A Deafening Roar

After a long lull, Seattle is finally loud again.

Above: Capitol Hill, 10th and Pike, Post-Super Bowl Victory

“Do you know that sound is a spirit? The sound of something happening is a spirit. It’s too abstract for most of our minds to accept. The sound of two trees rubbing together is a spirit. It’s too abstract for us to really accept as a source of spirit. The sounds of a hurricane, these things are part of the abstractness of the culture.”

-Vi Hilbert, Upper Skagit Elder and Lushootseed Storyteller

The moment the Seahawks finished their brutal slaughter of the Broncos, everyone on Capitol Hill wafted out from their homes, instinctually knowing to gather at 10th and Pike. The police knew too—they had already cordoned off the area with their cars. The crowd streaming past them reached their hands out for high fives, which the cops returned with quiet grins on their faces. Last August, these same cops had handed out free Doritos at Hempfest with details about I-502 printed on them.

The crowd of strangers chanted “SEA-HAWKS” and hugged each other. Gay couples wearing football jerseys kissed each other. Friends climbed on one another’s shoulders in order to rain down champagne and Skittles from above. Kids did skateboard tricks in the street as the mob grabbed an old Christmas tree, setting it ablaze in a neo-pagan celebratory ritual.

Excited by the primal delight of fire, a man to my left screamed “WEED IS LEGAL! WEED!” as the tree was held aloft.

We live in an alternate universe. We can legally get weed delivered to our gay weddings by a guy wearing a Seahawks Super Bowl championship t-shirt. Last summer, we built the greenest commercial building in the world. As people around the country accuse Barack Obama of being a socialist like it’s a bad word, we just elected a real one to city council. When we did all of these seemingly anti-American things, the city didn’t erupt in flames.

On the night of February 2, following that Super Bowl win, a dried-up Christmas tree and some couches on Greek Row did catch fire. But that was it. The nation started a #HowSeattleRiots Twitter handle to parody how politely we handled our celebrations. In a widely circulated video, hordes of fans in Ballard danced and screamed, but waited at stoplights as not to jaywalk.

The only real damage fans did was to the glass in the 100 year old pergola in Pioneer Square, which was likely accidental. The repair costs were raised in one day, thanks to a crowdfunding campaign started by a woman named Amanda Quinn, who isn’t even a Seahawks fan, according to the Seattle Times. She’s just “a fan of the fans.” Seattle Parks had to ask Quinn to shut the campaign down because locals were donating more money than was actually needed for repairs.

Much ballyhoo was made about whether or not the NFL should have paid for the damages. Danielle Henderson at The Stranger wrote:

“Can't Paul Allen pay for this? Can't the players pony up a little bit of the endorsement deals they're sure to get as newly minted winners? This is a team of millionaires owned by a billionaire—wouldn't the ultimate gesture of good faith come from them? Particularly now that our city is in the national spotlight not only as Super Bowl winners, but for pushing a debate about the raising minimum wage?”

It’s an interesting thought. The NFL or any of the Seahawks probably could have paid for the damages, and it would have been a powerful symbolic gesture. But on Tuesday, the day the pergola repair costs were recouped by the citizenry, Marshawn Lynch was still snowed in in New York, probably celebrating his team’s historic victory at the nearest Applebees. He probably wasn’t thinking about a 100-year-old awning.

But we were. Why is it that so many people rushed to fix the pergola?

I walk by the pergola almost every day on my lunch break. It’s nothing special. Yes, it is 100 years old, a national historic landmark, but it was originally built in 1909 as a way to designate the entrance to some underground toilets. Its main function seems to be as an antagonist to semi-trucks—four have plowed into it since 2001.

So what was the big deal?

The pergola damage.

In the 90s, Seattle was very loud. Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden’s disaffected howls rumbled through radios across the country, flipping the bird to Ronald Reagan’s 1980s America by calling B.S. on corporate culture. When asked about the meaning behind “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” in Michael Azerrad’s Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain said he wanted “to describe what I felt about my surroundings and my generation and people my age […] The entire song is made up of contradictory ideas. It's just making fun of the thought of having a revolution. But it's a nice thought."

Seattle’s revolution in the ‘90s was, in reality “just making fun of the thought of having a revolution.” We called ourselves “Losers.” It was a lot of sneering, shoulder shrugging, and “whatevers.” We’ve been a city long defined by an album called Nevermind. The prevailing narrative in the city of Seattle was that it was populated by a bunch of young people who were changing the system by not giving a shit.

That attitude caught on across the country, and soon Vogue was featuring “flannel” fashion spreads that made its way into the malls of America. When grunge broke, we reacted to the limelight by getting self-conscious. We defended ourselves with irony.

