Thursday, 18 May 2017

Gonna Break My Rusty Cage

Recently I was listening to a podcast episode about the history of Magic: The Gathering. I am not a Magic player (I'm not sure I've ever even held a Magic card in my hands) but I was struck by something the interviewee said about his experience being a teenager in New Zealand in the early 90s. Back then, there was probably no cooler place in the world than Seattle. It was the epicentre of pop culture for a brief period of time. So for a kid growing up in the arse-end of nowhere in the antipodes, Magic had a kind of instant cache in being from the same place as Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, etc. There was a kind of place-based mystique about Wizards of the Coast which undoubtedly had some influence in making Magic catch on.

My friends and I weren't into Magic at all back then (we were spending money we could ill-afford on Games Workshop stuff instead) but I know what the interviewee means. In the suburban north of England in, say, 1993-1998, Seattle had this strange quality to it. It wasn't just grunge; it was Frasier (which I will still watch gleefully despite having seen every episode over and over again); it was, a few years later, The Real World: Seattle. Seattle wasn't New York or LA or Miami, places with which we were familiar. It was somewhere exotic, distant (physically and psychically) that produced great music but also managed to pump out "alternative" cultural products like Magic: The Gathering and, in due course, D&D.

I went to Seattle for the first time almost exactly two years ago for a big work conference and loved it. My colleagues and I had a fucking great time for a week and barely did a lick of what we were supposed to be doing. The weather was surprisingly glorious. The city seemed to have its best face on. All my favourite people from work were there and we abused our expense accounts atrociously. We ate and drank like kings. The place didn't disappoint. I remember thinking how odd it was that such a charming and laid-back city should be the source of depressing heroin chic and nerd games that mostly get played indoors, but then again we only experienced it when it wasn't raining.

Anyway, this is all a rather rambling and roundabout way of saying that poor old Chris Cornell was a bit part of the mythos of Seattle when I was a teenager, and him and his music and, more than that, I guess, his era will be forever bound up in the tabletop gaming hobby for me. Soundgarden was the soundtrack to many, many games of D&D, Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun and Runequest in my formative years, and I think in a strange way there was a kind of psychic continuum during those years in the early-mid 90s between RPGs, grunge music, and the city of Seattle. Chris, you were part of that psychic continuum, mate, so here's to you.


  1. Speaking of Shadowrun: I've never seen a city mythologized in an RPG quite the same way Seattle is in that game. The city is built into the game at a pretty deep level.

  2. Chris Cornell's passing has put a bit of a pall on the really represents the "end of an era" for a lot of us folks who were hitting the clubs in the 90s to see Soundgarden, Nirvanna, Mother Love Bone, etc. While Soundgarden was the last supergroup to "break out," they were the #1 established band in the Seattle "scene" prior to the whole grunge explosion.

    It's really fucking sad.

    1. Soundgarden were my favourite of the Seattle bands. Just the most interesting musically by far.