MUSIC JOURNALISM 101 / JOHNNY MNEMONIC

 

My Dinner With Tad (or,
Adventures with Option Magazine, Pt.1)

 

By Johnny Mnemonic

 

“You finished with that?”

 

Tad Doyle, lumberjack frontman for his eponymous Seattle band Tad, comes
into focus as my head slowly swivels to the left. Flecks of pasta and spaghetti
sauce decorate his thick black beard like the glittery remains of a visit to
the dance club. This ain’t no disco, however, and he ain’t foolin’ around,
either: Doyle is poking a Cuban cigar-sized finger at my half-eaten plate of
lasagna, and the look on his face is the same kind of look a Looney Tunes wolf
gets when it’s gazing at some potential prey and doesn’t see a duck or a bunny
at all but a steaming, home-cooked meal smothered in tasty sauces.

 

“Um, yeah, uh, I, uh, guess so,” I stammer, and with a
bright, “Cool!” Doyle reaches across, picks up my plate, and summarily dumps
the remains upon his plate, which has already been so scrupulously cleaned of
every last crumb that to the casual onlooker it would appear Doyle hadn’t even
received his initial order yet. My hand reflexively shoots out to grab my soft
drink before it, too, can pass into the public domain.

 

In our dining party: the entire Tad band, plus their
roadie/driver and a photographer friend of mine. The 2 a.m. wares of this 24-hour
Italian-Greek diner located a half-mile away from L.A.’s Sunset Strip appear to agree with
everyone, not the least of them being Doyle, who I swear is now eyeing his
bandmates’ plates, too. Bassist Kurt Danielson chuckles at my discombobulation,
winking knowingly at guitarist Gary Thorstensen as if this is just another on-the-road
mealtime ritual. It might not be a coincidence that Danielson, Thorstensen and
drummer Steve Wied are rock-star thin, in striking contrast to Doyle, who to my
untrained eye clocks in at around 300 pounds.

 

 

The occasion of this late-night pasta picnic is an
assignment from Option magazine. It’s
the spring of 1991 and Tad’s second full-length, the Butch Vig-produced 8-Way Santa, was released a few months
ago by Sub Pop, and everyone from the label to the music press to the musicians
themselves is counting on this to be their breakout record. Option, while having positioned itself over
the course of its half-decade tenure as a kind of indie music bible, somehow
managed to discount the subterranean rumblings emanating from the Northwest
over the past few years, and as a result early Sub Pop acts like Green River,
Mudhoney, Afghan Whigs and even Nirvana all got short shrift from the magazine.
Now, though, with even mainstream publications starting to turn their gaze
towards Seattle,
Option can’t afford to remain behind
the curve so the Tad piece is essentially the magazine scrambling to play
catch-up.

 

(Truth be told, Option, in its drive to become a musical tastemaker and a so-called alternative to the
alterna-likes of the ‘mersh-tilting Spin,
has gradually adopted a somewhat provincial attitude towards the more hirsute,
blue-collar, hard-rock leaning elements of the Amerindie underground. This
development is both a source of mirth and frustration among the magazine’s pool
of mostly unpaid writers. There’s a lot of really, really great heavy-ass music
cropping up all over the country and not just in Seattle, but much of what
we’re sent by the magazine to review is of the twee/K Records and home-brewed “cassette
culture”
variety. The upside is that a number of the writers have started up
their own fanzines and writing about what they’re really into. But that’s another story, for another day.)

 

At any rate, earlier in the evening I witnessed Tad
positively slay a normally jaded Hollywood
crowd, testimony that the so-called “grunge explosion” isn’t just hype. Little
does anyone in our dining party realize that before 1991 is out, “hype” is
going to be an operative term as regards Seattle – next year, a documentary
will anoint 1991 as “the year punk broke,” and filmmaker Cameron Crowe will
release his romanticized take on the Seattle scene, Singles – thanks to Tad’s scruffy labelmate, Nirvana. The Nevermind album will blow across the
music universe like a typhoon, randomly raising and capsizing many of Nirvana’s
contemporaries; in the latter category will be Tad, who despite landing a major
record deal during the ensuing bidding wars won’t be able to live up to the
aforementioned hype, sales-wise, and after a series of label and lineup
shuffles, will split up in 1998.

 

The Tad Option piece
never happens, which in hindsight is a lot less annoying than it was at the
time since I now view the situation as emblematic of Tad’s career – a doomed
trajectory also foreshadowed by the band’s unplanned legal woes (a lawsuit
filed by Pepsi over Tad’s unauthorized use of the cola giant’s logo for the
“Jack Pepsi” 45; another suit on the part of the guy depicted on the sleeve of 8 Way Santa grabbing his girlfriend’s
boob, the gentleman having subsequently become a born-again Christian and not
exactly digging the fact that a long-forgotten photograph from his former life had
resurfaced).

 

My Tad story was actually an extremely solid one, full of
colorful, telling details about the band and the region that spawned it, not to
mention some pretty funny quotes collected at the meal. And I filed my copy on
time, too; as this was still the pre-Internet era, I personally delivered it to
the Option office along with a bundle
of photos and negatives the photographer had taken of Tad (my favorite was of
Doyle in the middle of a dumpster, glowering, while his bandmates chucked in
bags of trash).

 

But by the time the issue containing the story would have appeared on newsstands,
Nirvana was blowing up nationally. The editors, not wanting to make the
magazine’s bandwagon-hopping appear too obvious
with back-to-back Seattle-themed pieces, canned the Tad feature and hastily
located a writer to do something on Nirvana.

 

Of course, this story isn’t really about Tad, or about
Nirvana, or even about the grunge era – since the name of the blog you’re
reading is “Music Journalism 101,” this story is about Option.

 

To be continued…

 

***

 

Johnny Mnemonic is the
pseudonym of a “highly-regarded” national writer with, he advises us, over two
decades’ experience working as a music critic, reporter and editor. We’ve never
met him face-to-face, and he further advises he will be delivering his blogs to
us via the “double blind drop-box method,” whatever that is, to ensure his
anonymity.

 

 

 

 

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