HERE’S WHAT I REMEMBER about the three days of organized fun at freshman orientation for college: nothing. What I do remember is slipping away from the UW campus one afternoon, hopping the number 7 bus downtown, and going to see the movie Woodstock. The film version of the mother of all rockfests had just opened in Seattle, weeks before it would reach my hometown in Eastern Washington and I couldn’t wait.
The image from the film that has stayed with me is Jimi Hendrix, alone on stage, in what can only be called dawn’s early light, torturing his electric guitar strings into a guttural, screeching, rumbling “Star-Spangled Banner.” I swelled with regional pride (He’s from Seattle!) but I also felt a weird thrill. The performance was shocking in its irreverence, yet profoundly elegiac, too, which made it a perfect soundtrack for a generation of young Americans anguished over the Vietnam War. There’s little doubt that the distorted vibrato versions of our national anthem that now begin most major sporting events grew out of this moment in 1969.
This issue is devoted to tracing such musical influences. Hendrix may have owed a creative debt to Tacoma’s the Ventures, a band that a decade earlier charted new territory with electric guitar instrumentals and fuzz pedals. Long before that, in the 1930s, Seattle bandleader Paul Tutmarc broke ground for future guitarists with a device that could electrify and amplify musical instruments. His electronic bass fiddle beat Fender’s far more famous electric bass to market by 15 years.
We didn’t plan it this way, but just as we went to press the mayor held a party at the Paramount Theatre, where he announced a plan to brand Seattle as a City of Music, a designation to put us on the map alongside renowned music cities New Orleans, Chicago, and Austin. Like the mayor says, music is in our civic soul. Seattle sounds have been reverberating out from our corner of the country for over a hundred years, and judging by the young musicians who graced the Paramount stage, there’s plenty more on the way: the kids in the Garfield High Jazz Quintet; Vince Mira, the latino Johnny Cash; teen rockers New Faces. All they have to do is graduate from high school. And all we have to do is listen.