Seattle’s grunge roots reveal rifts in team VIA

Road Journals Blog—I recently edited VIA's current cover story, which looks at what has happened to Seattle in the two decades since Kurt Cobain and Nirvana put grunge music—and the city—in the spotlight. The topic gives me a chance to talk about one of my favorite aspects of working at VIA: story meetings.

 Can you hum “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? Can you whistle “All Apologies”?

After a freelance writer turns in a manuscript, every editor on staff gets a copy, and we meet to share our impressions. It’s always interesting to compare insights about what’s going right or wrong with a piece. It’s also intriguing to discover that while we all assume to swim in the cultural mainstream, we’re often caught up in different currents.

Case in point: Nirvana. The groundbreaking album Nevermind came out the year I graduated from college; it plays on the soundtrack of my life. During the height of grunge fashion I loved wearing my grandfather’s vintage flannel shirt to work.

To me, Nirvana is one of the most famous and hyper-exposed bands of all time, yet is still so genius that I enjoy the music almost any time (even when it’s played as elevator music at the supermarket).

But a couple of VIA staffers—some young, some older—said they had never heard a Kurt Cobain recording. Ever. A couple of others were unfamiliar enough with the music that they went to the web to find out what all the fuss was about.

In fact, this was one of many occasions when we’ve paused during a story meeting to consider how much a part of our readers' shared experience certain phrases or personalities actually are. Not everyone recognizes that the phrase “lovely as a tree” alludes to “Trees,” a 1913 poem by Joyce Kilmer. Not everyone knows that Liberace was a famous piano player—a fact that seemed all too true when the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas shut it doors last fall (despite being showcased in VIA).

And, as evidenced by the meeting in question, appreciation for the early rage of Nirvana’s “Blew” is far from a universal notion.

I love being reminded that while it pays to search for common ground, not one of us shares the same experiences. It’s a wake-up-and-smell-the-teen-spirit reality check.

Fortunately, despite the Nirvana knowledge gap, everyone agreed on one thing: Our Seattle story rocks.

Christopher Hall's cover story on Seattle ran in the May/June 2011 issue of VIA.

This blog post was first published in May 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.