I Know the Secret of the River That’s Right Baby, the Green River

I was getting ready to go out when I picked up the phone, and Erik Meade was on the line.

“Forget whatever you have planned tonight and come down to the Chatterbox.  I just sound checked the most amazing band and you need to see them.”

“Oh I can’t,” I replied. “I’m on the guest list for Sister Double Happiness at the Kennel Club.” To me, the guest list was sacred. If someone put you on the list, you went. Flaking would be an insult to the person who did you the favor.

While he was a fellow musician, Erik was unmoved. He insisted. Under no circumstances was I to miss this band.  He said he’d put me on the guest list. He even said he’d pay for me to take a cab from the Kennel Club to the Chatterbox. That was serious. The only reason we took a cab in those days was to go to the hospital, and man, you better be bleeding.

Usually I jetted around town on my motorcycle, with my superhero partner Jessie on the back. (our code names were Spazmo (me) and Egghead (Jess, because she wore the shiny silver bell helmet.)) But that night I think we were going to the show with Cindy and Amy, so we planned to bus together to the Kennel Club. I explained the desperate situation to Jess. We struggled with the cab idea, but justified the expense by the fact that we were on the guest list to both shows.  After Sister Double’s great set, we jumped in a cab headed for the Mission, a bit like rock stars being chauffeured to a gig.

Erik approached us as we arrived with a big grin. “The band is just about to start and it’s gonna be great.”  “What’s their name again?” I asked.

“Green River.”

green river 003

Erik did not disappoint.  It was the best live show I’d seen at the Chatterbox. Probably the best live show I’d seen besides the Butthole Surfers at the IBeam and SPK at the Russian Center.

After the show, bass player Jeff Ament was swilling from a bottle of red wine.  Club owner Alfie told him he couldn’t bring his own wine into the club.  He got a little huffy, but I jumped in and said “Hey I’ll buy you a glass of wine”.  I told him that Alfie was super cool, but she had to protect the club- she’d been harassed by the ABC. He relaxed. They were a bit broke from being on tour and couldn’t afford booze.  I didn’t want him to think I was a groupie, so I told him I was a bass player in a band too, and was having a hard time getting a gig in Seattle. He suggested I contact the Vogue- they booked punk bands on Tuesday and Weds nights. I set my sights on getting a gig there, I probably even dropped his name to get a gig.

green river flyer

He gave me their second record, which I nearly wore out on the turn table.  I wanted the first but couldn’t find it, so I wrote to him and he sent me one, and a shirt, for a small amount of money.

green river postcard

I told him I had booked a gig at the Vogue and invited him. He showed up at the sound check and watched it. He had band practice later, so couldn’t stay, but it was cool he showed up to say hi and see a bit of the band.  At the start of the gig, Greg raised his arms and yelled “Hello Seattle!!’ and his guitar promptly fell off the strap and crashed to the floor, completing a perfect Greg Foot move.

sdg flyers 001

After we got back from tour, I heard through the grapevine that Green River broke up. Singer Mark Arm started a new band called Mudhoney, which retained a lot of the Green River sound, while the rest of the band found a new singer and forged Mother Love Bone. My first thought was “what a stupid name” but Tom disagreed.  “It’s good” he said. “It has some vague sexual overtones, but it really doesn’t mean anything- like a blank canvas. You can fill it in yourself.”  Damn that Tom, he was usually right. A Seattle friend of mine who had seen both bands said everyone liked Mudhoney, and no one like Mother Love Bone- that they were sellouts. I don’t know really how you could be a sellout when there really was no money to be had back then, but there ya go.

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Around that time I met Mike Watson who had recently relocated to San Francisco from Seattle. When he saw all the Green River and Mother Love Bone posters in the house, he groaned and said, “it’s like I never left Seattle.” I had even made friends with Michael Larson, who had been Green River’s manager, and had also relocated to San Francisco. I overheard him introduce himself to someone at the Chatterbox and I butted in.

“Michael Larson? THE Michael Larson??  The manager of Green River??????”

“Well, “ he said, “former manager.”

