The Seattle scene of the late eighties and early nineties produced some of the most beloved rock bands not just of the last twenty years, but of all-time. The influence and impact that acts like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains had on the world of music, both artistically and commercially, cannot really be overstated. However, there is far more to the “grunge” story than just the rise and fall of these four bands, as author Mark Yarm goes to very impressive lengths to chronicle is his new book Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History Of Grunge (now available in handy paperback form!)
Over the course of three years and change, Yarm interviewed over 250 key players in the Seattle scene of that now historic era, everyone from superstars like Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) and Courtney Love, to the owners of the storied Sub Pop record label, to bands like the U-Men and the Melvins that were very influential in the scene but never quite broke on a national level in the way that the Big Four did. The book was named one of the Top Ten Nonfiction Books of 2011 by no less an authority than Time Magazine, and is full of so many entertaining stories and thrilling anecdotes that we have read it cover-to-cover TWICE. You should do the same!
We recently sat down with ELOT author Mark Yarm over a cocktail or two in Brooklyn and talked about many subjects relating to the book, everything ranging from what it’s like to receive manic phone calls from Courtney Love, to Seattle’s well-documented infatuation with heroin, to the “missed opportunity” that was Cameron Crowe‘s Pearl Jam Twenty.
VH1: One of the things that everyone, including myself, finds so impressive about this book is the comprehensiveness. You talked to virtually every major player in the Seattle scene. How did you go about convincing people that you were the person who could tackle this story?
Mark Yarm: The general rule of thumb was that the further away from the white hot epicenter of the grunge explosion of the early nineties, the easier it was. I had the Blender piece that this emerged from, which was an oral history of Sub-Pop on the occasion of their 20th anniversary in 2008. I had already spoken to a lot of the players, and that was a good calling card for me. Some people didn’t talk to me, most notably Pearl Jam since they had their own book coming out. They’re usually not the most accessible guys, anyway. I had spoken to Jeff [Ament] and Stone [Gossard] for the Blender piece, and I also talked to Matt Cameron through the Soundgarden people. I spoke to all their previous drummers, who, if you’ve seen the Cameron Crowe documentary [PJ20], they didn’t bother talking to those guys. They just kind of gloss over them in a funny interstitial.
Chris Cornell is one of the figures in the book that gets some crap because he was always ripping his shirt off. A lot of people, including people in his own band, didn’t like that he presented himself in that way. What was your sense of him, and did he ever tell you why he chose to be the shirtless guy?
There was a Mudhoney song, the song that this book gets its title after, called “Overblown.” It takes kind of a veiled jab at him (“And you’re up there, shirtless and flexin’ / Display of a macho freak”). I asked him about that song, and it didn’t really bother him. If you’re gonna be The Shirtless Guy, you gotta own it, I guess?
I don’t know, I’ve never been The Shirtless Guy!
Me neither! Not since infancy. But yeah, it was a small bone of contention because it was so ostentatious, and this was a scene that in many ways —not all ways, but in many ways— rejected that as “rock star behavior.”