Bygone Eras

Why Can't Seattle Quit the '90s?

With the Mariners’ re-signing of 44-year-old Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle again proves its obsession with its glory days.

By Darren Davis April 23, 2018 Published in the May 2018 issue of Seattle Met

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Image: Jesse Lenz

When the Mariners announced this spring that they had re-signed future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki to a one-year contract, the news sparked a wave of jubilant online highlight reels from 17 years ago, back when the Japanese superstar showed off his canon of an arm on the field and dressed like Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst off it. Bars around town offered drink specials to mark the occasion as some sort of surprise holiday. All this despite the fact that the Mariners’ most significant move following another losing season was to sign a 44-year-old outfielder on the last leg of his career.

It wasn’t the first time the team tried to relive the past. In 2009, the Mariners brought back a battered Ken Griffey Jr. for his sentimental farewell tour. The signing of a beloved but essentially mummified former star did not, it turns out, lead to a playoff run. 

For a progressive city on the cutting edge of the tech world, Seattle sure does rely on its old brands, particularly in areas the city struggles to match its former glory. Not just baseball, but music, too.

Seattle’s most recent prominent cultural exports remain Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. If there’s a national broadcast of a sports game or some other Seattle-set event, they’re probably going to play the opening bars of “Can’t Hold Us” over shots of fish tossing at Pike Place Market. 

Looming above the duo like an ancient, sun-blotting tree stands Eddie Vedder. After nearly three decades the iconic lead singer of Pearl Jam still ranks among the most visible Seattleites (even though he’s from Illinois). To be fair, Vedder himself courts this love and seems to hold a soft spot for the city he helped put on the music map in the early ’90s. Earlier this year, for instance, Pearl Jam announced a pair of Seattle “home shows” in August to help offset the local homelessness problem. 

But can somebody explain why Guns N’ Roses bass guitarist and Seattle native Duff McKagan welcomes visitors to the fastest-growing city in America with his very own Sea-Tac airport public service announcement? Sir-Mix-a-Lot gets his own PSA, too. Sure, “Posse on Broadway” remains a reliable party jam (“Dick’s is the place where the cool hang out.”) But in a city with so much young talent in hip-hop (Sol, Nacho Picasso, DoNormaal, to name only a few) the creator of “Baby Got Back”—a 26-year-old-song—still ranks atop Google searches and the local consciousness; the gum wall of music, an aged but not exactly historic cultural landmark.

Same goes for baby-got-boomer Tom Douglas, Seattle’s most famous restaurateur, the dominant name in Seattle dining despite the existence of more exciting chefs just hitting their stride. You take a hot date to Edouardo Jordan’s Salare or Rachel Yang’s Revel. You take your parents to Dahlia Lounge. And therein lies at least part of the problem.

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New Seattle, in the form of Seawhawks quarterback Russell Wilson, dons Old Seattle, via SuperSonics schwag.

Image: Lev Radin

A recent New York Times study of Spotify streaming habits reported that most users lock in their favorite songs around the ages of 13 or 14. According to 2010 census data, approximately 36 percent of Seattleites are 45 or older, having lived out their prime years during the heyday of grunge and Sir-Mix-a-Lot, during the Tom Douglas–led Seattle elevation as a food city of merit in the ’90s, during Griffey’s prime and the famous 116-win season of 2001.

But 36 percent of residents 45 and older is not a dominant, taste-making majority, especially considering that number has all but certainly shrunk, thanks to the recent influx of a young tech workforce. Another hypothesis is while Seattle remains one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, it still struggles to find a national identity enjoyed by quirky Portland (thanks in no small part to Portlandia) and the cultishly tech San Francisco. Griffey, Vedder, Sir-Mix-a-Lot, and even Douglas to an extent, all represent eras in which this city captured and held the national imagination. Eventually this old canopy is bound to subside and allow something new to grow. Then adult Gen Z-ers will be the ones complaining about old millennials’ persistent fondness for Russell Wilson, Chris Pratt, and Amazon’s Alexa.

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