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The Path to Nirvana
Written by Larry Reid | Filed under Taking Punk to the MassesrockPeter BaggeFantagraphics historyFantagraphics Bookstoreart shows 14 Apr 2011 2:28 PM

Taking Punk to the Masses: From Nowhere to Nevermind - A Visual History from the Permanent Collection of Experience Music Project

Seattle's Experience Music Project is hosting festivities all weekend to launch their ambitious Nirvana exhibition  and companion book Taking Punk to the Masses, published by Fantagraphics in association with EMP. The celebration begins with a private reception, followed by a members preview, this Friday evening with celebrity DJs including Fantagraphics friends Steve Fisk, Mark Pickerel, and Charles Peterson. Activities continue all weekend, including a panel on the origins of grunge at 2:30 on Saturday, with panelists including Peterson and former Fantagraphics frontman Tom Price, moderated by curator and the book's author Jacob McMurray.

The EMP exhibition focuses on Nirvana, while the book takes a broader view of Seattle's grunge counterculture, primarily through artifacts and oral histories provided by many of the principals of the movement. It reads like a chronicle of my misspent youth. (I'm quoted on Page 1 along with Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Wayne Kramer of the MC5, and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam.) Every page reveals another fascinating step in an evolving punk subculture that would eventually alter the course of popular music worldwide. Who would've guessed at the time? Not me.

It's appropriate that Fantagraphics published this document. Comix played an important role in shaping the attitude and aesthetics of Seattle's grunge movement. I often compare Seattle in the late 80s and early 90s to San Francisco in the mid-60s. Like the hippie movement in the Bay Area, the Northwest had distinctive rock music, poster graphics, and fashion (or anti-fashion) sensibilities. We also had an army of talented and perceptive alternative cartoonists to disseminate the emerging scene, none more influential than Peter Bagge. The book establishes that many Fantagraphics artists, friends and future employees were central to the development of Seattle's domination of the counterculture of the era.

U-Men Poster

I commissioned this poster by Weirdo and Real Stuff contributor Ashleigh Talbot (formerly Ashleigh Raffloer, AKA Triangle-Slash) for a 1988 show I promoted with the U-Men, a legendary proto-grunge outfit. This bill included famed illustrator Ed Fotheringham's Thrown Ups featuring Mark Arm on drums. Mark and Ed are pictured prominently in Peterson's cover photo for the book. Both Mark and Tom Price of the U-Men would later work for Fantagraphics. Tom is playing guitar with the U-Men on the announcement for Peterson's May 14 show at Fantagraphics Bookstore below.

The Nirvana exhibition at EMP continues through 2014. To supplement the EMP show, Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery will mount an exhibition of seminal work by accomplished Seattle photographer Charles Peterson opening May 14. He will be joined by Peter Bagge signing copies of Hate Annual #9 (featuring Buddy's return to Seattle) and the Yeah! collection. The show will be followed by a concert by Bagge's band Can You Imagine? featuring Steve Fisk on keyboards. You should just move to Seattle. OK?

 Peterson exhibition image