"Smells Like Laurel Canyon" - part 4 - What is "Grunge"?

“With the addition of Vedder and drummer Dave Krusen, the new band was complete. They called themselves Mookie Blaylock, in honor of the basketball player, but changed the name to Pearl Jam, purportedly after a psychedelic confection made by Vedder’s half-Native American great-grandmother, Pearl. (Vedder finally admitted the story was bogus in 2006.)”

- Rolling Stone magazine, official bio for Pearl Jam

Folks of the Interwebs, welcome back…thanks for join’n me today to get a lil GCD!  Interesting quote to start off this chapter of the tale.  Perhaps Pearl Jam’s name is not derived from a psychedelic jam, but that was the urban legend for at least 25 years!  While not the main topic, it is certainly the undertone of today’s chapter of this Seattle tale, psychedelics and “Grunge”…sounds like psychedelics and “Hippies”….hmmm, weird.


As you folks join me here on today’s adventure into Grunge-ville USA…uhhh, you know, Seattle…let us first ponder the origins of this movement known as “Grunge”.  What is “Grunge”? Was this a term born in Seattle?  Or did the Seattle “Grunge” rock scene adopt this adjective to describe the disheveled flannel wearing appearance of the “Grunge” rock fan-base? Or perhaps the term was adopted to describe the rough & unpolished sounds of Seattle’s unique combination of mash’n, punk rock with heavy metal rock?


Or perhaps it is magically mystery added to the long list of magical mysteries Seattle is alleged to harbor: the first “UFO” sighting…the Green River Killer…the location of Bill Nye’s alleged scientific qualifications…the first sightings of “Men in Black”…Bigfoot…the origins of the Trump family foray into hotels, or possibly more accurate the “Drumpf” family foray into Brothels…and last but not least, who took the jam outta Cal Ripken’s donut???…all Seattle mysteries…shall we add the origins of “Grunge” to this list??


Well Folks of the Interwebs…much like the shade of President Trump’s hair (side note: my best guess the color is Orange Parrot, available at your Home Depot location), the true origins of the characterization of “Grunge” rock seems to be a mystery.  It appears that a variety of folks have claimed to have coined the term “Grunge”…from legendary Rolling Stones journalist, Lester Bangs, circa (aka. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character in the hit rock’n’roll, pseudo biopic, “Almost Famous”)…to Seattle’s own legendary “Grunge” rock god, Mark Arm (Green River, Mudhoney), in the early onset of “Grunge” rock in the 1981…a term later utilized by Arm’s Green River band’s first Sub Pop Records album…hell, even the mythical-mad-man behind the pop culture icon/serial killer-named musical outfit known as Marilyn Manson even claimed to have coined the term "Grunge".   


What are the origins of “Grunge”?


Lester Bangs, a man with a last name that in today’s accepted vernacular is a verb, present tense.  Perhaps, Lester is more famously known as a prolific journalist of rock music, but Lester Bangs may be more recognizable to some folks as the character Phillip Seymour Hoffman portrayed in Cameron Crowe’s pseudo-Biopic, “Almost Famous”.  A wonderful film about a young rock journalist joining a rock band on tour, based upon actual events in Crowe’s life, when a teenage Crowe went on tour with “Led Zepplin” (spoiler alert: Cameron Crowe makes another appearance in this Seattle “Grunge” tale…replete with more direct connections to McGowan’s Laurel Canyon tale…stay tuned in the future). 


According to some “Grunge” scholars (fairly certain I just made up that role in life), world-renowned Rolling Stone magazine journalist, Mr. Lester Bangs may have indeed coined the term “Grunge” way way back in the long forgotten years circa 1972.  Lets take a quick jaunt back to the year 1972, ‘Merica was a shit show in an era where even the US Postal Service is rioting, Tricky Dick was in the white house, Charlie Manson (yes he is a character in this Seattle tale too!) was on death row, as a result of California had not yet repealed the death penalty…and apparently elsewhere in California at this time, Mr. Lester Bangs was coining the term “Grunge”. 


