Sound & Vision: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on the Music That Inspires Her

Interviews, Sound and Vision

In this week’s episode of Sound & Vision on KEXP, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan stopped by to talk with show producer Emily Fox about the issues facing Seattle and how she’s approaching them from her office. In addition, Durkan also opened up about her relationship with music and the songs that have inspired her in her teenage years all the way up to her mayoral campaign – ranging from Iron Butterfly and Pink Floyd all the way to Brandi Carlile and Pearl Jam.

Listen to the interview and read a transcription of the conversation below.


Jenny Durkan: Music is one of those things that I think that transcends all boundaries. And for me, music is very mood oriented. So depending on my mood will dictate what I listen to, but also the reverse. Depending on what you're listening to can also dictate your mood. And when I was growing up, I grew up in Issaquah when it was farm country, not much around, but then some neighbors built a house, moved in. They owned a concert's company and they had two little kids. And so I would babysit for concert tickets. So I saw probably dozens and dozens and dozens of music acts at Key Arena and other places growing up because that's how it was compensated. It was great. Every kind of music. You name it, I went to it and it was wonderful.

KEXP: What song reminds you of Seattle growing up? Maybe it's a show that you saw.

You know, I think it's a range of things. I grew up in the music of the 60s and 70s, which were just I believe some of the golden moments of music. So growing up on Motown but also I hear Otis Redding ["(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay"] and I'm immediately brought back to summer when I was just a young kid. And they say it was about San Francisco, but I always thought it was more about Seattle.


I can remember when I saved up my money, I bought my first quadraphonic stereo with these neon orange and yellow round speakers and that for a birthday my one sister got me Iron Butterfly "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" and the other sister gave me a Monkees album. That was the span of my music.


What is your relationship with music? You were involved when you were a kid. Is it a big part of your life or what role does music play in your life personally?

You know, I think music is one of those things that it can both transport us back to great times, it can take us deeper into our misery when we want to get there. It can kind of inspire us or it can just zone us out. I love music and I love the range of everything from classical music to Seattle grunge music to rock music. There's little music I don't like. I will admit I'm not a huge country fan, though I love some country songs and hard metal I never totally loved. But even there sometimes that was what you needed.

Can I talk about your DJ days?

My DJ days. I was a college DJ and I signed up for it, I loved it. I didn't realize it was a classical music station when I auditioned and I had for a great period of time the Sunday opera hour. And I would be "Jenny Durkan: Bach-ing you from the tower." And I didn't know anything about opera! But I listened and I learned.

Is there a Seattle band that's active today that you like listening to, that you're following?

You know, do we call Brandi Carlile a band?

An artist, I think it totally counts.

She is just amazing and phenomenal. I think her performance at the Grammys probably was the best and it was just from her soul. You look at Seattle music history and the same city that gives you Jimi Hendrix and Quincy Jones gives you Brandi Carlile and Pearl Jam. I mean it's... we're real here.


Is there a song that has been inspirational to you in your political life? Or a song that motivated you during your campaign or a song that you feel represents your goals in the community as mayor?

Now that's a really good question. I mean, I think again depending on where I was, campaigns and being mayor there's great days and then there's challenging great days. And so the music you need sometimes to get you through those days changes. I do love the lyrics of Pearl Jam's "The Fixer," because I feel like I came into the city not realizing how much was broken and that there was so much that you needed to kind of put a little light on.


Do you have a favorite song?

I don't have a favorite song, but I will have favorite songs by different artists. I do have a superstition almost every time I set up a new sound system, whether it's a new Alexa or it's in a car or I move departments or whatever, I always played Al Green 'Greatest Hits' first. I don't know why, but I did.


You talked as mayor, there are good times, there are bad times. Kind of a range of songs that you might want to call to at different moments. Is there a song that's gotten you through a hard time? And this could be as mayor or just in your personal life.

Yeah, I think that there's anybody who knows that depending on kind of what's playing at the time. But I will say that music is a way that lifts me up and it's interesting because now everybody has headphones. That's how people interact with music more than they do as a group thing like when I was growing up. But that was the moment in time when I put headphones on it was like closing out the world. I had one summer job I can remember in Seattle working in this warehouse that just every day was torture and I would go home every day and play Pink Floyd "Another Brick in the Wall" on my headphones as loud as I could play it.


What was the last concert event you've been to?

The last concert I went to was Lady Gaga. Her opening day in Vegas over the holidays and she was phenomenal. I went to her and then the next night to Celine Dion because you've got to do the Vegas thing, right? And it was a blast. It was a total blast.


What role do you think the arts and music should be playing in Seattle?

Huge. We've got to continue. They've always played a role that I think has been in Seattle throughout the ages of being this part of who we are. But I think we're in jeopardy of losing that if we don't really intentionally keep the spaces and support them. I mean, if you think about, for example, just the musicians who came up through Belltown. In the Belltown of today or the Belltown of ten years, those musicians won't have a space if we aren't intentional about it. And where is that next Belltown? We want to have that next Belltown in Seattle. So maybe that's not it. But there's always that kind of sense of who are we and struggling with the angst of who we are, but what do we want to be? All that comes through music and through the artistic class. And so I think music is just such a critical component of that.

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