May 1, 1976: The TMT Show

The Meyce in 1976 L-R: Paul Hood, Jennie Skirvin, Lee Lumsden, Jim Basnight photo credit: Neil Hubbard

The Meyce in 1976
L-R: Paul Hood, Jennie Skirvin, Lee Lumsden, Jim Basnight
photo credit: Neil Hubbard

Once upon a time, the term “punk rock” remained obscure to most Seattleites. On the date in focus here, a small coterie of young local musicians conspired to make local music history by introducing that volatile term to our sleepy little working-class town.

These musicians gathered that evening to present a three-band concert of original music at the Odd Fellows Temple building, located at 1525 10th Avenue in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. The event was advertised as the TMT Show, an acronymic reference to the trio of participating bands: the Telepaths, the Meyce, and the Tupperwares.

While still somewhat obscure within mainstream Seattle music history, the TMT Show is now generally considered the first true punk rock concert ever held in Seattle — as well as the first concert of any kind in Seattle organized and promoted by the performers themselves. Thus, it sowed the seeds of DIY (“do it yourself”) culture in the city and the region — a culture that would flourish much more fully during the ensuing fifteen years, culminating in the surprise global success of Nirvana in late 1991.

At the time of the TMT Show, Seattle’s music scene was dominated by cover bands, and thus, bands playing original music were generally shut out of opportunities to play for large, paying audiences. The bands on the TMT bill, all frustrated with playing exclusively in basements and living rooms, sought to change that equation. In order to bring legitimacy to their efforts, the show was promoted as a benefit concert for the Telepathic Foundation. This “foundation” did not in fact exist. Neil Hubbard, a Seattle writer, musician, and friend of the bands on the bill who helped organize and promote the event, conceived the “foundation” as a means of convincing local media outlets to publicize the show.

“This one radio station, KILO, gave us free public service announcements,” Hubbard remembered years later, “’cause we had this nonprofit group that we just made up out of thin air called the Telepathic Foundation. We were just pretty resourceful about things.”

The punk scene in Seattle in 1976 was microscopic, and the crowd at the TMT Show mainly comprised members and friends of the few other punk bands in the city at the time. Admission to the event was one dollar, and it was attended by roughly 100 people — just enough for the bands to pay for the room rental. Most of the audience, like most of the band members, were teenagers — and many of those people would soon go on to form their own bands.

Case in point: among those working “security” at the event was 18-year-old Penelope Houston, who would later move to San Francisco and become lead singer of the Avengers, the greatly influential American punk band of the late 1970s. Also in the audience was Damon Titus, guitar player for the Fruitland Famine Band, a country-rock covers-oriented act from Olympia. Inspired by what he witnessed that night, in December 1977 Titus would transform his band into the Enemy, one of Seattle’s most important early punk bands.

All the bands on the TMT Show bill were connected to the punk scene at Seattle’s Roosevelt High School, now considered an incubator of sorts for much of what would later develop within the Seattle punk scene. The Roosevelt High punk scene was driven largely by Chatterbox, a DIY fanzine published by Neil Hubbard and Lee Lumsden, drummer for the Meyce. Although the TMT Show was promoted as a punk show, there was in fact some stylistic diversity among the three featured bands.

The Telepaths are now considered by many to have been Seattle’s first true punk band — although, truth be told, they were influenced as much by early-1970s progressive rock as by the likes of the Stooges and the MC5; after all, they took their name from an early Blue Öyster Cult song: namely, 1974’s “Flaming Telepaths.” Their amorphous personnel crucially included on guitar the legendary Homer Spence (c. 1941-1991), then a 35-year-old Seattle rock scene veteran, erstwhile University of Washington economics instructor, and spiritual mentor to the city’s nascent punk scene. As for the band’s transgressive disposition, according to guitarist Erich Werner:

“Our whole attitude as a gang was a perpetual state of anger about our environment. We opposed just about everything we felt Seattle stood for. We hated suburbia; we were completely opposed to complacent happiness, and we felt the world at large wouldn’t tolerate us. People constantly called us names because of how we looked, so we had a strong identity, a them-and-us polarity.”

