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|January 1-7, 2009
Local writer remembers his journey through Boulder’s music scene
by Steve Knopper
Nobody really knew it, but when I first took the job as pop music writer at my hometown newspaper, the Daily Camera, in March 1991, I was absolutely terrified. I’d been writing obituaries at 5 a.m. every day for the Richmond News Leader, an afternoon paper in Virginia, while covering Metallica and punk bands late at night just to get the clips. But aside from a nerdy, encyclopedic knowledge of Bruce Springsteen and The Who, a little experience with 1950s blues and a few Jane’s Addiction and Fishbone albums, I knew nothing about music. I thought this would be painfully obvious to everybody in Boulder.
So to distract everybody I turned to generational warfare.
It was the time of classic-rock radio. Led Zeppelin was as popular as ever. Oliver Stone’s The Doors was about to come out.
Woodstock had recently celebrated its 20th anniversary in an avalanche of media hype. The ’60s were long over, but baby boomers still ruled the world, or so they kept telling us, especially in Boulder. I was 22, and used my first weekly column in the Camera’s Friday magazine to demand people skip over the Doors at Rocky Mountain Records & Tapes and proceed directly to Dread Zeppelin.
It seems quaint today, but in 1991 this line of attack bugged the crap out of Boulderites still nostalgic for the ’60s. I immediately got tons of letters from boomers defending the old stuff. I think one correspondent used the word “snot-nosed.” It was great fun.
But I couldn’t beat the Woodstock horse forever. So I threw myself into the concert scene, trying to learn everything about everything.
For the next three or four years, I saw it all — Phish jumping on trampolines at the Boulder Theater, the Feelies rocking the paint off the ceiling at Ground Zero, Guns N’ Roses nearly causing (another) riot at the old Mile High Stadium when Axl Rose decided
“Welcome to the Jungle” was enough of a set list, X playing “4th of July” on the Fourth of July at Red Rocks.
I cultivated local experts in various musical genres and took them to shows. Thrasher Joe was my favorite, an enthusiastic CU student and hip-hop fanatic who accompanied me to countless Skinny Puppys and Butthole Surfers concerts at Englewood’s then-notorious Gothic Theatre. (Think the Boulder Theater, only with bats flying out the front, with a cloud of cigarette smoke so thick you could barely see the stage from the balcony. The bats were in my imagination; the smoke was not.) One June evening, black-clad Joe and I went to Red Rocks to see Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax and Alice In Chains. We were in a car line, waiting for tickets to arrive before the show, and struck up a conversation with a clean-cut husband, wife and two young kids. After half an hour of chit-chat, Joe mentioned he especially couldn’t wait to see Slayer. The family turned pale. It turned out they’d driven from Kansas to see Dan Fogelberg — who had actually performed the previous night!
It was Joe who told me that same month that I should really write about this new Seattle band, Nirvana. To my eternal regret, I pooh-poohed Joe. I wrote a two-paragraph preview about the headlining act, Dinosaur Jr., adding they would perform “with Nirvana” in the last line. Joe dragged me to the Gothic. I’d never heard the songs, but they were incredible. The guitars blended together in a wonderful fuzzy way and I could feel the melodies in my chest. What I mainly remember from Dinosaur Jr. is the hearing damage.
Soon it became obvious that Nirvana and Pearl Jam — and hip-hop, although Boulder unfortunately didn’t get much of that — were the future. I embraced them and turned against the hippie bands, especially after seeing Blues Traveler four times, Phish twice, the Dead at McNichols and Mile High, the up-and-coming Dave Matthews Band at Red Rocks and countless local Waters, Band du Jours and Acoustic Junctions. I hailed locals like Baldo Rex, whose drummer John Call used to disrobe on stage, and Denver’s pre-Nirvana Nirvana, the Fluid. I have no regrets, although it’s interesting to visit Boulder and realize the hippie bands really were the future. Because, like zombies, they never die.
After almost four years of five or six concerts a week, I burned out. I begged the vice presidents I knew in the Knight-Ridder
Newspapers chain to find me a job as a features writer at a bigger paper, maybe the Free Press in Detroit or the Herald in Miami. I landed in Gary, Indiana, at the Post-Tribune, where I wound up covering things that never happened in Boulder — truck-stop prostitution, mob-style triple homicides, etc. Eventually I circled back to music, and returned to this area in 2001. Everything has changed since then. Boulder, for the most part, hasn’t. People here still like the Doors.
On the Bill
Steve Knopper will discuss his book, Appetite for Self-Destruction, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 6, at the Tattered Cover, 2526 E. Colfax, Denver, 303-322-7727, and at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 8, at the Boulder Book Store, 1107 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-447-2074..
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