This One Time John Roderick Drove Me All Over Seattle and Told Me Everything He Knows About the City

Source: 
The Stranger
Author: 
Megan Seling
Publication date: 
July 8, 2010

This One Time John Roderick Drove Me All Over Seattle and Told Me Everything He Knows About the City

John Roderick is not just the lead singer of the Long Winters, he is also a historian. Not officially, I suppose, but if you ask the man to tell you everything he knows about Seattle and its rich history, he can spend literally hours rattling off facts, stories, and hilarious sound bites. "I enjoy collecting esoteric knowledge about things," he says. "And sharing it."

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to learn this first-hand as I tagged along with Roderick and a nice woman named Pat, a Long Winters fan who purchased a John Roderick-hosted tour of Seattle via Strangercrombie. For over three hours we cruised the city's streets in a fancy ZipCar (thanks, ZipCar!) and saw all the legendary (and not-so-legendary) landmarks that dotted Seattle's history and Roderick's own musical past. Here is a not-very-brief-at-all summary of our trip.

"My kids are gonna be so bored—their whole life is gonna be like this."

Our tour started on Capitol Hill, where we grabbed coffee at Petti Rosso, a small cafe that just so happens to sit next door to the very first practice space the Long Winters ever had (see the photo to the right). Back in the day it was called the Chop House, and the Long Winters shared that space with the Presidents of the United States of America and Visqueen. The Presidents would often fuck with the Long Winters, Roderick told us, before giving us a few examples of their fuckery. (Sadly, I can't recall those stories now—I did not take notes during that part because I was drinking my coffee.)
We went further back in Roderick's musical history when we traveled a few blocks north to the small, brown shed behind the Hugo House. That was where the Western State Hurricanes (the semi-successful band Roderick was in prior to the Long Winters), first practiced in the late ’90s. The WSH shared the space with Kinski, and they built the brick wall that still stands there today. "I was the king of that crazy little brown hole," he said with a chuckle.

As we traveled down 15th, Roderick told us about his family, who immigrated here from Kentucky in the late 1800s. They had a small farm in Madrona. His great-great-grandfather was a confederate soldier in the civil war; his great-grandfather was a judge. When we got to 10th, as he avoided hitting a clumsy cyclist ("I want to give him a wide birth, but he's bungling this whole operation!") he told stories about mansions being sold for $1 in the ’60s so long as the new owners were willing to move their newly purchased house out of the way of the I-5 on-ramp that currently exists. He told us about the Black River, which no longer exists in Seattle because it dried up after city planners tried to connect Lake Washington to the ocean decades ago.

"Seattle has always aspired to be a bigger city that in is," he continued. "It's made a lot of decisions—some great, some questionable."

As we drove through the University District, past the old Paradox space (now the University Theater), where the Western State Hurricanes played their first show, we talked about how far the city has come as far as all-ages music is concerned (really far). We drove down towards the waterfront, heading into Ballard, and passed Dale Chihuly's glass factory. "Dale Chihuly would be much more interesting to me if I didn't think his work was craft," he plainly stated. "It's very nice craft... a stretch to call it art." He called a boatload of people in a Ride the Ducks vehicle a bunch of "suckers" and then pointed out Litho Studios, which is owned by Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard and it is where the Long Winters recorded their record Putting the Days to Bed.

Then we ended up in Ballard, in the area right where Fremont and Ballard intersect on Leary. "This little humble little shithole," he said, pointing to a light brown triangular shaped building (see photo to the left), "was originally called Reciprocal studio."
It was where Nirvana made Bleach. Mudhoney recorded there, as did Sleater-Kinney, Harvey Danger, Built to Spill, Death Cab for Cutie, Western State Hurricanes, the Fleet Foxes, and several others... "I can't think of another studio that has had more an effect on local music," he said.

We headed out of Ballard and went downtown. He pointed out the venue "where they source all the female dancers for the entire West Coast" (he's told, anyway), and we made several jokes about the Viaduct. As we sat, parked right between the water and the doomed overpass, Roderick laughed—"We're sitting on compacted rubble and mud and junk that is, dare I say, poorly constructed. When the big one comes, it's all going to liquefy."

When the Strangercrombie passenger Pat and I joked about the big one hitting this very moment, he laughed. "I'm a pretty good emergency driver. Behind us will be chaos and we'll just be like 'Whooooo!' Swerve! Crash! Bang! Boom!"

We drove past the place where Roderick first saw Star Wars ("It's now a parking lot."), and we saw one of his old roommates (Roderick called him Spike), and while we circled through Belltown and Downtown, we talked at lengths about grunge music. Of course. It is Seattle, after all.

"A lot of those bands wanted to make art, but there was no connection between making art and getting some place," he said. "You either made art or you got some place."

I would go on, but really, there was HOURS of information and retelling it to you now, in my own words, can no way express what it was like to hear it told by one of Seattle's most personable, entertaining storytellers who just so happens to also be the frontman of a pretty great band. I will leave that task to Roderick, and with any luck, he will donate such a fun, hilarious (and educational!) prize to Strangercrombie again in the future.

Here's a clip of Roderick narrating while cruising through downtown Seattle—he points out the old Sub Pop building, the old Vogue space ("where Soundgarden famously played all their biggest rock shows"), and gives his opinion on grunge music in the 90s ("most of it was not very good"):

Thanks so much to John Roderick, Barsuk Records, Zipcar, and Strangercombie winner Pat for making the magical afternoon happen.

Tonight is the kick-off of John Roderick's summer residency at the Triple Door. The Maldives and Karen Korn are also on the bill. Tickets are $20 and the show starts at 8 pm. Roderick will also play the Triple Door again on Saturday, August 14 and Thursday, September 30th. All shows are all ages—tickets are available here.