The Telepaths would later evolve into the Blackouts, Seattle’s premier post-punk band circa 1979.

The Meyce played what is now called “power pop.” On March 6, 1977, just before breaking up, they would open for the Ramones when the latter band played their debut Seattle show. The Meyce’s lineup crucially included singer-guitarist Jim Basnight, who would go on to form the Moberlys, a locally popular outfit who, in 1979, were among the first bands from Seattle’s early punk scene to record and release a full-length album.

The Tupperwares could best be described as “post-glam/proto-punk.” Led by the legendary punk provocateur Tomata du Plenty, they were a crucial spinoff of Ze Whiz Kidz, a pioneering and flamboyant countercultural theater troupe from early-1970s Seattle. In October 1976, frustrated with the stagnancy of Seattle’s punk scene at the time, they moved to Los Angeles, where, in early 1977, after receiving legal threats from the Tupperware trademark owners, they changed their name to the Screamers. With their new name and transgressive sound and style, they quickly became notorious and therefore very influential within that city’s early punk scene: among their contemporary admirers were X, the Weirdos, and Black Flag.

Not only was the TMT Show an important catalyst for Seattle’s mid-1970s counterculture, it also predated by several weeks the very first punk shows in England by the Clash, the Damned, the Buzzcocks, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, as well as the many Los Angeles punk bands that would soon follow — including, of course, the Screamers. Despite being ahead of London and Los Angeles in that respect, Seattle’s punk scene would not achieve wider fame until several years later, with the advent of the circa-1991 grunge explosion.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Patrick MacDonald, “Telepathic rock at Odd Fellows Hall,” The Seattle Times, May 3, 1976, p. A20; Clark Humphrey, “Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story” (Feral House, 1995; MiscMedia, 1999, 2016); Brendan Mullen, “Goodbye, Tomata du Plenty,” L.A. Weekly, August 23, 2000; Peter Blecha, “Sonic Boom: The History of Northwest Rock, from ‘Louie Louie’ to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit'” (Backbeat Books, 2009); Stephen Tow, “The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge” (Sasquatch Books, 2011).

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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.


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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December 13, 1962: KRAB Goes on the Air

KRAB radio staff at the station's Maple Leaf neighborhood home, summer 1971 Seth Siegal

KRAB radio staff at the station’s Maple Leaf neighborhood home, summer 1971
Seth Siegal

Seattle’s counterculture has always owed much of its growth to prescient people who have come here from elsewhere, bringing new ideas and energy to our otherwise deeply parochial city. One such outstanding outsider was Lorenzo Milam.

Born on August 2, 1933, in Jacksonville, Florida, Milam is best known in Seattle as the founder of KRAB-FM, Seattle’s first listener-supported, volunteer-run, non-commercial radio station, founded in 1962. KRAB’s innovative free-form programming format would have a great influence on the counterculture that would develop in Seattle later in the 1960s. KRAB’s debut broadcast occurred on the date in focus here.

From its humble beginnings in a former donut shop in Seattle’s Maple Leaf neighborhood, KRAB gradually gained great fame within the Puget Sound region for broadcasting an eclectic mix of music and conversation, chosen mostly by the whims of its all-volunteer staff. Unlike many similar independent radio stations that would later emerge across the nation — typically low-budget, low-power, “left-of-the-dial” operations — KRAB was a high-powered station that operated at the 107.7 MHz frequency on the regular, commercial FM broadcast band.

Milam’s life story is interesting beyond his role in founding KRAB. He began his career in radio in 1958, volunteering at KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California. KPFA, founded in 1949, was the first “community” or “public” radio station in the United States. A disciple of KPFA co-founder Lewis Hill (1919-1957), Milam aimed to take Hill’s concept of community radio a few steps further when he set out to establish his own station in 1959. An inheritance of $15,000 enabled Milam to effectively pursue this ambition.

