Throwaway Style is a monthly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, (mostly) the first Thursday of every new month on KEXP.org.
I've always felt like an outsider. I never considered myself part of a real-life community until I took over the duty of writing Throwaway Style. It was gradual, but Seattle's music community embraced me; no small token of appreciation for someone who had felt so alone for most of his life.
I was beaten by my biological mother often. Sometimes with closed fists, occasionally with objects, a couple times until my eye swelled shut and I had trouble breathing. I bounced around between relatives and foster homes. I knew not to anticipate love or sympathy in group homes, but it was a tough pill to swallow feeling like a second-class citizen to someone who was supposed to be "family." I learned the hard way a few times over that blood is sometimes paper thin.
I was the black sheep in a house full of siblings and stepsiblings because somebody had to be the scapegoat. It didn't matter that my grades dramatically improved in the face of unchecked trauma; or that I kept a job pretty consistently from the point I turned 16; or that I had artistic ambitions, along with a lot of drive, and threw everything I had into those ambitions; or that I never asked anybody to bail me out whenever I got myself into a jam. Somebody had to be the scapegoat, so why not someone with rapidly declining mental health?
I never felt like part of anything, let alone a community, until I proved my worth as a member of Seattle's music scene. Few things feel as emotionally fulfilling as being in the city (or far-flung locales in the region at a music festival) and feeling the positive energy from the multitudes of people I've helped build upon the legacy of the Pacific Northwest's musical history with. Many of these brilliant artists I'm lucky enough to consider friends. I consider all of these people neighbors to say the least.
For somebody who felt like a man without a home for much of his nearly four decades on Earth, this is an honor I don't take for granted, and a major boost to the quell the anxiety, depression, and PTSD from living the life I've lived. A full-time job in and of itself.
You've heard it and read it many times, nearly to the point of cliché, but it's true: There's something about the climate and spirit of the Pacific Northwest that comes out in its music. The grey skies and damp ground; the trees standing almost as tall as the skyscrapers in its biggest city; the fact that the buildings (and the cultural decay they represent) are just as depressing as the weeks on end of bottomless rainfall.
There's something to the idea that much of the music from this region articulates the depression of its creators; it's an idea that has intrigued me since being captivated by Nirvana's iconic MTV Unplugged performance as an abused and embattled child.
But the music of this region has served as a way to heal from more than just the pain of a hard upbringing. Music has been there for me; crying in traffic while grieving my parents and having a language for that grief; or rebuffing people waiting for you to "get over it," because grief is something we carry with us until it's our time to go.
When we talk about mental health, we usually discuss the matter in a very generalized way. It seems as though on a widespread level, mainstream culture has only in the past few years acknowledged how racism and the pervading culture of white supremacy negatively impacts the mental health of people who aren't white. Obviously, I can't only speak to the experience of being a Black man living in America, and specifically the pervasive and still-growing white neoliberal monoculture of Seattle.
The microaggressions I have endured have negatively contributed to my mental health. And that's not including the times I have been actively targeted by police, once getting patted down and placed into the back of a cop car while they searched the entire exterior of my car and looked in the windows. All for having expired tabs. I was driving home from an Okkervil River show, of all places.
Now I get severe pangs of anxiety every time a police car is behind me on the road, stemming back to way before George Floyd was killed.
And yes, there is music that gets me through the burden of representation and the hassles we Black people endure living in this place. As you've read from my writing on this website and heard on our narrative podcast Fresh off the Spaceship, the perception that Seattle is a "white city" is erronenous; it's just that white people have dominated all accessible areas to the point where they can freely dictate the culture of the city... and ignore the parts they don't understand. Which makes more Black people than just me feel invisible.
Feeling invisible can be just as much a factor in mental health struggles as anything.
I could have been crushed under the weight of the mistakes that I've made; swallowed by the guilt other people tried to foist upon me for the crime of not letting them control my life.
I have become the person I've always wanted to be. That is a goal that was achieved through many sleepless nights of sobbing, more than one suicide attempt, and a lack of foundational love and emotional support during the most formative years of my life. And a lot of that can be attributed to my love for music. Spinning records by artists from Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Portland, Boise, Tumwater, Renton, Kent, Federal Way, Spokane, Astoria, Aberdeen. Hearing them make sense of their lives in this rain and pine needle-swept region. The labels that turn these sounds into physical artifacts. The many live performances where people offer beautiful and sometimes visceral displays of whatever is plaguing them.
There was a time in my life where I didn't think I was long for this world, but that was many years ago. I'm not only still here, but I'm thriving; in the place I dreamed of living as a child.
Martin Douglas chronicles nearly half a lifetime of live music healing the wounds of life.
On what would have been Kurt Cobain's 51st birthday, Martin Douglas reflects on a pivotal moment in his tumultuous young life, watching Nirvana's MTV Unplugged performance re-aired shortly after Cobain's suicide.