June 17, 1997… Sunny
The Next Seattle
So, crashing the rental car… that was not my fault.
Not my goddamned fault.
I blame the crash of the rental car on New York. I’ve lived in the
city for so long that I haven’t driven in more than 20 years. But here I had found myself out in this dinky place in the Midwest and I assume that they don’t have taxis out here. Do they? I really doubt it.
At any rate, I assumed that they didn’t, so I booked myself a rental car. Although I hadn’t driven in a few decades I assumed that driving was one of those skills that you really don’t forget.
I was wrong. Oh so wrong.
I didn’t even make it out of the rental lot. I backed right into the driver’s side door of a parked rental car. And that was that. The pimply-faced kid at the rental counter actually physically took the car keys from my hand. The little prick.
So, long story short, I ended up getting a ride from the father of the young woman I was in Terre Haute to interview.
Yeah, it was kind of embarrassing.
Plus, it was sunny that June day in 1997. It was sunny and I had left my sunglasses in New York. The only positive thing to happen thus far on this assignment was that when my “chauffeur” pulled up he was smoking a cigarette. So as soon as my butt hit the passenger’s seat, I fired up a smoke myself.
“So you’re from the Big Apple, huh?” asked Mr. Ketchum as I squinted to see him in the horribly bright daylight.
“Yeah,” I said, “but I’m originally from Los Angeles.“
“Ah, ‘The Land of Fruits and Nuts,’” said Mr. Ketchum good- naturedly.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that said,” I replied, “ but now I live in New York.”
I didn’t add that I lived alone in New York. Pathetically alone. Not the kind of alone of a person who wants to be alone, but the alone of a person who has screwed up every relationship with every
good woman he has ever known; has alienated every person, of either sex, who it would be worthwhile to call a friend; has fallen to a pathetic level of existence on this planet. That was the type of alone that we’re talking about here. But, as I said, I didn’t mention that.
“Which edge of the country do you like the best?” he asked.
“Well, except for the fact that the weather is quite often a bitch, I much prefer the East Coast to the West.”
“Hmm,” murmured Mr. Ketchum, “Never been to either coast myself. We go up to Canada for a fishing trip every few years, but that’s about the extent of my traveling. Maybe one of these days.”
Soon, we were passing through signs of civilization—a small shopping center, then on through mainly residential areas. I could see a few taller buildings sprouting above the treetops and guessed that we must be nearing this alleged city. Now, coming as I had from New York, I had the New Yorker’s tendency to view any city that didn’t have gigantic buildings stacked one against the other as being, shall we say, nowhere. But I had to keep in mind that even in these days of exploding populations and paving over forests to build condos, America is still a nation of small towns. Take a cross-country drive sometime and this becomes readily apparent. America is mostly gaps, huge expanses of land punctuated by tiny clusters of people.
“So who’s your daughter auditioning?” I asked.
“Hell if I know. Probably called The Skinsuckers, or something like that. They all sound the same to me,” said Mr. Ketchum, “But she’s convinced she’s gonna find the next big band, and that Terre Haute’s gonna be the next Seattle. Stick around very long and you’ll hear her say that damned phrase at least once or twice. ‘Terre Haute’s gonna be the next Seattle.’”
“‘The next Seattle, huh?’ What do you think about that?” I asked.
“I don’t know that much about it myself. It’s all a little over my head.”
I can tell you one thing. The “next Seattle” claim was one that I had heard laid on more than one musical city over the last few years, but I have yet to see a phenomenon like that work itself out again.
And to tell you the truth, I’m not sure that it ever will. The whole Seattle scene was quite a unique little period in music history. A place and a time that a bunch of scruffy non-conformists made the industry come to them. I couldn’t see something like that being repeated again, much less out here in a small city in the middle of the country.
As Mr. Ketchum drove, he glanced over at me and said good- naturedly, “Damn. You sure are a skinny one aren’t ya? We’ll see if we can put some pounds on ya while you’re here,” he said with a laugh. “You’re not one of those vegetarians, are you?”
“No sir.” “Good.”