Why did Milam choose Seattle as the location for his first serious foray into the frontier of community radio? Apparently because that’s where the Federal Communications Commission assigned him an available frequency. Once he obtained the frequency at 107.7, all he needed was a physical location for the station. The creation of KRAB began in earnest in April 1962, when Milam first visited a vacant storefront (the aforementioned “former donut shop”) at the southwest corner of Northeast 91st Street and Roosevelt Way Northeast in the Maple Leaf neighborhood. After determining the site to be a good location for a broadcasting tower, Milam bought the tiny building for KRAB for $7,500. By December, after much hard work, that building was a fully-functioning FM radio station with a studio, equipped with a single microphone.

Part of the groundwork for the creation of KRAB included the Jack Straw Memorial Foundation, created in June 1962 by a group of local educators, artists, and journalists (including Milam) as part of Milam’s efforts to establish KRAB.

When Seattle’s counterculture came into full bloom circa 1967, KRAB played a significant role in fomenting that transformation. The leading counterculture newspaper in Seattle during the late 1960s, Helix, was inspired in part by the KRAB Calendar, a low-budget, locally-circulated publication promoting KRAB’s programming along with local music and arts events. During Helix‘s publication between March 1967 and June 1970, KRAB and Helix complemented each other within Seattle’s independent media landscape, organizing several benefit concerts together. Helix also reported on the station’s activity and helped promote some of its programs, such as novelist Tom Robbins’s popular program “Notes from the Underground.” In addition, Helix co-founder and publisher Paul Dorpat was a regular volunteer at the station.

Milam left KRAB in 1968, and would go on to play a part in the creation of some 40 other non-commercial community radio stations across the nation (known collectively at the time as the “KRAB Nebula”), earning the rubric “Johnny Appleseed of community radio” along the way.

During the 1970s, KRAB played a critical role in fomenting the early punk rock scene in Seattle by being the first radio station in the Pacific Northwest to broadcast punk music on the air, mostly on its “Life Elsewhere” program, hosted by DJ Norman Batley.

After a long period of financial difficulty, KRAB finally went off the air on April 15, 1984.

KRAB’s infrastructure and assets would eventually enable the founding of KSER-FM, a Snohomish County community radio station licensed in Everett, Washington, which began regular broadcasting on February 9, 1991, at 90.7 FM, with the studio and transmitter located in Lynnwood, Washington. Meanwhile, the 107.7 FM frequency in Seattle would eventually become KNDD-FM, the alternative rock station that debuted on the air on August 23, 1991 — just in time for Grungemania.

As of December 2012, KRAB’s legacy lives on through Jack Straw Productions, which continues to operate from Seattle’s University District, housing a high-quality audio recording studio and a permanent exhibit dedicated to the memory of KRAB.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: “Radio Tower Permit Sought,” The Seattle Daily Times, April 14, 1962, p. 11; “North End FM-Radio Station Granted Permit,” The Seattle Daily Times, June 22, 1962, p. 13; Lorenzo W. Milam, “Sex and Broadcasting: A Handbook on Starting a Radio Station for the Community” (Dildo Press, 1975); David Armstrong, “A Trumpet to Arms: Alternative Media in America” (J. P. Tarcher, Inc., 1981); Lorenzo W. Milam, “The Radio Papers, from KRAB to KCHU: Essays on the Art and Practice of Radio Transmission” (MHO & MHO Works, 1986); Linda Shaw, “KSER will be KRAB radio’s Snohomish successor,” The Seattle Times, August 17, 1990, p. B3; Ignacio Lobos, “Radio Days: KSER, the spiritual descendant of Seattle’s KRAB, wants to be fiscally healthier but equally interesting,” The Seattle Times (North Edition), February 6, 1991, p. H1; Walt Crowley, “Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle” (University of Washington Press, 1995); Jesse Walker, “Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America” (New York University Press, 2001); Jonathan Lawson, “Principle, not profit: Seattle’s history of alternative media resistance,” Reclaim the Media, September 24, 2006 (; Tyler Hartung, “Producing art and a sense of community: A look inside Jack Straw Productions,” University of Washington Daily, February 27, 2012, p. 4; Paul Dorpat, “A sound investment,” The Seattle Times, Pacific NW magazine, July 8, 2012, p. 23.

