Territorial Pissings: Seven Weirdest Moments In Grunge
From "grunge speak" to $300 flannel shirts to Tad Doyle's diarrhea—Seattle's early-Nineties music scene was defined by bizarre behavior and, often, bodily fluids. Here are seven of its weirdest moments.
If you were living in Seattle in the early Nineties, during what was the height of grunge mania, it seemed at times like rock and roll legends-in-the-making were on every street corner. There, walking down the side of the street, was none other than Kurt Cobain, looking disheveled and wearing his hunter’s cap with the side flaps. There, behind you in line at the liquor store, was the bass player from Mudhoney buying Maker’s Mark. There, at the Home Show looking at new bathroom fixtures, was Chris Cornell holding up a faucet. There, in the back of a bar raising a ruckus with the bartender, was the indelible, one-of-a-kind Courtney Love.
I saw all that, and more. As the editor of Seattle’s music magazine the Rocket during that era, I watched how bands I’d seen in dive bars suddenly became Lollapalooza headliners. I watched as out-of-town journalists by the plane-load flew in to try to capture the town after a two-day jaunt. I watched many moments of madness and had many of my own, like the time Larry King called me to ask, “What’s the deal with this grunge stuff? What are these kids so angry about?” There were many moments during the grunge years that were exciting and unprecedented and even made locals proud. In 1994 alone, five albums from Seattle bands debuted at Number One on the Billboard charts, a feat that hasn’t been matched by any town since.
But for every moment of chart success and grunge glory, there was another undocumented and unreported moment of weirdness or mayhem. Much of it was either absurd or hilarious, or sometimes both. These are moments you probably won’t hear about in Behind the Music episodes or Wikipedia entries. Too often, grunge history leaves out the humor, or the sarcasm, that was ever present. There was Krist Novoselic’s habit of starting food fights and Dave Grohl’s knack for prank phone calls. There was Alice in Chains’ almost weekly practical jokes. They once mailed me a box of baby bottles filled of excrement and urine, with a note saying they were “pissed” about a certain review. “Layne [Staley] was one of the funniest guys you ever met,” Jerry Cantrell told me recently. “People who never met him have completely forgotten that part of his personality.” I saw that humor at times but also can speak to the smell of his urine.
Many of grunge’s crazy stories were rooted in the madness that occurs when a sleepy port city suddenly becomes the musical center of the world. With it come errors and conspiracy theories. I remember talking with Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil in the Nineties when he explained how the group became apoplectic whenever an out-of-town journalist asked if grunge had “succeeded” as had been “planned.” “These writers talked as if there had been one grand meeting, some conspiracy-planning group, where our band, Nirvana, Alice and everyone else in Seattle had decided to launch grunge and take over the world,” Thayil observed. “It was absurd, as if we had formed this cabal.”
So what follows are seven of the most absurd moments in grunge—the seven pillars of grunge shit, if you like, since many of them have a connection to human elimination. I haven’t included the Alice in Chains bottle of shit, but there are more than a few detours here toward the toilet. All speak to the insanity of a moment when anything with “Seattle” on it flew out of the record stores—back in the age when there were record stores.