“We need some drumsticks. I can’t find my drumsticks!” said the drummer for Ben Harper. I was working in cable access television at the time, and was setting up lights and tripods to interview Harper. (If you’re unfamiliar, search for him online – he’s an amazing slide guitar player and singer.)
So I volunteered to run down to the Guitar Center right by Mercer and Westlake and pick up some sticks. The band was grateful, and I got a great interview and an even better show.
I’m sad to announce that the downtown Guitar Center is now a hole in the ground. I’ve heard that Google wants to gobble up that space and I’ve also heard that Apple would like a create a toehold in the South Lake Union neighborhood. Either way, it’s another casualty to Seattleites of a certain mindset.
Now I am not one overly prone to nostalgia, and Guitar Center is certainly not a mom and pop Pacific Northwest tradition. But there is a part of me that is sad to see it come down.
It was not uncommon back in the day to spot a member of Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Tad, or Mudhoney picking up some strings or poking around the used amp area while pimple faced kids butchered Led Zeppelin riffs on guitars they couldn’t afford.
I stumbled upon a few members of Pearl Jam discussing the finer points of bass strings one day myself. It was a bit of thrill and I did my best to play it cool.
I would venture a wager that many of the biggest hits of the Grunge Era had some kind of connection to the Seattle Guitar Center. Be it strings, instruments, amps, microphones or cables, I guarantee you that there is gear from this store on virtually every big album recorded in the city.
In my opinion, Seattle has done a dismal job in celebrating its musical heritage. Right now I can drive down Edgar Martinez Drive, Royal Brougham Way, or visit the Fred Hutch Cancer Center. I’m as big a Seattle sports fan as the next guy, but I would argue that the musicians of Seattle have had a greater impact on the culture than its athletes.
I’m not suggesting that a corporate guitar store was hallowed ground. But I would like to see a more overt effort from the city to memorialize the magic that happened here. Even if it’s just some kind of identifiable music plaque placed in important spots. “Jimi Hendrix played an important show here,” or “On this spot, Nirvana played their first gig in Seattle…”
If done correctly, this could become a hugely popular cultural touchstone for tourists and locals alike. Link them together on an app, or hey Google, make a special overlay on your maps for people. Maybe even *cough* chip in and do it yourself. I think you have few extra dollars laying around last time I checked.
I think it’s important to remember a time when you’d lace up your Doc Martins and be looking over your shoulder as you walked the dark and seedy streets of South Lake Union to wait in line at Rock Candy. Seattle became the epicenter of the musical universe, and you would never know that now.
I’m not opposed to shiny new buildings. I’m not even opposed to putting up a free banana stand next to the food trucks, but is it too much to ask for there to be a pause to commemorate the truly historic musical heritage of this city?
So long Seattle Guitar Center, you had a good run.