Washington’s Rock and Roll History Preserved
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Western Washington music scene was thriving with new experimental bands. The Grunge movement was drawing musicians out of the garage and onto stages around Puget Sound and the I-5 corridor, but what else was happening? Grunge wasn’t the only show in town, and music seekers wanted to know who would play where and when, yet they couldn’t simply glance at social media or the internet to check the venue page. How would you know when Bikini Kill would show up from Olympia to play at the O.K. Hotel in 1991? Or did you get the full Bumbershoot festival lineup when you lived in Portland?
Before social media or even the internet, there was The Rocket.
It began as a music supplement to the community newspaper, The Seattle Sun, in 1974 and ran through 1982. Once a month, The Rocket newspaper would publish the venue stage schedules from Eugene to Vancouver, B.C., with interviews and exclusives from musicians, music producers, and artists. The Rocket reporters covered alternative music, art, and culture trends beyond the mainstream venues. Many of Washington’s creative personalities, such as cartoonists Linda Barry and Matt Groening, and Seattle actor John Keister, got their start working on the paper. It also connected bands such as Nirvana and Soundgarden, who sought guitarists, singers, and roadies through classified ads. Local business advertisements helped to provide the freely available issues published in Seattle, and later a Portland edition, to support a thriving music scene until the publication ended with its last October 2000 issue.
As a collaborative project, The Rocket editor Charles Cross, University of Washington Suzzallo Librarians Jessica Albano and John Vallier, and Washington State Library Digital Newspapers Coordinator Shawn Schollmeyer combined resources to find missing issues, microfilm, scan, and preserve this amazing paper for researchers and music historians. You can find them for free on the washingtondigitalnewspapers.org website with full-text search capabilities.
The Washington State Library, through the Washington Digital Newspapers program, provides digitization and newspaper preservation consulting to libraries, historical organizations, and publishers across the state, supported in part by funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and a partnership with Newspapers.com. By the end of 2023, the online newspaper platform has grown to hold over 100 Washington titles and more than 806,000 pages. Newly digitized issues of the Seattle Union Record, Black Lens News, and Seattle Gay News will also be appearing soon.
For more information about the 52,000 reels of newspapers on microfilm and 125 print titles available at the library building in Tumwater, or to request newspaper preservation and digitization consultations for historic newspapers, contact Shawn Schollmeyer through our Ask A Librarian webpage.