The dance floor at Neumo's on 10th and Pike (formerly Moe's, formerly ARO.Space, formerly several other music-and-drink outfits) was, unusually, filled a few Sunday nights ago by rental folding chairs. This would be a sit-down event honoring someone who's spent more than half her life getting folks up and dancing. It was a "retirement roast" party for Kim Warnick, the longtime Fastbacks singer-bassist and more recent Visqueen sidewoman.
Warnick announced earlier this year that she was quitting Visqueen and giving up the music-biz grind. Some longtime pals, particularly promoter Kerri Harrop (like Warnick, a former office drone at Sub Pop Records), staged the shindig to honor Warnick's long service to the local and global music community.
The event was emceed by former local TV phenom John Keister. He's apparently spent at least part of the past four years in low-rent exile in Ellensburg. He opened with a short monologue about the Seattle music scene, or what passed for it, around the time Warnick began playing and Keister was on the original staff of the local music rag The Rocket.
"The 'scene' was one or two midweek club nights, in bars that normally catered to the leather crowd. A friend of yours would come into town, you'd take him to the 'new wave' club night, he'd like it, then he'd go back the next night and it was all gay guys with studded collars," Keister said.
Warnick's father then told his own Dean Martin-style roast jokes, including one in which he referred to the Fastbacks' most famous touring partners as "Strawberry Jam." He then narrated a slide show of Kim's peaceful childhood years in north Seattle.
A succession of other ol' pals (including Joe Meece from the Meeces, Dave Rosencrans from Sub Pop and Visqueen leader Rachel Flotard) took turns on the podium with anecdotes about wacky experiences on tour, in practice, and at day jobs with Warnick, and about her philosophy of life: "ALWAYS make your bed in the morning."
Warnick's longtime stage fraternal twin, Fastbacks songwriter-guitarist Kurt Bloch, attended the event but didn't speak live. Instead, he and the band's third permanent member, Lulu Gargiulo, appeared in a pre-taped video projection segment, singing Fastbacks songs without Warnick's vocals and starting but never finishing some allegedly funny tour stories. (Gargiulo must have a Dorian Gray-esque painting of herself at home, 'cuz she's hardly aged a day in the past quarter century, unlike the rest of us aging cruster punks.)
Bloch and Gargiulo's tribute was one of several video segments interspersed throughout the festivities, including two vintage Fastbacks music videos from the early '90s. One day, we're going to have to tell our perplexed grandchildren what "music videos" were. They're fast becoming a scarce commodity, even on the cable TV channels created to show them.)
The rise and fall of music video was just one of the trends Warnick lived through and outlasted.
I first saw the Fastbacks in mid-1980, at either their second or third gig. I saw them many times since, including their last local show at the Sunset Tavern in early 2002. More than a dozen drummers performed with the group over the years; and Gargiulo quit the band and later returned. They put out about eight albums and dozens of singles and EPs.
The Fastbacks made beautiful music about raw, often negative feelings. The exuberant pop-punk melodies and the assertive musicianship often masked lyrics dealing with loneliness and frustration. Theirs was a sound not of hopeless despair but of survival, of positively knowing the world ought to be better. Through it all, Warnick's voice, her bass playing and her stage presence constituted a center of vitality in the face of turmoil.
Even after all these years, the typical role for "women in rock" is that of the pretty, perky singer or singer-songwriter, usually fronting an all-male backing band. Warnick was always different from that, not as an overt attempt to create a "rebel" image but simply by being herself. She rocked as hard as any guy (and harder than most), but she made it seem effortless, as something any energetic, fun-lovin' gal could do.
Yet she also didn't conform to any preset women's-role-model type either. She sang the Fastbacks' songs, but Bloch wrote them. Then in Visqueen, Warnick surrendered center stage to become Flotard's backup support.
Still on the Hill,
It was, all in all, a pleasant and entertaining evening. Those of us who'd listened to Warnick's music-making since the start had a wunnerful, wunnerful time reminiscing about the (not necessarily "good," but fun) old days.
Now, she's stepped out of the spotlight altogether. Well, not altogether. She still tends bar at the Cha Cha Lounge on East Pine Street, reminiscing with the regulars about the ol' rock-star times-unless she's swamped with drink orders, which is most of the time.
Clark Humphrey's column appears in the first issue of each month. His Web site on popular culture is www.miscmedia.com.