While Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice and Chains placed a stranglehold on the 1990s Seattle rock scene, another band, the Screaming Trees, was quietly jostling for position and pumping out some awesome tunes under the radar.
Some of my music-minded friends think the Trees had the more popular bands beat, meaning if they were shipped off to a tropical island for the rest of their lives they would take the Trees with them and forgo the rest. It would be pretty hard for me to pick Mr. Marc Lanegan over Layne Thomas Staley, Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobaine, but it wouldn’t be too painful.
The Trees formed in Ellensburg, Washington in 1985, turned out a few albums and then hit it pretty big in 1992 with the release of Sweet Oblivion.
Ironically, it was about that time that a friend put a cassette in the stereo as I steered my new truck over Snoqualmie Pass to Ellensburg. That cassette was Sweet Oblivion and we listened to it over and over, before we hit the Yakima for winter midging, and after our fishing when we cruised to a bar, got in some trouble, and raced away with our lives at stake. The scene that stays with me is my buddy hanging out the passenger window, shouting something about a cat to a cow-poke who was trying to jump into the bed of my pickup. Every time he got close I punched the gas and we shot 10 yards outside his reach. His girl was screaming unprintables at us, too, so I leaned out the driver side window and shouted some thing about swine… Ah, well, you get the point.
We slept in the single cab pickup truck that night with my black Labrador, Shadow. I doubt the outside temperature raised above 20 that night and there was plenty of dog breath and ice on the inside of the windows by the morning. I slept with my feet resting on the passenger side dashboard. My friend was scrunched into the corner with Shadow on top of him. To this day it comes up and I’ll probably always have to take the rollout bed when a few of us get a motel room and there’s only two real beds. “Thomas gets the cot!” my friend would insist.
I also remember that we were fuzzy as could be the morning after that bar debacle, but it wasn’t long after coffee that we had the Trees rolling again and, because the Yak was running ice, we cruised into Cle Elum for an afternoon beer. We were the only ones there. I don’t know how long we waited for the bartend to show up before my buddy got truly thirsty and jumped over the bar and took a hit off the Rainier tap. Not to be outdone, and because my buddy was hissing something about a cat, I leaped over the bar, grabbed the Jack Daniels and took a power hit. My bud passed me as I exited through a cut in the bar. He grabbed the JD and had his eyes aimed at the ceiling when I saw Mr. Barman scooting down the hall. I gave my friend the three finger shake (our sign to cut off the quashing) but he never got the message and just as I was crying, “Can I have a Rainier?” the barkeep caught sight of my friend and said, “What the hell! You two out of here now!”
Haven’t been back there since. But I have listened to the Trees, lots of times, on almost all of my extended road trips and each time I’m immediately transported to that weekend in Ellensburg and that afternoon in Cle Elum, a good time in life. Isn’t it that way with music, the deja vu? Listen to a particular song and you turn the clock back, become youthful for a few minutes and relive the fun and mistakes of a particular time and place.
Over the years, I’ve listened to a lot of Marc Lanegan, who went on to a pretty sweet solo career after the Trees split up. I think the Trees are a band you can listen to on the way to the fishing grounds, but I think they’re even better on the way home when you’re recovering from a weather-beating or a few big nights in a row and you need some wind-down. It’s not that there isn’t as much excitement in their music as, say, Nirvana’s, or that Lanegan doesn’t hit those plaintiff and painful notes that the grunge scene delivered, but it’s more mellow in my opinion. If you want to go all-in, buy Sweet Oblivion. If you haven’t previously heard the Trees and you want to get a taste, visit iTunes and buy Dying Days (from the album Dust), and also get Dollar Bill and Troubled Times from Sweet Oblivion. I’m thinking you’re going to like Trees.
From Dying Days
Yes it’s too late
This life isn’t mine
Lord don’t you hear me pray
Can you ease my mind
Waited for the sunshine
Waited for the sunshine
All these dyin’ days
I walked the ghost towns
Used to be my city
I seen a holy man crying with the Mother Mary
All these dying days