Every city has a “scene,” often begun by youth in search of themselves.
Fashion, art and music were the foundations of scenes from flappers in the ’20s to hippies in the ’60s. They pushed the limit, shocking and appalling older generations, expressing themselves loudly and demanding to be heard.
In Spokane in the 1980s, teens began wearing funny clothes and listening to music that matched. Bands were formed, clubs dedicated to throngs of youth opened up, underground magazines were published, and a scene was born.
“We learned to do-it-yourself from being punk in Spokane. From petitioning the city council to saving our all ages clubs, opening Grange halls to putting on shows and putting up touring bands, punk taught me about community,” said SanCyre Par, an active member of the ’80s scene.
This weekend, hundreds of people from the ’80s Spokane scene of self-described punk-rock, new wave and artistic weirdoes will converge for a reunion called “The Rapture.”
The two-day event includes a cocktail party with a DJ playing requested music and an evening of live bands from back-in-the-day including Vampire Lezbos, The Buttermilk 5, Big Yuck Mouth and Hell’s Half Acre at Irv’s, 415 W. Sprague Ave.
“Punk Art Retrospective – Then to Now,” an art show at Object Space, 1818.1/2 E. Sprague Ave., is displaying artwork, old fliers, photos and local ’80s magazines with names like Town Noose, Moe Town and Kamikaze.
“Just seeing this produced material has reinforced the belief that Spokane has always produced intensely creative and interesting people and that the punk scene here has really been great,” says gallery owner Bruce Hormann.
The reunion is being spearheaded by Erik Phillips, who was an active member of the ’80s scene in Spokane, often donning a kilt and a leather jacket.
Phillips, who fronted a band called Red Summer, came up with the idea for a gathering a couple of years ago while he was living in Seattle. He has since moved back to Spokane and is working as a real estate agent.
“It all started with me seeing ‘Stand and Deliver’ by Adam and the Ants on MTV. That video blew my mind,” Phillips says of his ’80s influences. “So I was an ‘ant person’ for a year or so and by luck ran into other people that were crazy about Adam and the Ants.
“It progressed into punk, new wave, etc., and a scene had started to develop. People with the same interests found each other and started creating shows, zines, dances and bands.”
Many scenesters never left Spokane and have kept the torch alive by remaining active in an “alternative” lifestyle, mostly staying clear of societal expectations. They are Roller Girls, filmmakers, artists and writers.
Even the ones who have found mainstream jobs hold steady to a common mindset.
“I have a ‘professional’ job and I am not a teenager anymore, so not many people flip me crap about my jewelry, clothes or hair color,” says Leanne Marie Kelly, who works at an insurance agency. “If they do, they are not someone I care to be around.”
Agrees bartender Jennifer Leinberger, “I no longer feel the need to fit into someone else’s idea of who I should be.”
Many “Rapture” participants feel that their ’80s experience was a godsend, giving them a place in which to explore the possibilities beyond the norm.
“As high school started, so did my vague but growing awareness that the status quo left me pretty stifled,” wrote David Halsell on a Web site for a documentary film about the reunion that he and four others are creating.
“I soon discovered ‘new wave’ and punk rock and weirdness. I sought out the crazy, brilliant, creative people who talked about philosophy and politics and social concerns in ways I had never heard and were making edgy, unusual music and art.”
Jon Swanstrom, another filmmaker and longtime local musician, agrees.
“The ’80s scene definitely shaped me into the person I am today,” Swanstrom said. “I learned at a pretty young age not to be conned into living a mainstream lifestyle – the traps, the debt, kept in place where the puppeteers want you to be.
“I am still living outside the box looking in, able to see through the crap that is tossed at us on a daily basis, thanks to ‘the scene.’.”
Par, who is the program director at the Odyssey Youth Center, also gives the “scene” credit for her survival.
“I’m 40 this month and I truly do not care what anyone else thinks of me anymore. After thousands of punk rock shows, both onstage and off, I’m definitely marching to the beat of my own drum set. Today I have an amazing career I love because of all the punk community activism I was lucky enough to have participated in. I for one truly believe that punk rock saved my life by letting me be me.”
Rapture attendees are coming in from as far away as New York and are all looking forward to meeting up with others who were there.
Says Phillips: “There’s a special bond that everyone feels, otherwise this whole thing wouldn’t be happening.”
Local journalism is essential.
The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.