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October 31, 1979: Launching The Rocket

The Rocket’s second anniversary issue, October 1981, featuring the staff in front of its apocryphal “headquarters.”

The year 1979 was a very good year for rock music, both internationally and in Seattle. In the wake of the punk explosion a few years before, much innovative and inspiring original rock music was then being created, performed, and recorded. Evidence of that renaissance can be found on the many now-classic albums released that year, such as Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, Gang of Four’s Entertainment!, and Talking Heads’ Fear of Music. In Seattle, many young rock musicians were greatly inspired by all this new musical activity coming from other, more prominent cities, and as a result, several new groups emerged in our city that year dedicated to playing original, cutting-edge music.

Meanwhile, at The Seattle Sun, an alternative weekly newspaper that began publishing in 1974, a struggle erupted between certain writers on the staff who wished to cover Seattle’s emerging new music scene in that paper and certain senior staff members who considered the new scene ultimately unimportant. Frustrated by the Sun‘s refusal to cover the new scene, the Sun‘s arts editor, Robert Ferrigno, and art director, Robert Newman, decided to start their own publication as a monthly supplement to the Sun. The new publication’s name was The Rocket, and its debut issue was published on the date in focus here.

As Ferrigno would later reminisce in The Rocket‘s 15-year-anniversary issue in 1994, the new publication was instigated by a rather comical incident at a Sun staff meeting in August 1979. The senior Sun staff, clearly betraying their lingering hippie affinities, wanted to publish a cover story on macramé. Ferrigno and Newman both laughed out loud at the suggestion. According to Ferrigno, “The political editor of the Sun glared at us suspiciously, and warned us about our ‘negativity.’ The next day we started raising money for The Rocket.”

Thus, this tiny circa-1979 cultural clash of “hippies versus punks” gave birth to a newspaper that would grow to become vastly influential within Seattle arts and culture during the following decade. Ferrigno explained The Rocket‘s founding mission in its debut issue, writing, “We believe the local music scene to be vibrating with life, multi-faceted and responsive to a wide range of audiences. We will cover national acts like The Cars, but remain committed to supporting local music.”

According to writer Charles R. Cross, who joined the Rocket staff in 1980 and would later become its longtime editor and publisher, the initial idea was never to publish The Rocket as a separate publication. However, after one year as a supplement to The Seattle Sun, the new paper’s unexpected success allowed it to split off from its parent paper. The new monthly paper — distributed free throughout the Puget Sound region, and eventually the entire Pacific Northwest — featured a striking array of talent among its writers, editors, and visual artists. Among other celebrated people whose careers were launched at The Rocket are music biographer Gillian G. Gaar, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, Sub Pop Records co-founder Bruce Pavitt, graphic designer Art Chantry, cartoonist Lynda Barry, comedian and television personality John Keister, and music critic Ann Powers.

The Rocket’s February 1991 issue, featuring Tad, mere months before “Grungemania.”

During The Rocket‘s early years, the editors and writers constantly sought to cover mainly local bands playing original music, such as the Enemy, Chinas Comidas, the Allies, the Heats, Visible Targets, Red Dress, and the Cowboys. A reciprocal relationship emerged between the paper and the local music scene during its first decade. Through that relationship, The Rocket became profoundly influential within the music and arts scenes in Seattle. Among other ways the paper helped set the stage for the early-1990s international explosion of the Seattle music scene, the Sub Pop record label — which launched the careers of Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney — began as a column in the paper written by Bruce Pavitt. Also, the paper offered free classified ads for musicians seeking other musicians with whom to collaborate. Myriad Seattle-area musical combos — most now obscure, some later famous — were launched via this unique service offered by The Rocket to the local music community.

As the only local newspaper taking the Seattle music scene seriously prior to the grunge explosion, The Rocket held a unique position of local countercultural power. According to Charles R. Cross, “If you were a band in 1989 in Seattle and you put out an album, there’d be one place in the world that would pay attention to it, and that was The Rocket — and that meant something.”