I asked him to manage my band, but he said he was too busy with work. He worked at Lockheed or something, all very top secret, no discussion allowed. Often he would go out of town and couldn’t say when or where. It made it hard to maintain a friendship, and we eventually lost touch.

green river promo photo

Mike knew Stone Gossard, guitar player of Mother Love Bone, from his Seattle bar days. We went to see them play at The Stone, the local metal and hair metal club in S.F.  I had only been in the a few times- to see a Meat Puppets/Minutemen/Husker Du show (can you believe that lineup??) and a GangGreen show.  Tom promptly got kicked out for some kind of illicit activity in the bathroom. He was in a stall and a guy actually leaped over the door and dragged him out. I was unaware- we were down in front of the stage, and when Mother Love Bone came out Mike yelled “STONEY GOSSARD IS A WOMAN!!! STONEY GOSSARD IS A WOMAN!!!”. Stone turned and looked at him, smiled and say “Hi Watson.” I guess it was some Seattle inside joke.

Mother Love Bone was no Green River, but they did rock live, in an Aerosmith-before-the-drugs kind of way  We went to see Mudhoney later, and while I thought they were ok, they didn’t bring the rock like MLB did.

Tom went up to Seattle to hang out with a straight edge preacher’s daughter, you know, as only Tom could do. They’d  met in Spokane when we played there and had stayed in touch. While he was there, he met Stone and Jeff.  I think the preacher’s daughter had dated Kurt Cobain for a few minutes. I visited her a bit later, and she was seeing the singer for Blind Melon. I guess her straight edge magic didn’t work on them.

Andrew Wood died and MLB, understandably dissolved. The remaining guys looked around for a new singer, and Tom tossed his hat into the ring. It seemed like a good match and I think there was some interest. Before Tom got a chance to audition, they found a guy from San Diego who cinched the deal. They called Tom to tell him and invited him to a gig at the IBeam, name still undecided. They played under the name Mookie Blaylock. I told Jeff that Mookie was my dad’s nickname for me. He said Blaylock was a basketball player. To myself I thought “what is it with you guys and the lame band names?” Then they changed their name to Pearl Jam, which to this day makes me think of Miss Pearl’s Jam House, a Caribbean restaurant that was popular in the 80’s in S.F.

PJ got signed and put out a decent record.  Nirvana’s second record came out about the same time-no comparison to Bleach- another record just about worn out on the turntable. Pearl Jam, Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were playing the Cow Palace on New Years, and I bought tickets before it sold out. On the day of New Years Eve, my friend and workmate Becca told me she had backstage passes to the show, and did I want them? Um, do you even have to ask? Her good friend was a Chili Peppers roadie, and he sent the passes to her so she could hang out with him. The Cow Palace on NYE was a lot of effort, and since I was already going, why not give the passes to me. (Two interesting facts about Becca: she was interviewed in Social Distortion’s movie Another State of Mind, and she’s currently working on her Ph.D. Btw, thanks again for the passes Becca.)

cow palace poster

Tom and I checked in with  a guy who worked at the Cow Palace. He said the crew passes would get us into the show and backstage, no tickets needed. We sold our tickets at the gate for $100. I think I had paid $40 for the pair. We went in and went searching for the backstage. The Cow Palace is huge, so we were wandering around for like an hour and couldn’t find the janitor, much less drugs, booze, groupies and drunk musicians. Finally Tom had a good idea to wait near the stage, so we could see where the band emerged from. He held the pass in front of my face and said, jokingly, “This is the license to be an asshole. Let’s just see how much power this puppy has.”

backstage pass cow palace

He stormed up the ramp to the stage, and shoved the pass in the stagehand’s face, who, bored, waved him by. I timidly followed. And there we were, staring out at a sea of swaying fans…so many people!! A minute later, Pearl Jam walked on the stage and plugged in. Tom and I looked at each other and then back at the sea of faces. “I guess we can stay,” he whispered. I nodded. They played a great 30 min set. We stood off to the side with just a couple of techs and stage hands. After they were done, we followed them, and finally found the backstage area.

