For anyone with an interest in the Seattle music scene of the 1980s and ‘90s, the subgenre that became known as grunge, Taking Punk to the Masses: From Nowhere to Nevermind is essential reading. Jacob McMurray wrote the book as a companion to Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses, the acclaimed exhibit he curated for Seattle’s Experience Music Project.
Like the exhibit itself, the book goes far beyond Nirvana history, tracing the emergence of the “Seattle Sound” back to the punk movement that began in the 1970s. An accompanying DVD contains more than two hours of interviews with notable musicians, including Henry Rollins, Kim Thayil, Steve Albini, Krist Novoselic, and many more.
For many readers, the second half of the book will understandably hold the greatest interest. That’s where most of the Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains material can be found. A generous selection of rare photographs and documents are included. The original contract between Nirvana and Sub Pop Records, signed June 3rd, 1989, is reprinted. Some of Kurt Cobain’s handwritten lyrics are displayed. The cassette sleeve of Soundgarden’s 1985 4-track demo, as well as the notes written on the master tape box for Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick” single, are among the rare artifacts shown.
But the early days, long before the commercial breakthroughs of the early ‘90s, are no less fascinating. McMurray discusses Seattle’s first punk club, The Bird, and its band-in-residence, The Enemy. Other Seattle punk obscurities receive coverage early in the book, including bands such as The Lewd and The Wipers. The Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan and Mudhoney’s Mark Arm both weigh in with endorsements of The Wipers, just a couple examples of the ample interview transcriptions featured throughout.
Interestingly, a poster reading “Seattle Scene Found Dead” was posted around town in 1984, lamenting the lack of support for local musicians. As McMurray explains, the underground music scene was struggling at that particular time, though emerging bands such as Green River (which included future members of Pearl Jam and Mudhoney) were about to change that.
If you can’t make it out to Seattle to visit Experience Music Project’s Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses exhibit, this book is a suitable substitute. Tons of gig posters, set lists, and album artwork provide further context. These visuals, accompanied by McMurray’s straightforward commentary and the extensive DVD interviews, create a compelling document of a unique era of music history. Taking Punk to the Masses: From Nowhere to Nevermind is published by Fantagraphics Books. Author Jacob McMurray has several book signing dates scheduled, check here for more information.