Holy moly gosh darn dang

Calvin Johnson is in Edmonton tonight, and he’s performing at the all-ages Elevation Room on Jasper Ave. Edmonton’s Liam Trimble, Halifax’s Nick Everett, and Vancouver’s Katie & The Lichen are also playing. Even if you haven’t heard of Johnson, you’ve likely been influenced by him. Here’s an excerpt from my MA thesis, discussing his importance:

…While [Bruce] Pavitt was still in Olympia, he met Calvin Johnson, who also volunteered at [college radio station] KAOS. Johnson, starting under similar circumstances to Pavitt, went on to form Beat Happening, a band that stressed emotion first, and musicianship a distant second. This vital component to the punk attitude was apparent from the Beat Happening’s first performance, which was at a house party where they did not have any equipment. The band played regardless, for Johnson felt that they could “proceed on their own terms,” without having to rely “on equipment or technical issues to be who [they] are.” The band continued with this approach throughout its career, never touring with a drum kit: “our attitude was if people don’t let us borrow drums then we can go grab a garbage can or cardboard box and that will do,” recalled member Bret Lunsford. Indeed, Heather Lewis estimated that Beat Happening had practiced 20 times by 1988. Lyrically, Calvin Johnson carried an air of innocence, but songs were often critical of chauvinism, or even the [baby] Boomers. In “Bad Seeds” Johnson sang, “the new generation for the teenage nation/ this time, let’s do it right.”

Beat Happening: Calvin Johnson, Bret Lunsford, and Heather Lewis.

Johnson was immersed in the Olympia scene at various levels, including creating his own label, K Records with Candice Pederson. K Records was interested in fostering a global network of likeminded people. Johnson related that the “K” stood for knowledge, and the label’s attitude reflected that of Beat Happening: accessible and encompassing, unrestrictive and creative.  Rich Jenson, a musician on the K label, points out that Johnson was “a student of youth culture – a serious student, from World War II on, into films and music and the whole rise of an industry centered around teenagers.”

Credited with creating an alternative community all his own, Johnson soon had followers that adopted his name: Calvinists. They adopted an attitude of childlike naivety, avoided substance abuse, and played in each other’s bands. Showing the interrelated nature of the Pacific Northwest milieu, the Calvinists had quite an effect on Cobain, who claimed “they started up their own little planet.” Cobain dated Tobi Vail, an ex-girlfriend of Johnson, and had a “K” tattoo inked on his left forearm. The connection between the Calvinists and Cobain highlighted the interaction throughout the Pacific Northwest underground community. What the connection between Cobain and participants in the Calvinist/K Records community showed was that their attitudes were similar; even though Cobain is normally remembered as a “grunge” musician, he was heavily affected by the Olympia community.  Calvin’s influence spread even further, having built a network of contacts across the world through his time with KAOS, K Records, and Beat Happening: “I thought it would be neat,” he related, “to have a place for them to get together and all hang out.” As a result, the International Pop Underground Convention, mentioned earlier in the chapter, was organized by Calvin, Candice Pederson, and others in 1991.

Read more about Calvin Johnson in my thesis here: https://era.library.ualberta.ca/public/view/item/uuid:2fee8955-70a3-449d-9822-ecb636120e12

More information on the show tonight at the Elevation Room in Transcend Coffee on Jasper Ave here: http://elevationroom.com/

Kurt Cobain sporting a K sticker on his guitar

 

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