Mr. Lester Bangs himself (get it!?), stated in the April 1972 issue of Rolling Stone magazine that described a band named the Groundhogs as a “good run-of-the-racks heavy grunge”.  Mr. Lester Bangs used this term in at least two occasions, the other being, “What do they sound like? Great! Grunge noise and mystical studio abstractions.”


But where did this famed rock’n’roll journalist gain his understanding or use of the word “grunge”?  Was Mr. Lester Bangs himself, only utilizing a term he had read, using this term “Grunge” in a similar but new context to better describe the new sound of rock music? Perhaps it seems…as it appears another world renowned Rock journalist and former “Grunge” rock musician is also credited with coining the term “Grunge”, Everett True.  While perhaps known today as a rock journalist, Everett True was actually part of the “Grunge” rock scene, he recorded one album with infamous “Grunge” rock label, Sub Pop, also known as Nirvana’s music label. According to Everett True he actually got the term from Mr. Lester Bangs, “I am supposed to have used the term “Grunge” to describe music…Lester Bangs certainly used to use the word. I used the word myself in the ‘80s…you know “they got grungy guitars”.


So it appears that Everett True admits that he is often credited with the term “Grunge” relative to rock music, whilst also confirming that he obtained the term from Mr. Lester Bangs.  The attribute to Mr. Lester Bangs coining the term “Grunge”, seems to be the consensus of all of the original Seattle “Grunge” characters, on scene circa the early-80s at the origins of Seattle’s “Grunge” rock.  Take for example, legendary “Grunge” rock producer & apparent Sub Pop Records mastermind Jack Endino, “I saw it (grunge) in Lester Bangs record review in Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970s”.


Of course it was Jack Endino of Sub Pop Records that produced & promoted the “Grunge” rock band, Green River’s July 1987 album “Dry as a Bone”, as “ultra-loose GRUNGE that destroyed the morals of a generation."  The lead singer of Green River was none other than Mark Arm, who himself lays claim to coining the term “Grunge”.  Just prior to the onset of “Grunge”, Arm was playing in another band in Seattle’s then pre-“Grunge” underground music scene.  In apparent effort to promote his band, Mr. Epp & the Calculations, Arm wrote a local music review of his band from the perspective of an alleged fan, “I hate Mr. Epp and the Calculations! Pure grunge! Pure noise! Pure shit! Everyone I know loves them, I don’t know why...”


That is interesting to see both Arm and then later his legendary “Grunge” rock producer, both laying claim to coining the term “Grunge”.  Perhaps even more interesting, the nexus point of these two fella’s relationship and “Grunge” is located at the Green River band.  The Green River band is an early “Grunge” rock band, fronted by Mark Arm but included two future members of Pearl Jam, Stone Gossard & Jeff Ament. 


An early “Grunge” powerhouse, the “Grunge” rock band, Green River derives its name from the “Green River Killer” (or Killers!), a serial killer that haunted the Seattle “Grunge” scene (possibly) since its onset in the early 1980s.  The “Green River Killer” (GRK) was allegedly arrested back in 2001, when a man by the name of Gary Ridgway was arrested for a prostitute’s murder that occurred at the time of the “GRK” killings.  The subsequent events that followed the arrest of Gary Ridgway included a plea deal for over 40 murders of young females prostitutes and runaways.  Would you believe that there is very limited DNA or other physical evidence connecting Ridgway to the murders?  While Ridgway was a suspect for these murders early on, he was ruled as a suspect, and evidenced suggested that perhaps other suspects were involved.  In fact, according to at least one Seattle psychologist, he believes that the “GRK” may include more than one person, and that these “GRK” style killings continued well into the 1990s, counting as one of its victims the lead singer of a “Grunge” rock band! (stay tuned for that chapter...)


Seattle had its “serial killer”, the “Green River Killer”…and Laurel Canyon had its own “serial killer”, the Charlie Manson…the man behind the name game of the next individual in this tale who claims to have coined the term “Grunge”.


