Meet Eric E. Magnuson. He’s a writer and longtime Seattleite who leads a tour called Seattle Grunge Redux: The Walk That Rocks Through Seattle’s Music History. Eric’s taken grunge geeks all over town to past and present landmarks from when our city was the epicenter of grunge music. He started doing tours through Seattle’s Atlas Obscura Society, and he’s shown around everyone from casual music fans and New York fashion designers to German chocolatiers.
We caught up with Eric to talk all about Seattle’s grunge scene, music history, and how locals can experience city history.
Grunge sort of became a stereotype of Seattle. What do you think of it now that you’re giving this tour?
It was really overplayed outside of Seattle and I think, if you spent time here, you didn’t see the frenzy everyone thought existed. People wore flannel because it was cheap and you could find it at a thrift store. When [grunge fashion] was taken to extremes like Marc Jacobs’ fashion line in 1992, it was laughed at.
Maybe I’ve come to reclaim it. I feel like it’s time to embrace that which was hated.
What drew you to our city’s grunge scene?
It was seeing the music and what it brought together. I was especially interested in grunge because I had plenty of that mosh pit exposure where people you wouldn’t talk to on the street would pick you up off the floor — it was amazing. I love that heavy, yet still melody-driven nature of the music. I wanted to see it evolve.
You’re a grunge expert. What album would you recommend to someone wanting to learn more about that era?
If you can find it, Sub Pop 200, which came out in ‘88. Or Nirvana’s Bleach – it has some of the most pure grunge songs, like “School.”
Can you share a bit of Seattle grunge trivia?
Black Dog Forge in Belltown, which was recently sold, was an important spot. There were two metal-working artists who worked there. It’s important because downstairs from this blacksmith’s shop was a practice space where Pearl Jam used to work out their first album. Soundgarden used it, too.
A lot of the places you cover in your tour — Vogue, RKCNDY, the Off Ramp — are now gone. Does that ever make you sad?
I’m sort of relentlessly upbeat. I see great changes happening and great inequity, but I also see a hell of a lot of opportunity for this city.
What I’m trying to do is offer an accessible view of what happened here then. There aren’t maps to show people around.
I [started this tour because of] a very close friend, Bob Wayman, who was a huge Seattle music fan. Bob committed suicide four years ago. We had this beautiful friendship, one that was based off of this cultural connection. It’s really that I’m paying tribute.
Speaking of which, how have you seen Seattle change since you came here in the ‘90s?
The best example of the evolution — and there is a lot to pay tribute to — is what we now have with KEXP, which used to be KCMU. Right now, I finish up my tour at KEXP’s gathering space, this reuse of Seattle Center. KCMU was the first place where Nirvana had their first song played on the air.
I’m not crying-in-my-beer nostalgic about how it was then. I love the idea that I’m trying to keep up like everyone else. Seattle allows you plenty of opportunities to see music and that’s why I’m still excited about it.
Want to join Eric’s tour? There’s one happening this Friday, March 23. Can’t make it? Stay tuned for more tour dates on his website and then email him at [email protected] to book.