Friday, August 14, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: Red Stars Theory

Red Stars Theory was a post-rock band active in Seattle in the fertile post-Grunge period of 1995-2000. Founded by James Bertram, who would go on to play bass for 764-HERO, and featuring Modest Mouse's Jeremiah Green on drums, Red Stars Theory's music is slow, meandering, tasteful; the vocals, almost an afterthought.

Red Stars Theory produced several EPs and two LPs, But Sleep Came Slowly (1997) and Life in a Bubble Can Be Beautiful (1999). But Sleep Came Slowly was put out on Sub Pop Records sub-label Rx Remedy. The band then moved to Chicago-based Touch And Go Records, which released Life in a Bubble and the EP Red Stars Theory (2000). Both albums and the Touch And Go EP can be downloaded from Amazon.

I would suggest working through the recordings chronologically. In But Sleep Came Slowly, the listener has some reference points to mark the way. For instance, one can hear the influence of Sonic Youth's EVOL (1986). Then in succeeding recordings, the band's sound generally gets more meandering and soporific. Codeine is not a poor comparison.

The period that Red Stars Theory was active, mid- to late-90s, was probably the last time rents were affordable enough in the Emerald City that one could work a low-wage, temporary job and manage to scrape by while at the same time pursuing artistic endeavors. With the millennial dot-come bubble things changed. Seattle lost its ability to support fringy art forms, whether painting, theater or rock'n'roll.

The period from Cobain's suicide and Kristen Pfaff's overdose (which happened in the apartment building next to my own) to the millennium was a rich fin de siècle in Seattle. Listening to a lot of Red Stars Theory, as well as 764-HERO and Joel RL Phelps and the Downer Trio, I realize how aurally distinct a time it was.

Starting a new job recently, working in a part of downtown I have not frequented in more than 12 years, walking to work on a path I haven't trod since I was in my 30s, I bump into my ghost from this fin de siècle Seattle. Heavy, sad, diffident, I have to say Dylan got it wrong. I don't love someone or something more than ever now that the past is gone. At least in this case, I am relieved that the past is gone.

But it makes sense that the sound of fin de siècle Seattle was what it was. Grunge rock'n'roll was supposed to be the perfect liberating synthesis of Hippie and Punk. When it turned out to be nothing more than another venue for commercial exploitation, we were left plodding on a fertile but confusing plain to the digital millennium.

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