smile : happy days were once again…

by Art Chantry (

THIS logo was used on a very popular little (3/4″) button that was a very trendy item worn in the punk scene in seattle. it gradually was lifted and used on a tshirt for the band nirvana, around the time of the release of their record ‘bleach’. i remember watching lisa orth paste it together in the production room at the rocket, where she had just quit as the art director. i’m not sure who picked the image – the band or lisa. i’m not even sure whether they altered the image or not. but, it was classic ‘sub pop’ marketing move of the time – appropriate an interesting piece of local weirdness and then exploit the hell out of it. that image became synonymous with nirvana and was a huge hit . they probably sold a million of those tshirts alone. who knows what else it was used on.

AC:...haven't really looked at that nirvana logo in over a decade or more. i remember discussion about using the logo straight across and the risk of lawsuit. so, lisa may have altered it to avoid that. but the lusty lady logo was the idea. that's undeniably the case. i was there.

the result is that most people around the world think of this blissed-out happy face as the ‘nirvana’ logo. go figger. in reality it was a promotional branding icon thingie used to promote the notorious ‘lusty lady’ strip club on seattle’s first avenue. every cool punky hipster in seattle wore one of these things as a sort of ironic joke.

the popular story of the lusty lady is as peculiar as their logo’s morph into pop celebrity. as the story goes, the place existed as an act of defiance by the owner of the building (situated directly across the street from the glamorous new robert venturi-designed seattle art museum main entrance). in an attempt to expand the area into a yuppie upscale fern bar sort of neighborhood the city supposedly attempted to use “emminent domian” laws to acquire the building (condmnation) for development. the owner fought them hand and foot and eventually won.

so the story goes, the landlord, in an act of apparent retaliation, began to rent out the space in the building to the sleaziest worst tenants he could find. the basement was rented to the First Avenue Service Center – that charity who tended the needs of the street homeless with food, medical, counceling and even shelter. the main first avenue street level was leased to the lusty lady ‘exotic private dance’ club (aka – strip joint front for everything imaginable). the top stories were apparently left vacant and were notorious ‘shooting galleries.” so, the building was a huge festering eyesore int he middle of the seattle power structure’s attempt to railroad the downtown into microyuppiedom.

the lusty lady maintained this attitude for years by boldly placing clever off-color slogans and jokes on their reader boards poking their filthy finger into the eye of the seattle art/downtown/political power structure. (i wish i could remember some of them, but they were so wink wink naughty naughty that they often get displayed in the local news. anybody out there remember any of the slogans?)

this button (later nirvana logo) was just one of their many many PR campaigns to stay as public and visible as possible in the battle against the city. everybody loved it! in fact, when the lusty lady announced they were finally closing down (after a couple of decades of this) the entire city seemed to mourn the loss.

but, the lusty lady also has another rather sordid chapter to add in the unwritten history of seattle underground culture. for one thing, the lusty lady seemed to maintain a lot of goodwill among the hipster bohemian community because it was ‘women owned’. all that means in my book is that there was a female face on the front of the power structure – a “front” for much darker ownership. but, the hipsters thought that it meant it was some feminist defiant re-interpretation of ‘the oldest profession’. so, it became a badge of honor to actually dance there (believe it or not). many women in the scene proudly let i be known that’s where they worked. everybody was usually dully impressed.

one seattle documentarian photographer even did a well-received book about the club that resulted in an exhibit inside the seattle art museum itself (the across the street enemy of the club). many of the ‘girls’ working there behind the scenes and the ‘art of erotic dancing’ became synonymous with ‘outsider’ art (or something.) at any rate, the result was a sort of “acceptance’ of the lusty lady as a sort of ‘outsider art palace.” pretty strange. but it was thought of as as ‘cool’, where every other dance club in town was ‘sleazy.’

the truth was, that the place (like most of these places) was a front for extensive prostitution and drug-abuse lifestyles. it was as bad (or maybe even worse) than any strip club. turning tricks was the unspoken part of the duties there. ‘wom

wned’ and ‘art museumed’ or not, it was the same old shit. so it goes.

the other little dirty secret of the seattle rock scene is that many of the bands (some of whom went on to stardom) were supported by girlfriends who “danced” there. it was so common to have a girlfriend dancing at the lusty lady associated with a band and financially helping to support them that it was almost a standard accessory. hooker money helped feed and house and clothe man many ‘grunge rockers’ over the years. without the girlfriends’ selling their bodies, the rock stars boyfriends would have had to get jobs and sacrifice their futures (as they hopefully imagined them). so, the loving gal pals hit the streets to support the rock star redemption fantasies that kept them going in the form of their personal rock god boyfriend. it’s a sad dirty little ignored fact that never seems to make it into the pop history books.

most of those rock stars never were, they never made it. most of those girl friends became professional sex workers for their entire short lives. most of those dreams of salvation never materialized. the bottom line is that every time time i see that nirvana tshirt with that blissed-out happy face logo, i think about those pathetic little girls turning tricks to keep their rock star boy friends in cigarettes and beer. i think of the amazing amount of damage the rocknroll fantasy has done to everybody.

sometimes i think poor little curt did, too.


AC:i remember back in the mid-80’s, interviewing a guy while i was working on that old “instant litter ‘ book i did about seattle punk posters. this guy was a fixture as a manager of several dozen rock bands over the years. the whole time i interviewed him, there were rock stars hanging out around his house and these beautiful scantily clad young women cruising about.

he kept interrupting the interview – which consisted primarily of me holding a poster and asking, “who did this?” and him answering, oh, i dod that. turns out, he never designed a poster in his life. – to answer this portable phone (it was a briefcase phone, no less! just like maxwell smart.) he’d mumble into the phone and he’d point at a girl and give her a slip of paper and she’d leave. he was running an ‘escort’ service to support all the bands. i guess the ‘guys’ got ‘bennies’, too.

apparently, eh was also the first local pimp to utilize early computer online services to run hi biz, too. he’d get busted and the cops would take his portable phone and his computer and then try to find names. they couldn’t because they had no idea how the internet worked. the pimp would just get a new phone, contact his server and be back in biz. it took the cops a few years to figure out his game. i guess he went tot the big house,eventually. all those bands collapsed in flames.

so, this was not a new phenom in the scene. it may be a part of every rock scene that ever existed. there would be a greta book about this stuff you could write….

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