caroline Records when her phone rang. The reporter wanted to know if Jasper could help him establish a lexicon of "grunge speak" to run with his article.
“I was bored, and I’d had a ton of coffee that morning,” Jasper said in an interview with Bill Radke. “I said well, you give me a word, and I’ll give you the grunge translation."
It’s well worth the click to The New York Times archive to see what terms Jasper came up with. The guide to grunge slang (located at the end of the archived article) included:
WACK SLACKS: Old ripped jeans
SWINGIN' ON THE FLIPPITY-FLOP: Hanging out
COB NOBBLER: Loser
LAMESTAIN: Uncool person
“I just started kind of having fun,” Jasper said. “I kept thinking we would end up having this super hearty laugh.”
Radke is still laughing about it. But he wanted to know if that sense of humor is still alive in Seattle’s music community decades later.
Jasper was joined by Doug Pray, a filmmaker and director of the 1996 dcoumentary, "Hype!", to talk about how the capital of grunge has changed.
“I don’t see any reduction in the amount of what I would call a wonderfully self-deprecating sense of humor among musicians and artists around here,” Pray said. “I do think there’s a character — I think different regions in the country do have different characters.”
“Yes, we change in a lot of ways,” Jasper said. “And a lot of those ways are incredibly challenging, whether it’s with traffic or affordability. But we also change in great ways. We always continue to evolve. And in that way we have created these amazing resources available for artists. And I do think that humor is a huge part of just our basic culture anyways.”
Some are concerned that the skyrocketing cost of living in Seattle could drive musicians and artists away. But Pray said the so-called Amazon effect doesn’t necessarily spell a death sentence for creative Seattle.
“It could be a positive thing,” Pray said. “It’s like, hey, there’s a lot more listeners out there. There’s a lot more people going to clubs. I was just on Capitol Hill the other night, and it felt like there was a lot happening.”
But he doesn’t think we’ll ever see a local music scene rise in the same way again, thanks to the internet age.
“I think that was the last globally-known local music scene that will be celebrated that way,” Pray said.
If Jasper is any indication, Seattle’s sense of humor is still alive and well. When asked about Seattle’s current sound, she said: “The sound of Seattle right now is horns honking.”
Produced for the web by Amy Rolph.