While The Rocket continued to thrive during Seattle’s time in the global music spotlight during the early 1990s, things began to go downhill for the paper beginning in 1995. That year, Cross sold the paper to BAM Media, a San Francisco-based company that published several music-related publications. That sale effectively severed the paper from its local roots, leading to a noticeable decline in quality during the next few years. By the late 1990s, the paper had become a shadow of its former self. It had by then also begun to be eclipsed by The Stranger, the Seattle alt-weekly founded in September 1991.

The slothful demise of The Rocket accelerated abruptly beginning in August 2000, when BAM Media shut down all of its failing projects and sold The Rocket to Dave Roberts, publisher of Chicago’s Illinois Entertainer. Roberts quickly downsized the paper’s operations while giving the superficial appearance that he was seriously attempting to revitalize the paper. A few weeks later, according to Brian Goedde, a Rocket staff writer at the time, “almost everyone’s paychecks bounced,” and Roberts abruptly informed the entire staff that The Rocket was shutting down immediately. Thus, The Rocket vanished suddenly — literally “without warning.” The Rocket‘s final issue was dated October 18, 2000.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: “White Noise,” The Rocket, October 1979, p. 3; Robert Ferrigno, “Love, Rage And Negative Macramé,” The Rocket, December 7-21, 1994, p. 8; Robert W. McChesney, “Balancing Things Left Of Center,” The Rocket, December 7-21, 1994, p. 12; Pam Sitt, “Rocket’s nose dive stuns music magazine’s staffers,” The Seattle Times, October 20, 2000, p. B1; Brian Goedde, “End of Flight, Please Disembark: R.I.P. The Rocket,” The Stranger, November 2, 2000, p. 25; Michael Hill, “Changing times contributed to crash of Rocket,” Puget Sound Business Journal, November 26, 2000; Leah Baltus, “Blast from the Past,” City Arts magazine, July 28, 2012.

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September 9, 1967: “Hippie Hill” Prevails

Parrington Lawn at night

Parrington Lawn at night

As the 1960s counterculture first began to fully bloom in Seattle, some local reactionaries decided that our local flower children needed weeding out. Some sought to do so directly, staging “hippie-bashings” in the University District and elsewhere, while others worked more politically — among them a local letter-writer who sought to pressure the University of Washington to rid its campus of its growing countercultural population.

The reactionary in question was one Charles E. Divoky, a 43-year-old North Seattle resident then employed by a U District-based insurance firm. On September 6, 1967, Divoky wrote to UW President Charles Odegaard to express his disgust at how the UW campus had recently become, in Divoky’s words, a “retreat and haven for hippie malcontents.” He specifically referred to “Hippie Hill,” the stretch of lawn on the western edge of the campus between 15th Avenue Northeast and Denny Hall, near University Way Northeast (a.k.a. “The Ave”), which was then becoming a West Coast counterculture magnet rivaled only by San Francisco’s fabled Haight-Ashbury district.

Indeed, at the time, Hippie Hill was generally considered Ground Zero for Seattle’s fast-growing counterculture scene, benefiting in part from Odegaard’s outstandingly tolerant attitude towards the hippie element on and near his jurisdiction’s campus, as well as his ongoing refusal to allow Seattle city police onto UW property (mainly due to the UW’s status as state property). Divoky, in fittingly dramatic reactionary fashion, accused the regular denizens of Hippie Hill of “using public property as a marketplace for drug sales and sexual orgies.” As a solution to the scandals of his imagination, Divoky suggested “a few night sticks appropriately used by campus or city police” might “make the right impression.”

To which Odegaard, in a letter sent not only to Divoky but also to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the mayor, the governor, and the UW Board of Regents, publicly replied on the date in focus here:

“It is unthinkable to close the campus to someone who chooses not to conform to modes of dress and personal behavior common to a particular period in our society. . . . To lump any group together for treatment with ‘night sticks’ smacks of a type of society which the people of this country have labored arduously to eliminate, rather than to instigate.”