There was a bar and lots of people milling about, a few local SF musicians. We found Erik Sandin, drummer for NOFX, and his girlfriend.  They were visiting from L.A. and needed a place to stay.We need a ride home, and worked out a deal. We found Pearl Jam at the bar. The first thing Jeff says to me is “Carmela…why did you dye your hair gray?”  My attempt to spruce up for New Years resulted in my usual botched home hair care. We chatted for a while about how life was changing, and then Tom said we should go back to the stage to see Nirvana. This time the stage hand wouldn’t let us up-“Sorry, too many people already” It was packed.. We went out to the front to the guest seating area. Nirvana played what I thought was a lackluster set, spending most of their set time trashing guitars, amps and drums. I figured Kurt had lost his voice and was just trying to kill set time so they’d still get paid. After they were done we went back to get a closer look. As we were walking to the bar room, Kurt Cobain walked right by us, guitar in hand and Courtney Love in tow.  We vaguely knew Courtney because she had played in a band for a minute with my friend Janis, and Tom’s ex Kat Bjelland, and she did not have a good reputation. Tom and I looked at each other, shocked.  Tom said, “That’s the end of Kurt Cobain.” And he was proved right, because Cobain killed himself 2 years and 4 months later.

newsweek cobain

The rest of the night was a bit of a comedown. Tired of the backstage, we secured a good spot for the Chili Peppers.  The Chili Peppers were at the height of Blood Sugar Sex Majick, but Nirvana had passed them in the charts, Pearl Jam were close behind. RHCP seemed a bit passé already. Halfway through the set, I had to pee. As I was washing my hands I heard Anthony Kiedis start chanting, “Ten, Nine, Eight….” I booked out of there, ran up the stairs two at time and leaped into my seat for “Happy New Year!!!” We found Erik and headed home. We’d only spent $2 for bus fare, made $80, drank free beer, and got a ride home. It was a pretty good start to 1992.

I think that was the last time I saw Jeff or Pearl Jam.  I might have seen them at the Shoreline later that year, but all I can remember from that gig is Soundgarden.  They played with Neil Young in Golden Gate Park in 1995 and people were pretty upset that they cut their set short. It made the papers, and my mom called me and said “What’s up with your friends in Pearl Jam?” which was pretty hilarious because I have no idea my mom knew who Pearl Jam was, much less that I might have some connection with them.

In 2008 my friend Shannon thought it would be a good idea to go to Seattle for the SubPop 20th Anniversary show and see Green River reunite. I was very excited about this, and we bought plane tickets and tickets to the concert.  I didn’t know who most of the bands were- I didn’t even know that Sub Pop had continued to put out records that long. There were two stages- one small and one large. Most of the bands we knew, like The Fluid, played on the small stage.

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Green River played the big stage. The set was okay, but my memory of that Chatterbox show would overshadow even the most rockiness of sets. Mudhoney closed the show on the small stage, and I remember feeling like a kid again watching them, reminiscent of the time when the future was wide open, when you still had the freedom and potential to become anything you truly wanted to be.

Shannon and I went to visit my friend Mike Watson, the man who way back when had accused Stone Gossard of being female. He had moved back to Seattle many years before.  For a while after the visit, Shannon got it in her head that we should get back together, but I dismissed her as being silly-  we were just friends now. But I guess Shannon sensed something that I could not, because in 2012, Mike Watson and I got married.  By doing something right, I had proved myself wrong.  Thanks Green River. And thank you, Erik Meade.

mike and I with ukes

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Closer To The Stars: Soul Asylum

clam dip

When I was in Short Dogs Grow, the band I most aspired to be like was Soul Asylum. They were signed to Twin Tone – the label that brought you Husker Du and the Replacements, they didn’t have day jobs, and they rocked ripped jeans and flannels shirts 15 years before Nirvana hit the scene.  In other words, they were cool. While I think Short Dogs had better songwriting, Soul Asylum toured relentlessly and had a brutal live show.

soul asylum press photo

We opened their Bay Area debut at the VIS Lounge in San Francisco- a club that likely had its heyday in the Fillmore blues scene. As most clubs that hit hard times, it started doing punk rock shows.  They remodeled later, and it became the Kennel Club, now it’s called the Independent. The next night we played with them at New Method Warehouse, Greg Foot’s vegan co-op,located in Emeryville, a “nuclear free zone.” New Method didn’t have a cabaret license, so they hung a banner above the entrance that read “Happy Birthday Bob!”  and sold beer out of a little side room that had a sliding glass window, like a speakeasy. The neighborhood was so dangerous that it was unsafe to walk alone across the street to Jugs Liquor to buy alcohol. There was always some punk hanging around who was happy to escort you. (my favorite was Todd from Christ on Parade.) Today Emeryville is home to Novartis, Pixar and Jamba Juice, Inc.and people drive there just to eat meatballs at Ikea.

