by Art Chantry (firstname.lastname@example.org):
DIGGING through my crap, thinking about what to post today, i ran across this peculiar item. it’s a piece of seaweed (like the kind you purchase in small sheets in the asian food aisle in your grocery store) silkscreened with the CZ records logo. i have no recollection why this thing exists, except that it may actually have been some sort of promo by dan house at CZ records. since it’s his BD, i thought i’d post it, even though it’s getting real faded and fragile.
one of the things we used to do a lot of back in them grungey days of olde was silkscreen on weird crap. i printed posters on velvet, metal, wallpaper and even on old used tshirts (boy, THAT confused everybody!) cz records loved that stuff and we did a lot of strange promo items like this seaweed (i didn’t do this one, tho).
daniel house was the one who took that “secret lexicon of grunge” clipping from the new york times front page and sold it on a tshirt. he even printed up a series of tshirts with the individual fake ‘slang’ terms (they were simply made up by a sub pop phone solicitor when she was being interviewed by a reporter). so, in a weird way, dan was the guy who actually put those terms into the popular street consciousness PHYSICALLY on tshirts. within a couple of years, there was a television show called “harsh realm.” it all became real. verrrry scaaaary…
CZ records was one of the very earliest alternative record labels in the northwest. it certainly predates sub pop by a long shot. it has the distinction of being THE label that first released bands like soundgarden and even nirvana. it’s compilation release, titled “deep six” is considered the very first identified “grunge ” release and launched a tidal wave.
daniel house also played in a band called Skin Yard, that also included future producer jack endino, who is credited with recording all of the early grunge bands. so, daniel had the good fortune to be directly involved with the reality of what was happening around him in a very tangible way. identifying and releasing the innovations he witnessed was as easy as recording your friends. but, of course, you had to spot it first.
daniel house is the child of a Digger, that infamous organization of counter culturalists who helped create the haight-ashbury scene. his mother and father were founding members of the group (along with notables like emmet grogan and peter coyote) and dan’s childhood home was like parade of the 1960′s superstars. for instance, dan told me once that was still close with abbie hoffman and talked to him regularly right up until a few days before his death. i think abbie even pierced his ears as a child. daniel is full a odd true stories like that.
while not an easy childhood (that much “freedom” can create it’s own horrors) daniel was trained with an eye and an ear for the creative and unusual. when he became a classic punk rocker, he tended to drift toward the more talented musicians. i blame his childhood for that taste.
when bruce pavitt and jonathan poneman started sub pop, they immediately hired their friends to help make it a go. that’s the way it was in the early days, it was a community effort. historians has constantly expressed amazement at how so few people played in so many bands. well, that incestuousness transferred behind the scenes as well. everybody worked with and for everybody else. “we’re all in this together” was a sort of unspoken mantra.
sub pop hired dan house to set up their independent distribution system. like all indie labels back then, the only way to get your records into stores all over the country was to build relationship with small “mom and pop” record stores literally over the phone (the big retails chain
uldn’t even answer your calls). it was also a great way to establish a network of information. everybody would tell everybody else what was happening, who was good, where things were hot. dan had already established a big network for his own cz label. so, sub pop simply piggy backed on his efforts and the cz network became the sub pop network.
the problem with this sort of behavior is that money changes everything. as soon as that network was established and it belonged to sub pop, the company started to get upset that daniel was also selling his label’s records alongside sub pop’s records. so, when daniel was on vacation one time, when he came back, he found the locks had been changed and his stuff was in the hallway. that was a typical ‘firing’ practice at sub pop. seattle in general has a big ‘passive/aggressive’ problem.
so, daniel simply went back to his own cz records to rebuild the momentum that had been lost. the problem was that there was competition now for the bands that he had been releasing and recording. sub pop wanted exclusives and daniel lost almost all of them. that was another pattern that became prevalent in seattle – ‘stealing’ everybody else’s talent. we get all misty about the old days in seattle, but the truth was that the competition – the nasty competitive standards – made life very hard back then. still does today in seattle. it’s always been a hard place to work.
cz (which means “cubic zirconium’, by the way. fake diamonds. good joke) rebuilt into a great alternative label in seattle. they released many now famous and legendary bands (the gits for instance). but the bitter competition between the local labels and then the national alternative label network began to chip away at daniel’s efforts. distribution became a particularly nagging nightmare. it’s easy to make good product, it’s really hard to get it into the stores.
for instance, the laws are written that if you invest a great deal of your money in actually manufacturing a lot of records and sending them to your distributors warehouse for them to sell (split the profit), it actually is considered the DISTRIBUTOR’S property. so, if they bankrupt (a very common occurance) then, you literally lose your entire inventory to the bankruptcy. all of your money gets lost because of the distributor’s blunders, which you have no control over. that happened to cz a couple of times.
then there was another more insidious practice. distributors (who often ran their own labels and would simply distribute other companies records to make a little extra money) would sometimes make deals with their competitors (they all sold to the same market. makes sense) to distribute their records. what some crooked people would do is simply get their competitor to manufacture an large unreasonable number of records (tying up all their money) and get those records into their warehouses – where they would simply SIT on them, not even try to sell them. it was a sneaky way of eradicating your competition. that happened to cz, too.
so, cz is gone now. daniel moved away and started other things. but, the legacy of cz lives on in the “grunge revolution” back in the 1990′s, a pop cultural movement that cz actually started before sub pop grabbed the reigns.
i hope somebody someday actually sits down and documents what REALLY happened in seattle back then. then maybe they’ll actually mention all the people who actually made it so.