There is a common belief about Olympia, the 24th-largest city in Washington and capital of the state, that the outsize cultural weight of the town sprang from Evergreen, a small liberal-arts college founded at the end of 1967’s Summer of Love. Simpsons creator Matt Groening and Lynda Barry both launched their cartooning careers there. Campus radio KAOS was the first station to give priority to independent record labels. Bruce Pavitt, cofounder of Sub Pop, first made a name for himself on campus. The talents incubated at Evergreen, so the lore goes, seeped into the greater community and, from there, burbled on out into the world.

I used to believe this about Olympia.Then I went there. In the 1990s, there was something thrillingly off about the place. Many of its hangouts looked like stage sets: the old-man bars like the China Clipper, or the Reef, with its 6 a.m. happy hour; the punk houses named like tree forts; the pet parade; the weird gazebo in Sylvester Park, a teen hangout (when they weren’t sliding down hills on blocks of ice like it was 1910). There always seemed to be random piles of lumber everywhere, and an endless procession of hippies and drifters and weirdos and dockworkers and fighty rednecks. The quaintness clearly harbored something darker. This was the place that seemed to shape the humans who passed through it, not the mere college campus.

Slim Moon arrived in Olympia on the first day of 1986, having moved from the larger metropolis of Missoula, Montana, and finding what he called “the old weird America, with the stink of death.” His college experience at Evergreen was brief (the school booted him for depression after the first year), and he worked for years with the Washington State Human Rights Commission. In the late 1980s, Olympia’s underground scene could be summed up in one letter: K. Founded by Calvin Johnson in 1982, K Records had been an outlier in expanding the parameters of what could be considered punk. Slim met Calvin the way people do in underground music scenes, just by showing up.

When Slim decided to release a record in 1991, a spoken-word split EP between himself and his friend Kathleen, it was Calvin who showed him the ropes. Thus was born Kill Rock Stars—named after one of Slim’s paintings—as a record label devoted solely to spoken-word releases. That same year, Calvin was planning the International Pop Underground Convention, the IPU, an unprecedented six-day festival of indie and punk bands, which seemed like a good opportunity to sell this first spoken-word 7-inch.


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