When Seattle’s grunge scene exploded, you had to be in the know

I can’t be sure, but on the night of Saturday, Feb. 25, 1989, I was probably at home taking care of my three-year-old son. I certainly wasn’t waiting in line at the HUB for the “Four Bands for a Buck” concert that featured The Fluid, Girl Trouble, Skinyard and some obscure band called Nirvana.

I was somewhat aware of Seattle’s nascent rock scene that year, but only because it seemed that every light pole in the city was papered with posters for bands with crazy names. Before I had children, I had even been down to the Vogue and in the Rainbow once or twice, but by 1989 it was another world to me.

It is rather embarrassing for a journalist to admit that a cultural phenomenon was happening right under his nose—at the place where he works—and he missed it, but that’s the fact. It wasn’t until the movie Singles was being filmed on the Ave. and when Nevermind hit the charts that I finally woke up to Seattle’s “grunge” rock scene.

Many UW students were part of the scene from its beginning, and the campus radio station KCMU played a crucial role in forming the network of musicians, promoters and business people that would launch alternative rock in Seattle and later the world.

Two of them contributed to the cover story for this issue. Charley Cross was The Daily’s editor in 1979 and then helped launch the Northwest’s rock magazine, The Rocket. He covered countless rock concerts at the HUB, the Rainbow, the Ditto and other historic venues, so I asked him to write a personal retrospective on what was happening on campus during this rock explosion. Charles Peterson, a 1987 art graduate majoring in photography, took the stunning pictures used in this article. His photos graced the covers of many Seattle bands’ first CDs. Ironically, his UW photography teacher (a temporary lecturer long gone from campus) told him that she couldn’t regard his work as serious because the subject was rock and roll.

I am sure some readers will feel the same way about this issue. For the rest of us, the cover story is a powerful account of an exciting time to be at the University of Washington.