Marilyn Manson…part man/part band…while there is a fella who describes himself as Marilyn Manson, I feel like his band is often just referred to as Marilyn Manson, as well.  This is not a universal situation in the rock’n’roll biz, not even a lil bit Johnny…take for example, 70s rock icon Jethro Tull…would you believe there was no one named Jethro Tull in that band?? Rock band names can be deceiving, take another band, Steve Miller band does in fact include a fella by the name of Steve Miller.


Anyhow, Marilyn Manson…the man & the band…all followed a stage name game of “Pop icon” (first name) & “serial killer” (last name)…odd name game for a rock band.  An obvious reference to ol Charles Manson (an Operation GCD character of interest!) the notorious serial killer, who had physically killed no one, at least not according to the official legend of Charlie Manson & his "family".


You may be think’n that Marilyn Manson is not “Grunge”…I totally concur!  In fact, Marilyn Manson has had outright public feuds with “Grunge” icons Courtney Love & Billy Corgan.  So it seems a bit juxtaposed that ol Marilyn Manson claims to have coined the term “Grunge” relative to the Seattle rock scene…but Marilyn claims he wrote a review for Nirvana’s “Bleach” album coining the term.  Nirvana’s “Bleach” album was released in June of 1989, so chronologically speak’n I am gonna have to say, doubt it! Although even decades later, Marilyn apparently still references this event…still sticking to his claim, “I didn't say I invented the word. I said I coined it, in that I popularized it. I think I actually wrote "grungy."


Or perhaps it was none of these individuals.  Perhaps like many other words it is a word that has been tossed around so much over the years that it gets re-applied and provided a different context of understanding.  Take for example, the word “heavy” in the movie “Back to the Future”.  In that 1980s film masterpiece, those who are not familiar, the teen protaginast Marty McFly travels through time in a sports car from 1985 to 1955, while in 1955 he finds that his 1980s slang does not have the same meaning in 1955…in fact McFly’s friend Dr. Emmett Brown, the 1955 version, continues to be confused on McFly’s use of the word “heavy” in reference to the seriousness of a situation, while Doc Brown was only perceiving “heavy” in his 1955-lingo, you know in terms of actual weight.


In fact the term “Grunge” can be seen applied to rock’n’roll as early as the 1950s rockabilly artists, such as Johnny Burnette.  Perhaps since that early application of “Grunge” in regards to the early forms of rock’n’roll, simply evolved over the subsequent decades…ending in a description of 1980s/90s rock that was filled with disillusioned teenagers & flannel.


Is “Grunge” a fashion type thing??


Perhaps “Grunge” is a fashion type thing?  Although it certainly appears that “Grunge” fashion bears striking similarities to “Hippie” fashion of a couple/few decades earlier. In fact, now that I think about it, today’s “Hipsters” share a remarkably similar fashion sense to its’ counterculture predecessors, “Hippie” & “Grunge”.  In fact, I can recall a recent appearance of a Nirvana shirt being worn by what I can only describe as a “Hipster” circa 20 years of age.  You know the look I am referring to here…torn jeans, leather jacket, Nirvana t-shirt, and some Doc Martens…don’t act like you don’t see these folks out in public...it’s totally still a thing amongst the young go-hards of the new counterculture!


As far as “Grunge” fashion goes, the documentary film “Hype” places a unique spin on the fashion sense of the “Grunge” rocker.  It appears that the disheveled appearance, as well as the heavy industrial grade boots, coupled with the classic “Grunge” flannel look is simply a tribute to Seattle’s roots…the lumber and paper mill biz.  Is “Grunge” fashion merely a result of the lumber industry being so prevalent throughout the Pacific Northwest?  Perhaps…it is true that the folks who occupy that industry are often attributed with a disheveled appearance due to the grueling nature of their work, and the flannel shirt and industrial sized boots are most certainly the stereotypical uniform of the day in the lumber industry.


