I recently found an old journal of mine, dated from the summer of 1999. It was full of angsty love letters that never got sent, poems about drummers in bands long gone, and more than a few references to Deathcab for Cutie lyrics. I was 17 and living in an apartment in the heart of Fairview with my best friend. On a single page near the end of the journal, under the heading "Life Goals," I noted that if I could have any job in the world it would be to write about music for the Anchorage Press. That was it, the sum total of my life's ambition at 17 years old.
My love affair with music, and with local music in particular, began a few years earlier when I was 15. At that time I wore a lot of eyeliner and listened to bands with deep bass lines and lyrics about vampires. Where the downtown fire station is today there used to be a little brick building called Gig's Music Theater. It was all-ages and featured a cave-like music venue downstairs and an assortment of busted out couches upstairs. It was the perfect place to be a weirdo in Anchorage in the mid '90s. It was here that I became a member of "The Scene."
I thought that only Anchorage had a scene. It was the only place I'd ever lived and I was convinced that my hometown was literally the coolest city on the planet. At 15, I was not yet a victim of the ennui that plagues many local scenesters. I didn't want to get out; I didn't want to move to Portland or L.A. or New York. I was absolutely certain that this was it. The sphere of cool music and culture and art and fashion began and ended at Gig's. In fact, I probably would have argued that the epicenter of all things "cool" was nestled in the ginger curls atop DJ Woody's head or in the split second breaths between the "ooh wee ooh's" of Matt Hopper's choruses.
By 20, I was putting on shows in rec centers around town with my friends and my younger sister. Line-ups included pop punk groups with too many guitarists and a lot of spikey hair. Band names and lineups escape me these days, because they've all come and gone so many times that it's impossible to remember who was in what band when.
These shows had small but enthusiastic crowds. We'd open the doors and kids would rush in, crowd whatever makeshift stage had been erected and then would proceed to rock out with their entire body for as long as music was playing.
The early 2000s were, in my estimation at least, the golden era of local music in Anchorage (though the present isn't a bad time to be a music lover in Anchorage, either). I had so many favorite local bands in my early 20s that their bedroom- and garage-recorded albums crowded my CD book, and I often went months without buying music that wasn't from a merch table at a show. Bands like Billy Dirt Cult, BroKin, Yolanda and the Starlights, Swingshift, The Born Losers, Woodrow, and nearly every incarnation of The Roman Candles kept my tastes eclectic and taught me about diversity before I even realized what was happening.
Standing ear-to-ear with mohawked punk rockers and glassy-eyed hippies was not unusual; the scene was thriving, and I was a part of this thing that was bigger than me, bigger even than my small group of friends. I helped out on locals-only radio shows at both KZND and KRUA and contributed to a public access TV show that aired only in the middle of the night for a few years.
For a single afternoon my girl friends tried to teach me to play bass so I could be in their band. (It didn't take and for the record I was terrible.) It didn't matter that I couldn't play an instrument and might as well be tone deaf for all my ability to sing. When it came to local music, I was a fan.
I spent most of my 20s attending college in Las Vegas and exploring the local and touring acts that played the giant arenas and back alley bars there. I traveled regionally and while I found good music no matter what town or city I was in, I've never encountered another local scene quite as special or dedicated as the one we have in Alaska. Call me biased, but Alaska just seems to produce a higher quality musician than most other places.
These days, most of my friends are musicians of some kind or another. One fronts a roots rock duo and others are DJs or guitarists or vocalists or reluctant keyboard players. I have friends who build their own recording studios in spare bedrooms and basements, and who record tracks on iPhones just so they'll be immortalized for at least as long as they have access to their iTunes account. And I have friends who are like me: enthusiastic members of a scene that loves the fans as much as it loves the musicians. I have been smashed against the edge of a stage and worked the merch tables in the back of shows for half my life, and I cannot think of a better way to spend my nights and weekends.
At 30 years old, after over 15 years "in the scene" and maintaining a pretty high level of anonymity, I accepted the job of entertainment editor of the Press. The last year has been a greatest hits of all the things that made me fall in love with Alaskans who make music. The dedication, the intensity, and the life-altering friendships, all the things I lived for when I was a teenager, still exist here. The bands have changed, and new venues have opened and closed. The kids that wouldn't get paid to play a show anywhere in 1998 are headlining music festivals in Portland and beyond these days, and I have to pay $30 to see my friend play when his band comes to town.
The last year with the Press has literally, no joke, been a dream come true. My 17-year-old aspirations have been sated and I'm ready to start a new "Life Goals" list. I'm packing up my husband, our pup and coffee cups and heading back to Vegas again in a few days, but not without a heart full of experiences, not to mention a history with this town and its music makers that I will never be able to forget.
I'll be back to visit and I hope I see some of my favorites still gigging around town. Though I hope that when The Modern Savage or Historian headline in Vegas they'll look me up and put me on the guest list-I'll work your merch table I promise. I wouldn't be the person I am today where it not for this town and its rock 'n' roll.
Keep in touch.
Keep supporting local music.