The understandably student-popular Odegaard’s attitude was rare back then among local authority figures. The Seattle Police Department, for their part, would later be discovered to have been covertly part and parcel of the aforementioned local hippie-bashing. Today, the erstwhile Hippie Hill is merely a nondescript stretch of lawn facing 15th Avenue Northeast, known officially as Parrington Lawn.

Meanwhile, The Ave, of course, remains today as wild and wooly as ever.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Maribeth Morris, “UW Won’t Put Ban on Hippies,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 10, 1967, p. 1; Ray Hallinan, “Rookie Takes In Hippie Hill,” University of Washington Daily, September 26, 1967, p. 1; Bruce Edmonson, “BOC Sends Approval To Odegaard,” University of Washington Daily, September 29, 1967, p. 1; Jack Hart, “Odegaard Speaks Out,” University of Washington Daily, September 29, 1967, p. 5; Walt Crowley, “Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle” (University of Washington Press, 1995).

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March 23, 1967: The Cocoon Breaks, the Helix Emerges

Helix, Vol. 1, No. 1, March 23, 1967

Seattle has a long history of local alternative newspapers, some better than others, all vital in the collective process of stirring the complex pot of a healthy local media scene. Most, if not all, of the past four decades’ worth of such endeavors owe a great debt to Helix, the groundbreaking chronicler of Seattle’s counterculture whose debut issue was published on the date in focus here.

Helix was conceived in late 1966 during discussions at the Free University of Seattle, an alternative college and countercultural meeting place located in the University District. These discussions were inspired by the recent flowering of underground newspapers in other counterculturally rich cities, such as San Francisco’s Berkeley Barb and Oracle, and New York City’s East Village Other. Helix‘s prime instigators included Paul Dorpat, then a wayward University of Washington grad student, and Paul Sawyer, a Unitarian minister. This circle quickly grew to include future famous novelist Tom Robbins, Seattle Post-Intelligencer cartoonist Ray Collins, and Jon Gallant, co-founder of Seattle’s legendary underground radio station KRAB-FM.

Serendipitously named after Watson and Crick’s famous description of DNA during a particularly productive session of beer-drinking and brainstorming at the Blue Moon Tavern in February 1967, Helix emerged from its fertile countercultural cocoon to immediate success. The debut issue’s cover announced the new paper’s mission in an editorial that began as follows:

You have in your hand the first issue of a fortnightly newspaper. It is dedicated to no cause, no interests, no point of view; it is dedicated to you.

The first 1,500 copies of the 12-page, vividly colored, wildly illustrated tabloid were quickly snapped up off the streets of the U District, and its initial success would eventually become a three-year reign of weekly publication. During that time, Helix would sponsor a number of important countercultural events in the Puget Sound region before finally folding in June 1970.

Helix, Vol. 2, No. 6, December 1, 1967

Among such events was the Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter Than Air Fair, a three-day concert series held near Sultan (50 miles north of Seattle) from August 31 to September 2, 1968 — a full year before the more famous Woodstock festival — featuring such luminaries as the Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, and Santana. Helix also played an important role in promoting local political activism, serving as both catalyst and chronicler of many local protest events organized by the antiwar, environmental, and black liberation movements.

Among other positive effects Helix provided for Seattle’s countercultural community, it provided a decent (albeit modest) living for a number of the hippies who served as the paper’s street vendors. It also launched the media career of Walt Crowley (1947-2007), the much-revered local writer, historian, and rabble-rouser, who joined the paper’s staff, first as an illustrator and later as an editor, in May 1967.

Crowley would later attribute the paper’s demise to the splintering of the American Left, both in Seattle and nationwide, in the wake of the Kent State Massacre — as well as other dark turns the American counterculture had taken by mid-1970. “After Kent State, the left had gone totally wiggy,” Crowley told Seattle Weekly in 1989. “And the drug scene was brutal.” In the wake of Helix, the media needs of Seattle’s counterculture would be served — if only temporarily — by the more overtly political and militant Sabot and Puget Sound Partisan.

