Keeping Grunge Alive

Seattle Skyline

Grunge and Seattle’s music history is kept alive and well by Stalking Seattle, the city’s premier rock and roll sightseeing tour.

“What the hell am I going to do?”

This is what Charity Drewery thought to herself, prior to creating a website that would eventually change her life.

Drewery’s mother had just passed away and financially was not in a great state. Throughout this difficult time, the idea of starting a grunge themed tour in Seattle had been in the back of her mind. As a Seattle native, Drewery was familiar with the music scene and knew the city like the back of her hand. The idea was set in place, but there was a slight problem.

Nobody wanted to help.

“I told ex-musicians, people that slept with ex-musicians, people that knew everybody in the music scene from that era, that they should do this tour because there was a market for it,” said Drewery. “I was trying to recruit people, but no one wanted to join.”

Since nobody committed, Drewery decided to start the city’s premiere rock and roll sightseeing tour, Stalking Seattle, by herself.

Initially, she thought it was a horrible idea, earning only $9,455 in its inaugural year (2012). Three years later, Drewery began to make a comfortable living off the tour.

Now, Stalking Seattle is all but completely booked for the summer, with fans traveling from across the world to witness the city’s grunge landmarks up close and personal.

Grunge Voyage

Stalking Seattle officially starts at the valet circle of the MoPOP Museum, where Drewery picks up her customers in a black Dodge Caravan (don’t worry, there’s a sticker indicating it’s a tour). From there, she and five fans depart on a historical grunge journey across Seattle.

This journey begins with a band near and dear to Seattleites, Mother Love Bone. Specifically, you visit where lead singer Andrew Wood overdosed on heroin. While gazing out the window at Wood’s old apartment complex, Drewery plays chilling audio of a phone call from Wood’s girlfriend to Jeff Ament and Chris Cornell, explaining to them that he had overdosed and needs to be taken to the hospital immediately.

Wood’s apartment is generally the first stop, as it displays the importance of how intertwined all of the Seattle musicians were with one another. Before Pearl Jam was created, Ament (as well as Stone Gossard) were in Mother Love Bone with Wood. Though Cornell was not a bandmate of Wood’s, he was in another popular Seattle outfit, Soundgarden (you may have heard of them). While this stop is literally just an apartment complex, the historical significance behind it is paramount to the history of grunge, as well as the conception of Temple of the Dog and (eventually) Pearl Jam.

Following Wood’s apartment, fans are taken across the city to various other hot spots on the tour. These include the Black Sun sculpture (the inspiration behind Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun) at Volunteer Park, as well as Kerry Park, where you can pose like Wood in front of the Changing Form sculpture, or take in a beautiful view of the Seattle skyline. Fans will also get to see the Central Saloon, where Nirvana played its first show ever to nobody, and the O.K. Hotel (or “The Java Stop”), which is featured in Cameron Crowe’s Singles.     

The major stop of the tour, for many, is Kurt Cobain’s previous residence on Lake Washington. After Cobain passed away in 1994, Courtney Love kept the house for three more years. In 1997, Love sold the house to its current owner, who has lived there ever since.

While the house itself is difficult to see due to the large shrubbery in front, there is a small, public park directly beside it. There is no statue of Cobain in Viretta Park, but rather, a wooden bench, which had been there long before. Following Cobain’s death, this bench, in a sense, has become a memorial for Nirvana fans, as it is covered in Kurt’s song lyrics.  

While the content of the tour can be serious, the atmosphere is loose, which is what Drewery tries to create. It’s a history lesson, but with fun facts and laughs in between.

The beauty of Stalking Seattle is that it’s an intimate tour. It’s a handful of fans, cruising around Seattle, talking about music. There is freedom to request where to stop, as well as when to ask questions, along the way. This is a feature hard to come by on larger bus tours, such as Ride the Ducks in Seattle.

“I don’t want people to feel like they’re on a tour,” said Drewery. “People will blow up my phone and complain that I need a bigger van. If we have a bus with 15 people on it, we can’t go down alleyways and make the discussion go where ever we want it to, like we do now.”

While Drewery loves to engage with fans and teach them the history of Seattle’s music scene, sometimes the conversation can get derailed into controversial topics surrounding the grunge universe, such as the conspiracy theory of Courtney Love killing Cobain.

Drewery has learned it is best to simply state the facts and let the fans discuss the rest amongst themselves.

“I need to get a sticker on the back of my van telling fans not to ask me that question,” Drewery laughs. “A lot of times they want to argue about it. Listen, I am not the Pope. Don’t worry about what I think.”

Sometimes conspiracy theories get brought up, while other times the tour brings forth unusual moments.

Recently, Drewery led a tour where everyone witnessed a young adult man over six feet tall, riding a hot pink beginner’s bicycle with training wheels (which were bent at a 90-degree angle due to the overwhelming weight) down the middle of a busy intersection, thus, holding up traffic.

Drewery says moments like these are not as uncommon as one may think.

“You just never know in downtown Seattle.”

Seattle Sound – Then and Now

While Drewery grew up in Seattle during the eighties and nineties, she never felt that there was a “groundbreaking scene” on the horizon, as it was often portrayed in the media.

The now iconic bands like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam were once playing in downtown venues for 60 people, as that was max capacity at some of the clubs. Drewery said that locally, people in the area knew about “this guy Chris” and his band “Soundgarden,” but for them, they were not a nationally-known band.

For locals, seeing these bands was their weekend fun. They loved rocking out at these smaller, intimate shows, just like people do everywhere.

“There wasn’t a lot going on back then. We didn’t have computers or cell phones. We didn’t even have Tetris. This is just what you did to have fun,” said Drewery of the Seattle music scene. “I don’t think anyone knew what was going on and if they said they did, then they’re a liar,”

Nobody had a clue that a string of their favorite local bands were about to take off.

But then, in the blink of an eye, they were gone.

Drewery’s first “holy shit we’re on the map” moment from that era, was when Alice in Chains released their music video for Man in the Box on MTV in 1991. Shortly after that, Pearl Jam released Ten, Nirvana released Nevermind, and Soundgarden (though already on a major label) released Badmotorfinger, all in the same year.

“These were local bands and just like today, there are bands playing around the city every night,” said Drewery. “You never really know who is going to make it.”  

Today, there are fresh bands coming up everywhere, trying to create a new generation of music. Sadly, however, the genre popularized in Seattle decades ago, seems to be fading within the city. This could be due to new music trends, younger people moving in, etc. The possibilities are endless, really.

While newer Seattle residents may not have the same passion for grunge as those years earlier, Drewery is astonished at how many people around the world still love the genre.

“There have been fans on my tour this week from Germany, that just saw Pearl Jam twice in Europe, and are going to both Home Shows (at Safeco Field) this week,” Drewery said. “It amazes me. Some fans will come on the tour that don’t know who Mother Love Bone is, but others can tell you Eddie Vedder’s blood type and his mother’s middle name.”

With Pearl Jam’s two-night, sold-out, hometown reunion this week, and Stalking Seattle being booked up for the summer, maybe the spirit of grunge will stay alive for a little while longer.  

And with Drewery leading the charge, there is reason to be faithful.

“I’m trying my best to preserve it and keep it going.”

Follow Stalking Seattle here

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Mark is a writer for Super Metal World, as well as an avid supporter of live music and vinyl records. Tweet him @MarkRadlund or send him an email at [email protected].