Bruce Pavitt’s latest book, “Sub Pop USA: The Subterranean Pop Music Anthology, 1980-1988,” collects his writings about the independent music scene of the 1980s (focusing on the music coming out of the Pacific Northwest in particular). And a number of music industry veterans of the era braved freezing temperatures to crowd into Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery for the book’s release party last night.
Pavitt was naturally on hand, still sporting his VIP wristband from Friday night’s Foo Fighters’ gig at the Showbox. Calvin Johnson, co-founder of Olympia-based label K Records, was there spinning records. “Seattle Times” contributor Charles Cross, former editor of the now defunct Seattle music paper “The Rocket,” was also in attendance.
Both Johnson and Cross are featured in “Sub Pop USA” as well. The book republishes the nine fanzines Pavitt from 1980 to 1983, initially under the name “Subterranean Pop,” later shortened to “Sub Pop.” Johnson contributed to the fanzine, and wrote an essay for the new book. Pavitt later wrote a regular column for “The Rocket” under the name “Sub Pop”; now Cross has also written an essay for Pavitt’s book.
The free beer from the Elysian Brewing Company (their special “Loser” beer, named after a t-shirt with the word released by Sub Pop Records) helped keep the party lively. As Johnson spun discs by post punk NW acts like the Beakers and the Blackouts, one could spot the Beakers’ George Romansic and the Blackouts’ Bill Rieflin chatting to each other (the always busy Rieflin, most recently playing with King Crimson, revealed he’s planning a new musical project with British singer Toyah Wilcox). You could read entries in the book about Mr. Epp and the Calculations or the U-Men, then look up to find either Jo Smitty from Mr. Epp or Tom Price of the U-Men standing next to you. The sharp-eyed could also spot noted photographer Alice Wheeler (who’s preparing to release a book of her own), world music aficionado and DJ Jon Kertzer, Green Monkey Records’ founder Tom Dyer, and Pavitt’s co-founding partner at Sub Pop Records, Jon Poneman.
Pavitt made a few remarks, acknowledging the party’s host, Fantagraphics curator Larry Reid, as the first person he met in Seattle (Reid also contributed an essay to the book). He also gave a shout out to John Foster, music librarian and DJ at Evergreen State College radio station KAOS, where Pavitt and Johnson also served as DJs, crediting him with encouraging Pavitt’s own interest in alternative music. Johnson then performed a short set on acoustic guitar, singing in his trademark baritone, closing with a tongue-in-cheek ode to Olympia.
“Sub Pop USA” is an invaluable resource, tracing the rise of the alternative rock scene that would explode into the mainstream in the 1990s. As Pavitt writes in the book’s introduction, “I hope this compilation of writing about independent recordings serves as a unique anthropological guide for those of you who are intrigued by the ancient, pre-Internet, pre-‘Nevermind’ era of the 1980s.”
Future “Sub Pop USA” events in the NW will be held at Portland’s Reading Frenzy bookstore, Portland, Oregon, on December 6, 7 p.m., and the Olympia Timberland Library, Olympia, Washington, on December 18, 7:30 pm.