Five Questions About "Grunge" for Michael Lavine

David Hershkovits

Photographer Michael Lavine is doubly blessed. First, he had the good fortune to be in Seattle during its heyday in the early '90s when, for a brief moment, that city became the center of the universe, setting trends for the hipster lifestyle of art, music, fashion and film that reverberate to this day and look to be with us well into the future. And second, because he is a damn good photographer with the social skill set to get up close and personal with his subjects that ranged from the kids on the street to the bands they worshiped like Nirvana, Mudhoney, Pussy Galore, Urge Overkill et al. The photographs have finally been collected in Grunge (Abrams Image), one of the coolest books I've seen in some time. Or as Thurston Moore writes in his foreword: "The kids were so uncool, they were beyond cool." Just like Michael Lavine himself. I recently asked him five questions and our conversation is included below. For more check out his blog My Aim Is True.

David Hershkovits: Does grunge have a legacy or was it purely a moment in time that you captured?
Michael Lavine: For better or worse, grunge has been awarded a place at the table of history.  Everybody has a different take on the reference but the movement carries the clear, basic imagery of loud, fuzzy guitars and scruffy looking rockers screaming about rebellion. You know, the kind of classic anti-rock star ideals that powered the whole punk movement. The great thing about the punk kids from the book is that they really personify the authentic nature of the birth of grunge. When you wore a mohawk in 1983 it was a huge 'fuck you' to society and projecting that kind of message was risky and dangerous. Today these symbols are incorporated into our corporate culture and they've lost all of their impact and value. My bank teller has purple hair and a nose ring, it doesn't mean anything, no one even notices, it's just another fashion accessory. Grunge is dead! Long Live grunge!

DH: Thurston Moore has said that of the Seattle bands he didn't expect that it would be Nirvana that broke out. Do you agree?
ML: I think there was the perception at the time that Mudhoney was the band that would achieve the most success, but I always thought Nirvana was a great band and I loved their music. I just was really not prepared for the huge mainstream explosion that hit our comfortable little underground indie rock scene like an H-bomb. I remember playing a bunch of different bands for Iggy Pop during a photo shoot in 1991 and he definitely picked Nirvana out of a whole slew of noisy grunge/punk sounds.  Iggy knew! [Bruce] Pavitt [of Subpop] knew! He called me once and said I have this new band "Nirvana." He said, "They are going to be HUGE!"  I said, "But you say that about all of your bands."

DH: If you could go back in time and hear any of those bands, which would it be?
ML: Mudhoney is playing a big show for the book signing party in Seattle next week and they are better than ever! Mark Arm is a living legend and should be recognized as such. But of course I would love to see Kurt again, wouldn't that be cool? Fuck the bands; just going back in time would be awesome! Oh to be 23 again!

DH: Is Williamsburg the new Seattle?
ML: No, but I hear that Bushwick is the new Williamsburg.  There will never be another "Seattle" because the record industry that supported that event doesn't exist anymore. Tower Records is gone. It's over baby.  I am sure there will be some new movement somewhere fueled by teenage angst, but until we get this whole Internet thing sorted out its hard to tell where its going to be.

DH: What's the secret to taking a photo of a band?
ML: I have two answers for this, take your pick. My cynical view: Nowadays, in the age of the ethereal snapshot, all you have to do is wave your PowerShot G11 around while your friends (in the band) are vomiting and press the button. You don't even have to look; as a matter of fact the shots usually come out better if you don't.

And my bad humor view: First of all, you have to be very good-looking and you have to have a really big camera. Then after that you have to be fantastic at math. And it helps if you can think clearly while you are talking to four or five people at the same time while the music is playing so loudly that you can't hear yourself speak. Other than that it's really easy.

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