It is this ubiquity of the “Grunge” fashion items in Seattle thrift stores that the filmmakers & the folks interviewed in the “Grunge” documentary, “Hype”, which is attributed to the “Grunge” fashion.  Perhaps the filmmakers were right?  Perhaps it was the thrift store characteristics of the “Grunge” uniform that made it so popular amongst the Seattle counterculture that spread worldwide.  Before too long, the early-90s onslaught of “Grunge” onto the worldwide was so HUGE, flannel became so rampant amongst youth counterculture in all nations, it had officially left the realms of “counterculture” and was now into the “mainstream” of society.  This point is not ignored by the “Hype” filmmakers, as the film how the Seattle’s local “Grunge” scene discarded the classic flannel “Grunge” fashion; when $85 flannel shirts hit department store shelves, “Grunge” hit the high-fashion runways, and even the magazine Vanity Fair did a complete spread on “Grunge” fashion replete with Joan Rivers rock’n some flannel. If it weren’t dead yet, “Grunge” most certainly died that day!


If we take a moment to compare this trajectory of “Grunge” fashion to the life cycle of “Hippie” fashion, it seems that this is another pattern between the Laurel Canyon and Seattle scene.  I have heard Dave McGowan speak of in various interviews regarding his Laurel Canyon tale.  Where he references  the “Hippie” fashion style beginning as the preferred style of clothing for the 1960s counter-culture, and then points out how the “Hippie” fashion style later evolved into a commercially produced and socially accepted form of fashion amongst the “middle ‘Merica” consumer type folk.  You know your standard consumer of their local shopping malls.  This appears to be the exact trajectory that “Grunge” fashion took…first, the preferred look of the counterculture…followed by the “it” fashion style amongst mainstream culture. 


Folks of the Interwebs, it appears that the fashion elements between Laurel Canyon and Seattle is another point of interest in the pattern that Dave McGowan crafted in his Laurel Canyon tale.  As he stated himself in this clip of an interview conducted on his Laurel Canyon tale.

(Side note: On the subject of the cyclical nature of fashion styles…shopping malls are coming back! It has already started…everything is cyclical…it starts with these “one-stop” large scale retailers…be it your Targets or your Wally Worlds…these folks sell you consumer products…then they add a food court…maybe a barber shop…possibly a nail salon…then an auto mechanic…DAMN IT!...here we go again! next stop Mall-ville USA!...get Kevin Smith on the phone we are gonna need “Mallrats 2”!)


So the folks of the “Hippie” and “Grunge” movements, share similarities in their fashion sense and appearance.  Additionally, as we discovered above, the similarities between Dave McGowan’s Laurel Canyon tale and the “Grunge” rock scene, be it the name attribute throw back to Charles Manson, by way of Marilyn Manson (who once again claims to have coined the term “Grunge”).  Another comparison to McGowan’s Laurel Canyon tale, many of the already named “Grunge” rockers share similar origins from the Military/Intelligence world, just like the Laurel Canyon rock stars.   That’s right Folks of the Interwebs, REM’s manager’s father may not be the only “Secret Agent Man” in this Seattle “Grunge” saga (those who did not pick up on the reference, that is a song from the Laurel Canyon scene, circa 1966).


All right folks, we have established more direct similarities, a pattern, if you will, extracted from Dave McGowan’s Laurel Canyon tale.  But what if the connections between the two scenes, were not purely a comparison in the style and mode of operations? What if it were not just patterns between the two rock scenes? What if there was a more direct connection between the Laurel Canyon “Hippie” rock scene, and the Seattle “Grunge” rock scene?


Godfather of Grunge meets Godfather of LSD!


"Seattle was like a hub for us," - Jeff Pinkus - Butthole Surfers bassist from 1986 to 1994

"I remember someone mentioned to Paul that we were the 'Godfathers of Grunge'." - Butthole Surfers bassist Jeff Pinkus


Well Folks of the Interwebs…you’re in luck! But in order to effectively share that part of this here “Grunge” rock tale, we must follow the LSD induced journey back to Laurel Canyon.   To the man perhaps most known today for the drug LSD, or “acid”, albeit not the inventor, but most certainly LSD’s most ardent champion, one Dr. Timothy Leary.