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At sound check, Grant Young, Soul Asylum’s drummer, and I chatted on the sofa. He said everyone in Minneapolis was named Karl or David.  We exchanged addresses and he sent me an original cartoon drawing of a googily eyed guy who demanded “more beer!”

soul asylum murray bowles

The next year, Tom was hanging out of his window on Pierce Street and spied them walking down the street.  Guest listed, Tom called me to go, but I think I was under 21 and didn’t have a fake ID. Tom went, (he had Foot’s ID) and said they were great. There were only a few people there, but they were important: Jello Biafra, Ruth Schwartz, Tim Yohannan.  We saw them later that year at the Mabuhay Gardens. At the end of the set, Dave left a guitar onstage and wandered off. Erik Meade picked it up and jammed with Dan. A photo was taken, fueling the rumor that Erik had joined Soul Asylum.  Actually, he would have been a great fit.

erik meade with sa

Then they played some shows at the Berkeley Square.  At one, the bouncer grabbed Helga by the hair, threw her down on the ground, and started dragging her out of the club. Jessie jumped in to stop him and another bouncer started dragging her out too. I jumped on Bouncer #2’s back, and wound up tearing his shirt off. They had wanted to see Helga’s ID.  When she couldn’t produce it, they bouncer immediately resorted to violence, which made sense as Helga was a 5’2”, 100 lbs, vegan.  Bouncer #2 turned out to be Hector, the booker of Berkeley Square, and later the drummer of Buck Naked and the Bare Bottom Boys,. We had an awkward conversation about the incident when he called me a few months later to book us with Mr. T Experience.

“You ruined my shirt!”

“You hurt my friend!!!”

“You suck!”

“You suck more!!!”

“Wanna play a show with Mr. T?”

“Ok.”

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One of the happiest moments of my booking life was scoring the opening slot for Soul Asylum at the IBeam.  They only did shows on Monday nights at that time. All that stood between Short Dogs Grow opening for Soul Asylum was the band Bomb. I spend days trying to convince the booker that SDG and SA could fill the club. Finally she dropped them, ha ha.

sgd 001

Our first gig in Minneapolis was at the 7th St. Entry, the small club next door to First Avenue- the club featured in Prince’s 1984 movie Purple Rain. When we arrived, Tom called and demanded that Dave Pirner come to the show. Dave tried to beg off. He’d just gotten home from tour; he hadn’t seen his girlfriend in 6 months; he’d been drinking all day. Tom wouldn’t take no for an answer; Dave showed up. Grant snuck me into First Avenue. We drank a beer in Prince’s booth and climbed into the rafters. Grant showed me his secret rafter spot where he would sit and watch Prince’s band play. I didn’t understand Prince’s genius at the time, but these guys grew up with him. At the end of the night everyone crowded into 7th St.’s backstage, and the club manager was yelling, “Everyone out! I don’t even care if you are in Soul Asylum, you have to go home NOW!!!!”

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The next time in Minneapolis, we all went  to see mutual friends Electric Love Muffin. It was my birthday and Dave gave me a birthday kiss on the cheek. I immediately ran to the nearest pay phone and called Jessie. When I got home, the only thing my female friends asked about the tour was “What was it like to be kissed by Dave Pirner?”

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All of a sudden they were playing the Warfield. We went backstage, and Dave was distracted- trying to see if he could get a keyboard to play We 3. Short Dogs was getting dropped by our label, and they were playing the Warfield. It was a rough time.

The next year Short Dogs was basically over, and I went to see Soul Asylum by myself at Slim’s.  A friend asked me if I would go talk to them. I said, honestly, “I don’t think they would remember me.” Immediately after that Dan walked up to me and said “Hi Carmela! Wanna have a beer?” My friend just laughed as Dan led me off. Dave demanded to see Tom, but he wasn’t coming, so Dave dragged me to the phone booth in the basement. Tom answered, and I said “Uh…there’s someone here who wants to speak to you.” As I handed the phone to Dave, he transformed from an aggressive madman, to a man speaking gently, as to a child. He asked how Tom was doing, told him he’d put him on the guest list, would leave cab money at the door if he needed it. But Tom declined. Dave had career highs and lows; he understood where we were coming from. After the gig we went across the street to the Paradise. Some of the local rocker girls followed us and, surprise! They actually wanted to hang out with me….and Dave. The girls were begging me to bring him to their house “to party”, the first time they’d ever invited me. Selfishly I asked Dave if he wanted to go- knowing he had a gig the next day, but drunk enough to be manipulated. He said yes, and I told the girls we would be there in 20 mins. As he was struggling to pull my helmet over his dreadlocks, a van pulled up- full of his pissed-off band mates. They had a gig the next day in L.A.; they were leaving NOW; you better get in the van NOW!!! When I got home, the phone was ringing.  The rocker girls wanted to know where we were. Or more likely, WHERE WAS DAVE? I told them the story, but don’t think they believed me. They had probably drawn straws to see who was going to sleep with Dave, and there I was, messing up their plan, keeping Dave to myself.

