Music History Done Right: Peter Blecha and Sonic Boom

Any second-rate hack can mash a group of facts together into a book. Fortunately, Peter Blecha is no such hack, and Sonic Boom is no such book.

Blecha’s Sonic Boom: The History of Northwest Rock, from “Louis Louie” to “Smells Like Teen Spirit daisy-chains the stories together into one cohesive narrative. From Richard Berry to grunge, Blecha shows how each artist and each artist’s era flowed into the next, borrowed from the past, and built something brand new.

I read music history books on the regular. Glancing over to my bookshelf right now I see Waging Heavy Peace (Neil Young), Songs in the Key of Z, Bruce (Springsteen), and Testimony (Robbie Robertson)…among others.

As someone with such an absurd number of music books, I can say that Blecha’s Sonic Boom is one of my very favorites, and not just because I live in the Northwest, nor because I came of age in the grunge era. It’s just a damn good book.

After reading Sonic Boom, I realized that Nirvana and grunge didn’t erupt out of a vacuum. The Northwest music scene has always been categorized by a gritty individualism. It’s got a garage-rock heart, and it’s always had a garage-rock heart.

Aberdeen, Washington: Not the Lying-Down Kind

Now, when I listen to Louie Louie, I hear its premonitions of Smells Like Teen Spirit, and when I listen to Smells Like Teen Spirit, I hear the ghost-strings of Louie Louie. As a lover of history, that is the thing that I most appreciate about Blecha’s work.

In examining the Northwest musical currents, Blecha reveals the heart of the whole region. It’s this glowering, laughing thing in wet overalls covered in wood chips. It’s got a brilliant smile full of missing teeth. It’s carved out of granite and fog and sewn together with train rails.

You can’t get what the book’s got to give simply by looking up the individual parts on Wikipedia. I sound like a car salesman but I don’t know Blecha and this isn’t content marketing. It’s just how I feel.

Blecha’s a real writer in an age of hacks (this includes me). Read his book. It’s a good one.

Northwest Nuggets: Nirvana Becomes Nirvana at the Tacoma Community World Theater

On March 19, 1988, Nirvana played under the name Nirvana for the very first time. This historic moment didn’t happen in Seattle, nor even in Aberdeen—it went down at the Community World Theater in Tacoma.

Before going by their new name, Nirvana went by Ted Ed Fred, Skid Row, Pen Cap Chew, and Bliss (which is intriguingly similar to the term “nirvana”). You can see all these names listed on the poster promoting the event.

Thankfully, the Community World Theater event was recorded—a feat that wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous in 1988 as it is today. You can hear the whole show on the Youtube video below.

For a whopping five dollars, people were given the privilege of participating in music history—even if they didn’t realize it at the time. Who could have known that grunge was about to explode out of the then-remote Pacific Northwest?

The Community World Theater recording has the best “Big Cheese” version I’ve ever heard—EVER. In these pre-Grohl days, the band sounded fantastic. It may be my imagination, but in some ways they sound tighter in this early show than they did after they went Big Time.

The band they opened for was named Lush (if anyone out there has more info on this band, I would LOVE to hear it). There were also other “special guests to be announced.”

The Community World Theater was located at 5441 South “M” Street, from 1987 to 1988. I’m working on finding people who were there. If any of you happen upon this blog, please do contact me.

I’ve found good coverage of the Community World Theater at Nirvana Legacy. The best resource I know of, though, is at Mike Ziegler’s site.

I’m a freelance music journalist, and I would be sincerely grateful and interested to talk to anyone who was at this particular show or even just the Community World Theater in general. So, if you, dear reader, happen to be such a person, please do let me know.

Thanks, friends. Keep Northwesting.

Nomad