Today, Paul Dorpat has made a name for himself as a celebrated Pacific Northwest photographer-historian, mainly as author of the long-running Seattle Times weekly pictorial feature “Seattle Now & Then.” Crowley would also ascend to broader local fame as a KIRO-TV news commentator in the 1980s. Meanwhile, Helix‘s heady brew of radical politics and groundbreaking graphic design has rarely, if ever, been surpassed locally, its closest competition arguably being The Rocket (1979-2000), Seattle’s greatest music-centric monthly to date. An ongoing digital archive of complete issues of Helix can be viewed online in PDF form at Paul Dorpat’s blog.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Howard Aubrey Mills, “The Seattle Helix: An Underground Looks at the Times,” M.A. thesis, University of Montana, 1970; Peter Blecha and Charles R. Cross, “When Seattle Went Psychedelic,” The Rocket, May 1987, p. 21; Bart Becker, “The Beats Go On,” Seattle Weekly, November 29, 1989, p. 34; Walt Crowley, “Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle” (University of Washington Press, 1995).

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September 22, 1965: You Beatniks Get Off My Ave

And what would The Ave be without its flamboyant desolation angels?

And what would The Ave be without its flamboyant desolation angels?

Anyone familiar with Seattle’s University Way Northeast — better known affectionately among longtime locals as “The Ave” — surely knows that it’s long been one of our city’s most lively stretches of urban thoroughfare. Indeed, The Ave has been host to a cavalcade of colorful characters and anecdotes going back several decades. In the autumn of 1965, as the University of Washington welcomed a record baby-boom enrollment of some 26,000 students, The Ave, and the University District in general, became the scene of a rather amusing manufactured controversy over a certain segment of Ave regulars known alternately as “beatniks,” “fringies,” and — depending on whose opinion one was asking — other terms which were much more derisive.

That manufactured controversy became journalistically official on the date in focus here, when the University District Herald, a weekly neighborhood newspaper catering mostly to the U District business community, published the first in a series of front-page articles lamenting “The Beatnik Situation” in that neighborhood. The tone of the articles, all written by Herald publisher Lillian Beloin, was blatantly alarmist and condescending towards their chosen subject.

The series mostly painted the many young bohemians who had become a regular presence in the U District by that autumn as a parasitic scourge. In support of her rhetorically vivid scorn, Beloin cited several recent incidents of absurd “beatnik” activity on The Ave, including the following amusing anecdote:

“In the wee small hours of the morning, a group of ‘individuals’ dragged a coffin to a spot in front of a business establishment on the 4200 block. One of the ‘beats’ remained lying in the coffin for two hours. When he vacated his ‘resting place,’ the coffin was placed in the doorway of the business firm.”

The Herald received several letters to the editor in response to the series. Some were sympathetic to the “beats,” and some accused the Herald of practicing “irresponsible journalism” in its overly dramatic depiction of Seattle’s bohemian scene, while others went even further than Beloin in terms of rash anti-“beatnik” rhetoric. Among the letters the Herald received was one from Assistant King County Prosecutor William L. Forant, who berated the local liberal elements who were then preaching tolerance for the U District malcontents whom Forant described, within the space of one short letter, as “juvenile delinquent[s],” “monsters,” “8 balls,” “teenage hoodlums,” “human sludge,” and, in one particularly apoplectic rhetorical flourish, “robbers, burglars, thieves, sex-deviates, hopheads and alcoholics.”

It should be said here that Beloin and Forant were calling attention to a genuine concern among certain U District merchants and residents that the presence of the “beatniks” may have then been scaring away potential customers from that neighborhood, which had long been a commercial district for the entire city as well as for members of the UW community. At one point Beloin asked a question that was reportedly then being asked among the neighborhood’s more conservative population:

“Is there a solution [to the ‘beatnik’ problem], or must the University District become Seattle’s second ‘skid row’?”