I didn’t see them play again in the 90’s- they released Grave Dancer’s Union in 1992 and were on MTV.  I wasn’t into the album- it lacked edge.  In 1993, however, I got an interesting phone call.

“Is Tom home?”

“There’s no one here by that name.”

“Tom. Tom Pitts.”

“Oh….” I was evasive, maybe Tom owed someone money. “You can give me your number, and I’ll give it to him.”

“Carmela? This is Dave.  Dave Pirner.”

WTF?

He told me that he was in Amsterdam, on tour, in a hotel and had insomnia. He said he always felt better if he talked to a friend before he went to sleep. We chatted for about an hour. They were opening for Guns N Roses, my current favorite (they had an edge.) I thought playing in Europe, staying in a nice hotel (there was a phone!!!!!), having a hit on MTV, and opening Guns N Roses would be the highlight of my life. He hated all of it. He said he was grateful that they were having success, that he had a room to himself, and that he could call the States (SUPER EXPENSIVE  back then) But he didn’t like playing stadiums- (you can’t see the fans), didn’t like the new label (they went from big fish/small pond to small fish/ocean),and he didn’t like Guns N Roses- (they made fans wait hours for them to come onstage, which he found very unprofessional. Prince would never do that.) He had tinnitus from years of loud music. He sounded terribly lonely. It was a tough transition from the van to the tour bus. As we wrapped up the conversation, he sleepily told me he had two regrets in life. He said  “the first on was agreeing to open for Guns N Roses, and the second is that I didn’t go to that party with you. I should have jumped on the back of your bike instead of getting in the van with the guys.” I laughed and said that he was probably the only person in the world who would lump me together with Axl Rose.

Grant left the band in 1995. They released two more albums in the 90’s. Sadly, Karl, the bass player, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2005 and died in 2006. Tommy Stinson took over bass until just recently because he now plays with…you guessed it…Guns N Roses!!!!!

tommy and axl

Soul Asylum played recently at the Independent.  I bought tickets right away, thinking OMG…..it’s gonna sell out. Scarlett, the drummer in my band, works at the club and put me and Mike on the guest list, so Tom and Cheryl joined us. About halfway through the set I went to use the restroom. As I was peeing, someone on stage mentioned Short Dogs Grow. Scarlett ran into the bathroom and said “Hey Carmela, they just gave you a shout out!” Sigh.  When I got back to our seats, Tom said “Good old Dan- he always liked Short Dogs.” Scarlett got us backstage and immediately we were accosted by their tour manager, an angry, skinny woman, demanding to know who let us back there.  There was no one backstage, no one trying to get backstage, (the attendance at the club was minimal – maybe about 100 people?) and no mob of angry fans. I told her that we were just old friends wanting to say a quick hello. Very uncomfortable.  The door opened and Dave waved me in. He said they’d been talking about us that morning as they crossed the bridge. I told him we met in this location together 25 years ago. Dan, looking pretty tired, smiled and asked if I heard the mention. Tom said a quick hello and then we made our escape. It was all very tense back there. Scarlett told me later that she thought the tour manager and Dave were an item, and that she was trying to keep all women out of the backstage.  Girls are still trying to get him “to party” and miss his ride, I guess. 

My only regret from that time is not being happy for my friends’ successes. I wish that instead of being disappointed in having to work for a living, I celebrated my friends’ victories in the music world.  Being a rock star certainly has it drawbacks- Pirner lost the bulk of his hearing, Kurt Cobain committed suicide, and Tommy Stinson has to deal with Axl Rose. But San Francisco had an insulated, small, special music scene .I wish I had been more respectful and supportive at that time.

soul asylum chills