And then all of the sudden we became a quiet city. Death Cab For Cutie and Fleet Foxes took over, and everyone thought we were lumberjacks who cooed to birds, and mandated that all males grow homely beards. There was nothing wrong with all this—the sounds and the city were still great—that’s just how it was.

And now here we are in 2014, and that vision of Seattle couldn’t be farther from reality. During the Saints vs. Seahawks game in December, the 12th man set the Guinness World Record for crowd noise for the second time. We were so loud that scientists detected five seismic events during the game.

We were so loud, we caused five small earthquakes.

Last Wednesday, 700,000 human beings descended on Seattle to celebrate for the Seahawks Super Bowl victory parade. There were more people in Seattle lining 4th Ave than actually live in Seattle, pop: 634, 535. Governor Jay Inslee issued a “moment of loudness” declaration to be recognized at 12:12 p.m. during the parade. It didn’t really matter, because people elicited a deafening roar throughout the whole three hour event.

Nobody at the parade was self-conscious. I saw zero irony. Instead, I waded through a crowd of people crying, laughing, and screaming together in sincere fits of ecstasy. They were celebrating our oddball of a Super Bowl championship team, led by a man who makes his players do yoga and meditation in a league built on hard-ass, drill sergeant coaching.

ESPN called Carroll’s training facility “the happiest, greenest campsite in the history of the NFL.” The Seahawks are a team without a superstar. There’s no Peyton Manning on the Seahawks roster. Everyone is a star. Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Marshawn Lynch, Percy Harvin, Golden Tate, Steven Hauschka, Earl Thomas, Doug Baldwin, Pete Carroll, the previously unknown Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith, and the deaf running back Derrick Coleman … and all of us too, the 12th Man. We all won the Super Bowl together. We are the most socialist football team in America. Spiritually, we all own the Seahawks, even though Paul Allen might beg to differ.

When images of the Super Bowl parade went up online, the common criticism was, “if only this many people would gather together for something that actually mattered.”

Well—from my vantage point, all Seattle has been doing the past two years is gathering people together for things that actually matter. We legalized gay marriage, marijuana, elected our first gay mayor, and have led the country in dialogues on feminism, minimum wage and social justice issues.

Omari Garret on the steps of Horace Mann.

Yes, we still have gaping holes we need to solve regarding race. When I went out to the Horace Mann School in the Central District last November and spoke to Omari Garrett about his occupation of the building, the sense that there are still people who don’t feel they have a representational home and a strong cultural base here in the city was overwhelming. We can do much better by these communities.

But to return to the reportage of Danielle Henderson, who wrote about Ed Murray’s observant, attentive nature at a black community forum last month, it seems as though the mayor is at the very least paying attention to these communities and taking notes. We are trying to do something different. More importantly, we are trying together to do something different.

The narrative in Seattle has changed. The sound of Seattle is loud again.

But this time around, it’s not the deafening sound of ambivalence. It’s the overwhelming sound of people rushing to pay out of pocket for an awning, the sound of the people trying to make the community better, stronger, and more vibrant.

Evan Flory-Barnes is an incredible bassist from Seattle. His band Industrial Revelation was one of our favorites from 2013, a year that wrapped up well for him when last month, he joined Macklemore at the Grammys for his four-award sweep. Flory-Barnes was one of the many Seattleites featured on The Heist— he laid down a lot of the tracks on the album with his other band, The Teaching.

Before the Super Bowl and Macklemore’s Grammy domination, Flory-Barnes wrote an essay in October for City Arts entitled “An Unabashed Declaration of Love,” a love letter to Seattle.

It’s a beautiful essay, I could easily quote the whole thing here, but there is one section that stood out to me:

“I can no longer listen to tales of what’s lacking in this city: We’re too small or too passive-aggressive or too whatever. That drum is broken. If you don’t love Seattle then you can’t critique her. In a city where you can be who you truly wish to be, why not work together to create the grandest, most imaginative place ever? What are we waiting for? I won’t wait for some perfect moment to seize the possibilities of this city. I celebrate it now.

We’re an unprecedented artistic and cultural community and we’re only beginning to scratch the surface of our potential.

We’re revolutionary and we don’t even know it.”

In October, at the time he wrote it, Flory-Barnes was right. But I’m not sure that last line is entirely true four months later.

We live in revolutionary times, and Seattle is the center of it. We are doing things differently than every other city in the country. The new sound of Seattle is of loud, united, measured revolution. What we do with this moment is entirely up to the city.

But so far, we are doing really damn well.


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