Thursday, July 14, 2011

From the final issue of The Rocket, October 2000

A Facebook friend recently posted some thoughts on the history of the seminal Seattle publication The Rocket, for whom I served as a senior editor for a few years in the 1990s. The Rocket folded in the fall of 2000; as fate would have it, the final issue contained my farewell column to Seattle, on the eve of my relocation to North Carolina. (That final issue was printed but largely undistributed; the plug was pulled before the paper was picked up and dropped off at its usual outlets across Puget Sound.)

Here's what I wrote in that issue, for whatever the historical documentation may be worth. (Not much, probably!)

By Peter Blackstock

I’m sitting in the middle of a big empty room, windows looking out on a grove of Carolina pines that populate the alcove across the street, on the edge of the quiet little neighborhood in Durham that is now my home.

I remember this feeling well. Exactly nine years ago this week, I arrived in Seattle and camped out on the living-room floor of the garage apartment I’d just rented, no furniture yet acquired, accompanied only by a few suitcases of clothes, the stereo, and boxes upon boxes of records, tapes and discs.

There was a long way to go before this place would be home. But, man, it was an exhilarating time, just being here. The wide-open hopes and dreams that hover above those first steps of a new beginning are like no other experience in life’s journeys.

I can only hope my relocation to North Carolina will open up my world the way moving to Seattle from Texas did. I came here without a job or a plan, more or less following a hunch based on a single visit I’d made a few months earlier. I figured my writing experience at the daily paper in Austin would help get me started, but I knew just a small handful of people here.

Among those I’d met shortly before I arrived were a couple cornerstones of The Rocket: editor Charley Cross and office manager Mary Schuh. Charley kindly gave me a chance to write for The Rocket and helped advise me on numerous details regarding my relocation. Mary and her husband Sandy Milne rented me the space behind their house, the coolest little garage apartment ever, for a price even someone used to Austin’s then-slackerly living standards could afford. Without them, plain and simple, I do not think I would have made it here.

That first year was a true challenge, involving a monthlong working sabbatical back in Austin and a couple of office jobs. I was officially broke after someone set fire to my car.

What saved me was the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which had hired me to write a weekly column covering music in local clubs a month after I’d moved here. They hired me as a part-time copy editor in the summer of ’92, and finally I was firmly planted.

I really expected to be in Seattle only two or three years, while I kept close tabs on daily papers around the country in hopes of nabbing a full-time music critic job. In hindsight, I realize I was fortunate such a fate never befell me.

That’s largely because of another fellow I met at The Rocket: managing editor Grant Alden. Though our musical aesthetics and professional backgrounds were quite different, I developed an enormous respect for the work he did. His tenure at The Rocket, 1988-94, coincided with the paper’s glory years, and that’s no accidental synchronicity.

My own involvement with The Rocket actually increased after Grant departed; for a year or two I was a senior editor and wrote dozens of features and reviews as well as attending weekly planning meetings. That began to come to an end in the fall of 1995 when all my attentions suddenly became focused on a little boondoggle Grant and I had decided to launch, called No Depression.

It wasn’t really my intent when we started the magazine that it would take over my life and result in a withdrawal from The Rocket. But the fruits of our labor have made No Depression a full-time pursuit over the span of five years — which has also opened up the opportunity to edit the magazine from elsewhere. And so I’ve decided to follow the same instinct and sense of adventure that brought me to Seattle in 1991 — though it is not an action taken without serious reconsideration and regret.

I think Christy McWilson got to the heart of the matter when, upon learning of my imminent departure, she expressed her disappointment about losing a member of a community she holds dear. Christy, you are right, and there’s really nothing else I can say except that I’m sorry, and that I will miss you and your husband Scott McCaughey as much as you miss me. Indeed, much more, I am certain. When I think of the marvelous music and the wonderful folks I’m leaving behind in Seattle, more than anything else I will think of the two of you.

I’ll also often fondly reflect on my first couple years here hanging out with Pete Droge, the first real friend I had in town. Equally important in these final couple years has been Gary Heffern, the last real friend I had in town. Largely through Gary I grew closer to the Walkabouts’ Chris Eckman, who, over the past year, helped me produce a tribute record to Mickey Newbury that stands as the most personally rewarding accomplishment of my days here.

Not far behind in that category would be the Tuesday-night gig I’ve hosted the past few months at the Sunset Tavern, for which I owe a sincere thanks to Max Genereaux. Max’s Sunset, Dan Cowan’s Tractor Tavern, and Hattie’s Hat have left an indelible trail of memories along Ballard Avenue, the true soul of Seattle.

It would take most of the pages of The Rocket to reminisce about all the people and places that have made my days in Seattle special, but you get the idea. My Seattle isn’t the place of dot-com towers, downtown malls and sprawling suburbs. My Seattle is the nightclub music spilling out onto the sidewalks, the twilight summer barbecues in friends’ backyards, the quiet drive around Green Lake in the wee hours of the morn. It is beautiful.

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