What was my path to where I am now? How did I get here? I've asked myself this a lot lately. What was the exact moment when it all started?
I can trace the exact moment It all started, in 1982, when I went to see the Dead Kennedys play with the Miracle Workers at the fairgrounds in Corvallis, OR. My friend Henry was a Dead Kennedys nut, and invited me to come with him. He'd played their records for me, and I thought they were OK. I knew about bands like The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Cars... they provided the soundtrack to the last couple of years of my high school experience.
I don't really remember the Dead Kennedys set, but wow, The Miracle Workers blew my mind. I had never heard music quite like that before and I wanted more.
I was a freshman in college at that point, majoring in Anthropology. I had been to rock shows occasionally, like The Kinks and The Moody Blues when they came through Portland, but I really wasn't aware that there was anything else musically going on besides what I heard on the radio. As an Anthropology major, studying foreign cultures seemed so exotic and different from my life; I had no clue that a subculture existed right in my own backyard, as easily accessible as buying a ticket.
After that show, I went to the local record store Happy Trails Records (still thriving today!), and asked if they had a record by The Miracle Workers. The guy behind the counter looked at me like I was nuts and said no, he'd never heard of them. I bought a record by Modern English instead, having heard a song from them on the radio that I really liked. I really had no idea how all this stuff worked, and wondered, if a band played a concert. surely they must have a record out, or I could hear them on the radio, but try as I might, I couldn't find anything by this band The Miracle Workers!
Slowly, a new strange world opened up to me. I was a passionate weird girl who had always listened to her own inner beat, never fitting in anywhere, but welcome everywhere. In 1985, I started working at the local coffee shop, The Beanery, and discovered that several of my co-workers were DJ's at the local college radio station, KBVR, 88.7 fm. They always turned the station on at work, so I slowly started getting to know some of the bands, like Gang of 4, The Clash, and R.E.M. among others. I was so blown away that a station like this existed; it was nothing like I heard on the regular rock radio–it was raw and different and utterly intoxicating. And it was through this station that I found out that the band that had so captured my attention a few years earlier, The Miracle Workers, were a band from Portland, and had just released their debut record, Inside Out on a label called Voxx/Bomp. The only way to buy it was from the band the next time they played a show.
This whole new world slowly unfolded to me, with people listening to music that would never be played on a "real" radio station, and going to shows that were held in dimly lit grimy bars and auditoriums. It seems I had stumbled onto a group of people that were like me, just following the internal rhythm of their souls, but were expressing it for all to see. I started going to the parties of "those people"; the hip, the cool, the in-the-know people, who listened to all this weird music.
I was always observing, looking to see what made them tick. I revolved around the outer perimeter of this whole scene, friends with people "involved", but never fully immersed myself. I was still living with my boyfriend who listened to Genesis, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, and that mostly was the music I listened to as well. When we broke up in 1986, I realized I was changing and wanted totally different experiences than he did. I wasn't content to listen to the mainstream radio, I wanted more of the underground stuff I'd been casually checking out. I had seen a flyer announcing a meeting for all people interested in learning how to DJ for the college radio station. I went to that meeting and the path of my life changed forever.
After my apprenticeship, I was given my own show from 3 AM to 6 AM. I was scared to death at first, finding music to play, speaking on the air, learning how to run the sound board and cue up records. I was so nervous I remember having dreams about getting locked out of the DJ booth with dead air just taking over the airwaves because I couldn't get in to put on another record. Eventually though, I relaxed and it became as natural as breathing. I LOVED this life! I began going to shows, making the 1 1/2 hour trip to Portland regularly with fellow DJs to divey little clubs like The Satyricon. I was listening to everything I could get my hands on, and had discovered "fanzines" where there were reviews of records from all over the world.
I eventually began writing reviews for the college paper, The Barometer , and conducting interviews with bands live on air, over the phone, and in person at shows. My very first interview was with a brand new band from Seattle called Sound Garden after a show they played at The Satyricon.
I was one of the first people in Corvallis to play Sound Garden's "Screaming Life" record on the air. I had found it at a record store in Portland, OR, 2nd Ave. Records, which is still there by the way. I bought it because the cover looked cool, and the record was a bright life-saver candy orange color. I played it on my show that night and later found out the band would be playing a show, so I made arrangements to go see them.
Chris Cornell was beautiful; his long curly locks flopped in his face as he sang. He was so sweet and genuine, and very kind as I stumbled and muttered questions and praises. I didn't even know enough to record the interview, I was just writing down his answers, but was a little bit too star-struck to even write everything down. The year is 1987. I was a senior, close getting my degree in Cultural Anthropology with and emphasis in Ethnobotany, a relatively new field of study about the cultural uses of plants. Of course, most of my classes by this point revolved around literature, film, 20th century studies, and contemporary cultures. I was working full time; balancing 3 jobs, plus a full-time course schedule, as well as volunteering at the radio station. But all I wanted to do was go see bands play, talk to them about their music and share it with others through my radio show and writing.
When I look back, I'm amazed at what I did. Where did that energy and drive come from? I was functioning on a few hours of sleep a night, driving up to Portland at least once a week to see shows for the bands I was playing on the air: Sound Garden, Green River, and later Mudhoney, Nirvana, The Miracle Workers, Dead Moon, Swallow, Poison Idea, The Wipers with Greg Sage, Honeymoon Killers, White Zombie, Antiseen, and Fugazi among others.
I ended up becoming music director for the station that year, and spent countless hours pouring over records, deciding which ones should get the attention of the DJs and which ones could be merely added to the library. About this time, I fell in love with a band called The Flaming Lips. Funny scruffy guys from Norman Oaklahoma. They had a new record out on Pink Dust Records, "Hear It Is" that I had absolutely flipped over.
I had purchased a copy (limited edition White Vinyl!) at the local record store, Audio Addict, and scheduled to meet them and interview them when they came out on tour. Wayne and the boys talked with me on the air, and played live in the studio, and that night, I followed them down to Eugene, OR for one of the most mind-blowing shows of my life. Smoke machines, strobe lights, mind-bending guitar solos; it was pretty incredible and I was in heaven. And no, I was not on drugs.
I invited them to stay at my apartment if they needed a place to stay, and to my surprise, they took me up on the offer. 3 sweaty scruffy boys and me, all crowded into my tiny one-bedroom apartment above the coffee shop I worked at. I made them spaghetti, and we hung out and listened to records, drank and talked until late in the night. In the morning I made them breakfast and they gave me a t shirt to say thanks. Then they headed to Portland to play the Satyricon that night, and I was to follow after my classes that day. My best friend Libby and I met up at the show and enjoyed another insane night of music and hanging out. They were very sweet, very gracious and down to earth. They stayed with me several more times whenever they would come through town. The shows were always fun and incredibly spontaneous. You just never knew what was gonna happen, what crazy machine they had that would blow the power in the tiny clubs they were playing. I was so proud of them when they ended up making it after all their years of hard work. I saw Wayne when they played to Warfield in SF in 1993 0r 94, and he remembered me and gave me a big hug and said thanks for the support in the early years.
Many of these bands went on to world wide success and recognition, and I'm very proud I was able to play a small part in that. Looking back, it never seemed likely I would hear these bands on mainstream radio, and felt it was my duty to spread the word as much as I could. Some of that passion is what drove me to create Gearhead Records and I feel blessed that despite the rough terrain, I'm starting to uncover that passion again.
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Gearhead Owner Michelle Haunold
I've been writing about music, pop culture, independent lifestyles and attitudes for over twenty-five years.