Years before this little band called Nirvana suddenly put Seattle on the glittery transcontinental map of rock music, a cornball clutch of great local outfits were plying their own inbred brand of Northwest cool, playing for peanuts in small joints to an incestuous tribe of passionate geeks and plaid-clad oafs.
In the early ’80s, the foremost purveyor of portside garage pop was The Young Fresh Fellows, whose savvy pop licks and aw-shucks antics captured the insouciant side of punk rock’s flippant howl. If you don’t know the Fellows, you don’t really know Seattle music — where it all came from, what it means, what it used to be and is.
Fellows front-guy Scott McCaughey — he of the perpetual smile, permanent Ray-Ban sunglasses and ever-straggly long hair — is a straight-up Northwest legend. Where so many of his contemporaries fell away, died off or quit, McCaughey kept plugging away, applying a non-stop work ethic to his significant songwriting genius and his pure joy for performing. When all of us in Seattle who had been enjoying — nay, standing in awe — of McCaughey’s talent saw him playing with R.E.M. for the second half of that great American band’s career (from 1994 until 2011), we weren’t surprised. It felt like a vindication, a triumph.
All of which leads to this: Last month, while on tour with Alejandro Escovedo in San Francisco, McCaughey suffered a stroke. Reports are he’s recovering rapidly but it’s going to be a long haul, so folks in Portland have organized a two-night benefit, “Help the Hoople,” to help with medical expenses. Let’s get this guy back on stage ASAP — the world needs him.
The shows take place Jan. 5 at the Star Theater and Jan. 6 at the Wonder Ballroom, both in Portland, and will include musical appearances from a long list of luminaries: Mike Mills and Peter Buck of R.E.M.; Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney; James Mercer of The Shins; Patterson Hood of Drive By Truckers; Alejandro Escovedo, Count Kellam, Fernando, Justin Townes Earle, M. Ward, The Decembrists, Casey Neill, Kurt Bloch of the Fellows and the Fastbacks and a special appearance by ’90s Portland legends The Dharma Bums; and probably a whole lot more special appearances.
Both shows have two ticket options ($50 general admission, and VIPs for $100); for tickets and further info, visit helpthehoople.org. — Rick Levin