The term “beatnik” is being framed in scare quotes here because it was rather contentious among the crowd it was then being used in the local press to describe. Radical Seattle icon Walt Crowley (1947-2007), himself a UW freshman and a regular Ave presence at the time of the Herald articles, wryly noted in his 1995 book Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle:

“[We] never called ourselves ‘beatniks.’ Anyone halfway hip knew that [San Francisco Examiner columnist] Herb Caen had coined that word as a put-down. If you were ‘beat,’ you didn’t need a label.”

Crowley also recounted how the lifestyle so lamented by the Herald had already been an undercurrent in U District life for a good few years previous, its kindred-spiritual epicenters on The Ave being the Pamir House, a folk music magnet on the northwest corner of The Ave and Northeast 41st Street, and the Eigerwand Kaffeehaus one block north, a haven for, in Crowley’s words, “rancid coffee and fiery conversation.”

In response to the first of the Herald articles, the UW student newspaper The Daily published its own series during the first week of Autumn Quarter 1965 classes, titled “The Beatnik Scare,” which was more sympathetic with The Ave’s bohemian crowd. The Daily coined the alternative term “fringies” to describe their chosen subject, and the denoted crowd apparently preferred this term enough that, according to Crowley, “some clever entrepreneur printed ‘Fringie’ buttons to make it official.”

Seattle’s fringie scene would soon bloom into something much more flamboyant. Lillian Beloin and her local kindred spirits should have been counting their blessings in late 1965. Within a few short years the U District would see the relatively benign antics of Seattle’s “beatniks” superseded by massive antiwar protests on the UW campus and violent riots on The Ave.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: “‘Why Don’t U. District Merchants Do Something?’ Asks Angry Youth,” University District Herald, September 22, 1965, p. 1; Lillian Beloin, “Is It Fiction Or Reality?” University District Herald, September 29, 1965, p. 1; Deb Das, “Life On ‘The Ave’: An Introduction,” University of Washington Daily, September 29, 1965, p. 13; “Dangerous Drugs, Not Narcotics, Are The University District Problem,” University District Herald, October 6, 1965, p. 1; “DAILY Explores ‘The Beatnik Scare’,” University of Washington Daily, October 6, 1965, p. 1; “Who Are the ‘Fringies’?” University of Washington Daily, October 6, 1965, p. 6; Craig Smith, “Lillian Beloin: She Fanned Fire,” University of Washington Daily, October 6, 1965, p. 7; Larissa Hrishko, “‘Fringie’ Character Sketches; All Are Young and Sensitive,” University of Washington Daily, October 6, 1965, p. 7; “And Who Is A Beatnik?” University of Washington Daily, October 6, 1965, p. 7; Craig Smith, “Merchants Split On ‘Fringie’ Issue,” University of Washington Daily, October 7, 1965, p. 6; Deb Das, “‘Fringies’ May Be The Angriest Of The ‘Avenue’ Crowd, But They Still Receive The ‘Community’s’ Moral Support,” University of Washington Daily, October 7, 1965, p. 7; Don Kehoe, “The Universal ‘Fringie’,” University of Washington Daily, October 8, 1965, p. 8; “Grad Urges Tolerance” (letter to the editor), University of Washington Daily, October 8, 1965, p. 8; “The Beatnik Scare: Some Conclusions,” University of Washington Daily, October 8, 1965, p. 9; Vic Lygdman, “Our Oldest ‘Fringie’ Remembers How Things Were ‘Way Back When’,” University of Washington Daily, October 8, 1965, p. 9; Lillian Beloin, “Do We Need This Type of Color?” University District Herald, October 13, 1965, p. 1; William A. Forant, letter to the editor, University District Herald, October 20, 1965, p. 1; “Those ‘Fringies'” (letter to the editor), University District Herald, October 20, 1965, p. 7; “‘Fringie’ Discussion Goes Round-‘N Round-‘N Round,” University District Herald, October 27, 1965, p. 1; “Notes from The Editor’s Desk,” University District Herald, October 27, 1965, p. 6; “‘Apologia’,” University District Herald, November 3, 1965, p. 1; Bart Becker, “The Beats Go On,” Seattle Weekly, November 29, 1989, p. 34; Walt Crowley, “Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle” (University of Washington Press, 1995).

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