Grunge by Michael Lavine and Thurston Moore

Sub Pop's first lens on the grunge scene offers an early look at the signs of flannel to come, and the distinctive regional imprints on the sounds that followed punk.


Publisher: Abrams Image
Length: 160 pages
Author: Michael Lavine
Price: $24.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2009-10

"I'm looking for something no one seems to have." Before anyone heard singer Mark Arm spit-spray the microphone on Sub Pop's first Mudhoney EP, photographer Michael Lavine was in Seattle, looking for something that no one in town seemed to have—no super-fuzz, no flannel fetishes.

What he found and photographed in late-'80s Seattle—images that make up the best portion of Grunge, Lavine's second book—were groups of plainclothes punks searching the horizons of the Pacific Northwest for some sort of regional resonance. In the book's opening photo, "Sir Plus", a group of androgynous teenagers stand expectantly near a sign that reads "Northwest Native: Sportclothes for Fun and Games". A handmade sign beneath advertises "Rugby wear on sale"; a military surplus store sits across the street, waiting to be ransacked for the rags and riches that would, like it or not, cloak a genre.

"Bad name. Lame name, actually," writes Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore in his introduction to Lavine's photos. "On one hand, that word was ridiculous... on the other hand, just beautiful: A smart and amusing shrug within the American scream-dream." A shrug because grunge happened too fast to claim itself—done in by Marc Jacobs' infamous collection for Perry Ellis, overeager record executives, a blonde boy with a gun.

Grunge succeeds in those photos that capture a Seattle local (or once, a long-haired Billy Corgan) pre-shrug, when eyes still looked for a future rather than rolled in disgust at the path they found themselves on. Sabrina, an Olympia spike-head, stands in front of painstakingly ornamented door; she wears mismatched plaids and a "Touch me, I'm sick" stare. It's one of several loaded moments amidst a few blanks—see Lavine's shots of Washington "Mods" in parkas and Union Jacks.

When Grunge moves into band photos, it's Lavine's earliest work—an '87 session with White Zombie, Sub Pop shots of Sonic Youth and Mudhoney circa '88—that signals the arrival of a scene or two. Lavine's Richard Avedon-style portraits of Rob Zombie and Sean Yseult and stark studio shots of the 'Honey crew place all grunge genesis stories in the looks of the subjects—the regional fashions and expressions of what punk wrought.

But as Lavine moves closer to 1993—further from Nevermind, closer to In Utero—he grows more concerned with constructing stories around his shoots. Pearl Jam appears before a distorted woods scene, Eddie Vedder's mouth taped shut; Royal Trux gets the jailbreak spotlight treatment and throws a smug, sexual insolence towards the lens. Lavine offers Soundgarden in 1989 and again in 1990. In the former, Chris Cornell is off-kilter, too young—his eyes are as fearless as his chest is hairless. In the latter, he puts a revolver in his mouth while guitarist Kim Thayil goes wide-eyed. Don't dare him, his expression reads. Grunge is dangerous, after all.

No, not dangerous. A challenge, sure—but more an inward push than outward, more an effort to see something that no one has seen than a fight to sell something no one has sold. Years before Cobain fell into Love, Lavine snapped a dark and stormy man in a winter coat and a regal blonde woman beside him in Seattle, 1983. His eyes question right, hers dare directly at the camera.

The shot is mirrored in a 1992 photo of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love near the book's end. Each grips the other—his thumb showing a half-moon bruise, her arms milky and clean—and looks away from the camera. By the end of Grunge, both Lavine and his subjects seem to have their eyes set on other styles and stories. But the rare, vulnerable moments of anticipation and acceptance make Grunge most memorable.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.