One day circa….circa a couple decades back…Gibby Haynes, lead singer of “Butthole Surfers” met Timothy Leary, the Godfather of LSD . As legend has it, Dr. Leary invited Gibby Haynes to be a guest at his Laurel Canyon home, for the purposes of being a human guinea pig of drug experiments, “coke, heroin, Nyquil, Hungry Man dinners”…what no LSD?? Apparently Gibby Haynes did not make it too long into the MK-Leary project…once again as legend has it, “He kicked Gibby out of the house after he peed in the drawer of antique desk in Tim’s office when he was off his head.”


Ok. We have established a direct connection between the “Butthole Surfers” and the Godfather of LSD, Dr. Timothy Leary.  But what is the Texas band “Butthole Surfers” relationship with Seattle’s “Grunge” rock? To answer that question, lets circle back to the music and get down to business…that answer appears to lie amongst a sea of surf’n buttholes…


What’s that Johnny?? You mean to tell me that “Grunge” rock did not start in Seattle???


Well, it did & it didn’t…it appears.  For that answer does not reside in Seattle, nor Washington state as a hole! Not gonna lie to ya Johnny, that answer is not even found in the pacific northwest in general…it is found in an entirely different region altogether.  To locate the origins of “Grunge” rock, or at least to locate a man considered a “Godfather” of “Grunge” rock, one must “mosey” on down to the state of Texas!  


Butthole Surfers – “Godfathers of Grunge” – from Texas to Seattle –


"We stayed a lot in Seattle when the first Alternative Tentacles record came out and we were trying to tour in late 1983," – Butthole Surfers drummer


It is in the great state of Texas, where this “Godfather of Grunge” hails…one Gibby Haynes, the enigmatic lead singer of the “Butthole Surfers”, the child of Jerry Haynes, a local TV celebrity of Dallas, Texas. 


Jerry Haynes had a long running kid show where he paraded around stage in a red and white striped suit.  In fact, Jerry was wearing this silly suit, whilst filming his show on a legendary date in Dallas history, 11/22/1963.  It was ol Jerry here that, apparently was present that fateful day, when the shots rang out it was Jerry who collected eye-witnesses and brought them back to the TV studio for broadcast. 


Of course Gibby Haynes did in fact follow in his father’s footsteps into the world of entertainment, but that certainly was not the life trajectory a young Gibby initially set forth upon in his life.  Gibby left Dallas to attend a private liberal arts college in San Antonio, TX, one Trinity University; where Gibby was President of his fraternity, captain of the basketball team, and studied accounting…even once named “Accounting Student of the Year.” 


Seems like an odd trajectory for lead singer Gibby Haynes? Perhaps…but seems striking similar to Laurel Canyon characters Warren Beatty or even John Phillips…with the background painted by Dave McGowan in his Laurel Canyon tale…it seems that ol Gibby and Warren would likely enjoy each other’s company on the Squash court (note: Sqaush is the yuppiest “sport” that came to my mind)….


The “Butthole Surfers” gained commercial success on the backs of Nirvana/Grunge mainstream explosion, so while not commonly considered “Grunge”…the B-hole Surfers certainly surfed those waves of buttholes right into commercial “Grunge” rock success!  In many regards the Surfers were “Grunge”, as many folks claim the Surfers were integral into the existence of "Grunge".  


This places the entire saga between lead singer Gibby Haynes, of the Butthole Surfers, the “Godfathers of Grunge”…living with the “Godfather of LSD”, Dr. Timothy Leary…into a crossroads of high strangeness surrounding the Laurel Canyon scene of Dave McGowan’s tale…and the Seattle “Grunge” scene, as explored in this tale. To be continued…