'Seattle Is A Creepy, Salty Town With Dirt Under Her Nails'
Seattle has one of the largest collections of zines -- tiny underground art manifestos that have usually been photocopied. ZAPP, the Zine Archive and Publishing Project, has been collecting them since 1996 and has amassed more than 30,000.
This essay comes from the 2002 edition of "The Puget Front." (Warning: Explicit language.)
Seattle is a creepy, salty town with dirt under her nails.
But we’ve been fooled by our own face-lift and our place at the seeming center of a fragile economy. Our brilliant flame, like the lifespan of that “new economy” was brief. Brief like our signature music that ended in true Seattle fashion, as all bright things end here.
They abandon us with an unfinished chord.
We are a city of restless ghosts, of broken narratives we won’t complete. There’s a bridge at the bottom of the lake. There are unsolved murders, disappearances. There are celebrities whose minds were locked and lost in damp corridors of waiting. A man who leapt from a ledge or was pushed. The woman who pioneered feminism and vanished in her own shadow. For lack of witnesses, there were no crimes. We leave the secret rooms of this gothic house secret.
We have a strange symbology, with our giant spaceship, framed by volcanoes and bodies of water. Deep, dark groves of trees.
Tell me the difference between the punks and hippies because they’re beginning to seem exactly the same to me. The way a whole culture atrophies and hovers its bored haunts. I walk into the same blood red café I walked into in 1993. Someone is selling their laundry. Someone is selling self-hatred. Everyone has brand-new tattoos.
At the turn of the century, Seattle was known as the Soviet Union of the West because we were so deeply entrenched in the labor movement. We were a rough town. We had nothing much to be pretentious about. And we still don’t.
What was great about Seattle in the late 70s and early 80s was precisely its sense of social justice and feistiness. Major religious leaders were getting arrested for protesting missiles. Housing was affordable.
It seems as if we got waylaid rather than better defined as the model of a civil rights city. We believed our own intentions to do good. We ignored our contradictions.
The poor can find new hiding places. We are cleaning up our city.
Perhaps if we had been more honest. If we had looked in the mirror honestly in the late 1980s, in the space between dips in the market, when all of the money migrants started coming to Seattle.
If we had stopped for a moment, the waves of Ryder vans driving cross country and up the I-5 corridor to the promise of future stock options. Maybe not stopped, but thought it all out more carefully.
We still could. It’s not too late to begin having an architectural code rather than a confusion of competing visions of design. We could decide on one transportation system, realize that there will be cost overruns because we waited too damn long to begin. And just begin it. Fuck consensus models. And all of our conservative contrarians pacing the plank of our backs.
When the yuppies moved here in the '80s they thought they were coming to a pristine, virgin area that was about to boom. Lots of young couples came in their Lycra clothes, with feathered hair, still in the process of articulating the environmental movement. The grunge movement was starting in counterpoint.
Then the bright light hit. Seattle has national attention. We were the garage-band industrial city of grassroots music and newspapers and businesses. All the while our industrial city was being transformed into a kind of country club. Rockers bought mansions on Lake Washington. In the end, the voice of the movement had to destroy itself because it had betrayed its own authenticity. Self-hatred spawned it and gnawed at it.
This city is as full of ghosts as Paris. But we pretend that it’s all the lost light that makes us cold.
The Seattle Story Project: First-person reflections published at KUOW.org. These are essays, stories told on stage, photos and zines. To submit a story – or note one you've seen that deserves more notice – contact Isolde Raftery at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-616-2035.