Down and Out in Seattle and Tacoma

Posted: September 12, 2014 in Miscellaneous, music
Tags: , , , , , , ,

When I moved to Seattle in 1980 I lived in the Jensen Block on Eastlake Avenue, in a neighborhood of aging wooden houses, aging people, and industries that made things that few people wanted anymore, like rubber stamps that said JOB COMPLETED, READY TO BILL and kits to install your own seatbelts. The building was brick and flat-topped and even today, decked out with shiny glass storefronts at curbside, it looks tired. The Jensen Block has been standing at the corner of Eastlake and Mercer, downhill from the freeway, since before there was a freeway. Or cars. It needs time off.

I dwelled with my typewriter and books in a furnished room with a shared bath above a tavern. The Store Room? I can’t send away to the 1980s for an answer. They had a jukebox, but I could only hear the bass lines of the songs. I couldn’t tell what the songs were. The shifting, muffled thump was the background to my life in that building, where people came and went but a hard core of hard-luck cases lived on year after year.

On Friday and Saturday nights the bar stayed open until 2am, with plenty of people and music, all of which sounded like a roomful of bass players to the guy upstairs pounding out another science fiction story on his Smith Corona typewriter. I usually fell into bed, exhausted, around 1am. Around 2:30, after half an hour of silence, the jukebox came on again. It was louder than before, possibly because the music was no longer being soaked up by all those drinkers. The jukebox played one song. Someone, probably the guy who’d been hired to swab out the place and was in there alone, yelled “Whooooooh!” about 20 seconds in. The bass and the “Whooooooh!” always woke me up. Five minutes later, the song ended, silence reigned, and I went back to sleep. It was comforting, I guess because I’d embarked on a new life and this was one of my few routines. Whatever “it” was.

One night the tavern closed at 2am and when it did the music was over. Like those of us who could, the cleaning man had moved on. Soon I did too. Although I made some friends there, I don’t know where anyone went or what happened to the people who stayed until the ’90s when the building was closed and remodeled and reopened. I’d like to know more about the men who formed a band that summer and called themselves The Mars Dodgers. They all wore baseball jerseys. I never heard them play.

A year or two later, at a dance, the dj put a record on the table and a familiar bass line spilled into the room and I was so surprised that I laughed: The cleaning man’s favorite song was “Emotional Rescue” by The Rolling Stones. I hadn’t known that Mick had a speaking part near the end. I hadn’t known anything at all except that the beat went one-two, THREE-four, five-six, SEVEN-eight. When I mentioned this song in my post last week, the Jensen Block came back to me. I’m happy I don’t live on that treeless street anymore.

If there’s any point to this story, it’s that time travel is not a theory and that music is a vehicle. Or maybe the point is just that I can sleep through anything.

I’ll be your savior, steadfast and true
I’ll come to your emotional rescue

“Emotional Rescue” – the only song in the English language that includes the words “pet Pekingese.”

Random Pick of the Day
The Clash, London Calling (1980)
In 1980, I thought The Clash were going to replace the Stones. I also thought that Microsoft was a bizarre office-supply company that had gotten lost in the woods beyond Lake Washington.

The Clash obviously didn’t replace the Stones, and after this album they stage-dived into the dumpster of history (with a last gasp at Combat Rock), but London Calling is one of the few albums that can give the Stones of Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street a run for their money. A phenomenal record from a bunch of heroin addicts.

Random Pan of the Day
Joni Mitchell, Shadows and Light (1980)
Joni Mitchell is the John Updike of pop music. Both made big splashes early on, were prolific and experimental, and both seem to have faded from view. We should erect statues to these people! Joni pioneered the role of the confessional singer-songwriter. She achieved commercial success with Court and Spark (1974), plunged into world music 10 years before Paul Simon discovered it, experimented extensively with jazz, and played with artists as divergent as Charles Mingus and Billy FN Idol. Mick Jagger could only dream of being as perceptive and literate. Plus she posed naked (from behind) on the inside cover of For the Roses, which, if you were a teenage boy in 1972, was significant.

The ONLY reason this record gets a Pan instead of a Pick is because these are live versions of her studio albums and the studio albums are superior, especially The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975).


  1. Helen Dezendorf says:

    nice story, Steve.

  2. seasidedave says:

    I would have given almost anything to switch places with you and the converted chicken shack that I lived in at about the same age as when you moved to that seeming paradise on Eastlake Ave. It was lonely…sometimes a confused chicken would try to reclaim her roost. Good times, those early year homes when we were on our own with our sometimes carefree wide eyes and thin pockets. “We coulda been beat-niks,” but alas, we were born too late.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      You’ve been watching Monty Python again, haven’t you?

      FOURTH YORKSHIREMAN: I was happier then and I had nothin’. We used to live in this tiny old house with great big holes in the roof.
      SECOND YORKSHIREMAN: House! You were lucky to live in a house! We used to live in one room, all 26 of us, no furniture, ‘alf the floor was missing, and we were all ‘uddled together in one corner for fear of falling.
      THIRD YORKSHIREMAN: Eh, you were lucky to have a room! We used to have to live in t’ corridor!
      FIRST YORKSHIREMAN: Oh, we used to dream of livin’ in a corridor! Would ha’ been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woke up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us! House? Huh.
      FOURTH YORKSHIREMAN: Well, when I say ‘house’ it was only a hole in the ground covered by a sheet of tarpaulin, but it was a house to us.
      SECOND YORKSHIREMAN: We were evicted from our ‘ole in the ground; we ‘ad to go and live in a lake.
      THIRD YORKSHIREMAN: You were lucky to have a lake! There were a 150 of us living in t’ shoebox in t’ middle o’ road.

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