March 4, 1978: The Bird Was the Word

Seattle’s music scene has not always been innovative, it must be said. While there has always been exciting musical activity in our corner of the world, prior to the celebrated grunge explosion of the late 1980s, the music scene here tended to be derivative of scenes and styles from other, larger cities. During the late 1960s, our music scene was largely derivative of San Francisco’s, while during the late 1970s, a small group of Seattle musicians, writers, and visual artists collectively sought to emulate the punk scenes then revolutionizing rock music in London, New York City, and Los Angeles.

Seattle’s punk scene took a big step towards finding its own voice when the city’s first punk club, the Bird, opened on the date in focus here.

Located downtown at 107 Spring Street, the Bird was founded by Roger Husbands (1940-2015), manager of the Enemy (one of the few prominent punk bands from Seattle at the time), and musician and music writer Neil Hubbard. The club was named after the venue’s previous tenant, the John L. Bird office supplies company. Hubbard reportedly thought of the name during a brainstorming session involving members of the Enemy, Husbands, and himself.

The Bird was a dark, dank, and narrow space with a makeshift stage and a second-hand PA system. While the venue’s official capacity was ninety-nine persons, as many as 200 sometimes crowded into the tiny room. Before the Bird, local underground bands had nowhere to play within the city unless they rented a hall and booked the show themselves. The club’s opening created a situation in Seattle where punk bands and their fans had a stable and thriving place of community — at least for the few crucial months when it remained open.

bird-debut-poster

Local punk bands such as the Telepaths and the Enemy played at the Bird, as did bands from other West Coast cities, such as the Avengers (from San Francisco, featuring former Seattleite Penelope Houston on lead vocals) and the Dils and the Zeros (both from Los Angeles). According to local graphic designer Art Chantry, the posters that promoted shows at the Bird were created by visual artist Frank Edie (a.k.a. “Franko”). Chantry has speculated that “the entire audience on opening night eventually formed their own bands.”

The video clip that accompanies this post, assembled by Seattle artist Jo David, shows footage from a private party held at the Bird the night before the club’s official opening, along with footage from the musical performances by the Enemy, the Mentors, and the Telepaths on the opening night.

The Bird’s tenure at its original downtown location would last less than two months. The building’s landlord would soon order Husbands to vacate the venue, effective May 1, 1978. The closing-night party would exemplify the strained and confrontational relationship between the Seattle Police Department and our city’s punk rock community. Sometime after midnight that night, a small group of revelers, including members of the Enemy, exited the Bird and migrated to the roof of the building. According to Enemy drummer Peter Barnes, the aftershow party was “lame” until some people began throwing things off the roof.

“Somehow it ended up that the cops were called,” Barnes would recall years later. “And they showed up, and they sent the vice squad after us . . . I mean, the really heavy-duty cops . . . They slammed badges in peoples’ faces and they called us ‘faggots’ and they threw people on the ground. We had a rather diminutive woman lead singer, Suzanne [Grant], and they twisted her arm behind her back and broke it.”

Damon Titus, the Enemy’s guitar player, complained to the cops at the scene about Grant’s treatment and was rewarded by having his face smashed into the pavement. Unfortunately for the SPD, a partygoer on the scene happened to record the entire rooftop melee on audiotape. The band later sued the SPD and won a court-ordered monetary settlement. An audio excerpt of the confrontation later found its way onto an Enemy single B-side titled “Trendy Violence.”

After closing at the original Spring Street location, the Bird would re-open on August 12, 1978, on Capitol Hill in the historic Odd Fellows Temple building at 1525 10th Avenue. It remained there until its final show on September 29, 1978, featuring the legendary Los Angeles punk band the Weirdos.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Bob Newman, “A Club of Their Own: Punks Flip the Bird,” The Seattle Sun, March 8, 1978, p. 11; Clark Humphrey, “Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story” (Feral House, 1995; MiscMedia, 1999, 2016); Sharon M. Hannon, “Punks: A Guide to an American Subculture” (Greenwood Press, 2009); Stephen Tow, “The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge” (Sasquatch Books, 2011).

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About radsearem

Jeff Stevens is a Seattle native and author of the forthcoming City of Anxiety: An Alternative History of Seattle.
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