Modest Mouse

A Pretty Good Read

Alan Goldsher

St. Martin's Griffin/Thomas Dunne Books

Modest Mouse
1.
There's this city, this tiny city, this unabashedly American city, a city that feels it is a special place where people care. How do we know that's how this place views itself? Because it says so word for word on their Web site: "A special place where people care."
Populated by approximately fifteen thousand people and a handful of malls, this Special Place Where People Care offers a boatload of engaging activities for those seeking engagement: you can join the Braves & Square Dance Club, or the Alps Trails Club, or the city Chorale (where you'll share "the power of chorale music." And we all know how powerful chorale music can be.). You can pick up a case of homebrewed 2001 Red Mountain Reserve--a superb Cabernet, dense with aromas of ripe blackberry, cassis, and a hint of plum, which are all perfectly balanced by aromas of vanilla, cola, licorice, spice, and cocoa, with just a hint of earthiness--at the Hedges Cellars Winery for fifty dollars a bottle, well worth the price. And for those ecologically minded, sea-loving types, you can visit F. I. S. H. (boldface type courtesy of Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery). And you don't want to mess around with F. I. S. H., believe you me--they used their weight with the city to ratify a chinook salmon conservation plan, a plan that protects this almost endangered species. Tread lightly around them, especially if you're a lox lover.
So where, you might ask, is this place, this utopian place, this magical place, this special place where people care? It's in the Great Northwest, in the great state of Washington, in the great county of King.
Welcome to Issaquah.
 
Historians know that the word issaquah is Indian in origin, but they have no idea of the definition--some have theorized that it's a bird, or a snake, or a river, or a microchip, or a blender. White families began settling in the region at some point in the 1860s. James and Martha Bush--possibly related to the forty-first and forty-third United States presidents, possibly not--are considered the founding father and mother of Issaquah.
In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed William Pickering the fifth territorial governor of Washington. Pickering settled in Issaquah four years later and purchased three hundred and twenty acres of land, land that is now covered by I-90 and a shopping center. After World War II, Issaquah evolved into a community; the town's population hovered around one thousand until the late 1940s, when the first bridge was built over Lake Washington. That passage brought Seattle within easy driving distance--making the drive from Issaquah to, say, the Showbox Theater, a breeze.
When Seattle become SEATTLE--java heaven, alterna-rock central, home of Major League Baseball's Mariners--local workers began to search for an alternative area to live, a place where the rents weren't obscene, where traffic wasn't a mess each and every day, where people care.
Welcome, once again, to Issaquah.
 
Here's another line of text you'll find over at http://www.ci.issaquah.wa.us: "Issaquah is committed to quality living through preservation and enhancement of the community's unique human and natural resources."
The irony about this statement is that the man who is arguably Issaquah's best-known human resource--probably Issaquah's biggest celebrity--definitely Issaquah's best-known rock star--spent a lot of time and energy not caring about this special place. At times, he seeminglydidn't care much about anything at all. Except making music. And getting wasted.
 
Oh, here's a final interesting Issaquah factoid: In the mid and late 1800s, Issaquah's dominant crop was hops, which was picked by Asian and Indian laborers and used to make beer in the breweries of nearby Seattle.
Ah. That explains a lot about our man, Issaquah's own Isaac Brock.
 
Brock has a love/hate--or, more accurately, a tolerates/annoyed by--relationship with his hometown. Back in the day, there was much for him to love, despite Issaquah's relative quaintness. "It was a nice small town, with close proximity to Seattle," he says. "It was still beautiful nature and [it had] the small town thing going on. [But] when you're alone in the middle of a nowhere hick town, you drink a lot." That being the case, it's a good thing that Issaquah's dominant crop was hops.
But as an adult Isaac became less than enamored with the area. "The Internet boom and all that shit turned [Issaquah] into a California mall," he complains. "It's not the place I liked when I was a kid. It's kind of a bummer now. It's lost all of its charm. It now has five grocery stores, all within a few blocks of each other. What do you need that for? I guess competition keeps prices down. The Targets and all that shit, I mean, that shit's everywhere and it's killing America, really. I like living in cities."
Thanks to Issaquah's distinctly Northwestern climate (read: crappy), Brock also has an interesting relationship with weather in general. "Overcast, rain clouds, that's how we do up here," he says. "I get paranoid without the clouds. Seriously, I don't need to be reminded that the sun's there. I'll visit it in tropical places or whatever, but shit, [the sun] will be there. It'll be there long, long, long after me, and you know what? [The sun and I] don't need to get too familiar."
 
"I got my religious fix when I was pretty young," says Isaac Brock, who was born on July 9, 1975, and shares a birthday with Courtney Love,O. J. Simpson, and Jack White. Following either God's word or their own personal whims, Isaac's working-class Christian family was somewhat transitory; the entire family lived on a hippie commune in Oregon, and eventually joined an unconventional church in Montana that had, according to Brock, ties with the Branch Davidians. (The Branch Davidians were a fanatical religious group offshot from the Seventh Day Adventist church, and in 1993 the so-called cult became international news when federal agents sieged their headquarters in Waco, Texas. Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, along with eighty of the church's members, were killed in the fire.) "The Branch Davidians were a crazier branch," Isaac explains. "The one [church] we were part of was crazy--but not psychopathic." Little is known about the sect, other than that their doctrine is apparently one predicated on fear of hell and damnation, and is out of step with mainstream Protestant groups. (Much of Isaac's songwriting is laden with religions imagery--he's especially fixated on the devil--but he can't avoid this, because, for better or worse, God--or at least the God he was introduced to as a child--is in him.)
An impressionable child, Isaac fell under the church's sway--or at least he pretended to. "I was speaking in tongues and shit when I was a kid, and all that jazz," he says. "I remember all their deacons laid their hands on me and started speaking in tongues. That's when the spirit of the Lord is supposed to come into me and I was supposed to find my tongue. I robbed lyrics from goddamn 'Mary Poppins'--lukididltle lungila lukididtle lungila. And they just all kind of looked away."
Isaac is tight-lipped about the practices of the sect, but he speaks freely about one of the church's more odious preachers--a preacher who allegedly stole boatloads of money from his parishioners--tersely describing him as "an evil fuck."
"We were dirt ass poor," Brock says. "We lived in the preacher's basement [for a while], but he was way too creepy. [Once] my sister came upstairs in her nightgown and the preacher was like, 'Oh, kiddie porn.' I think that is when we moved out of his house."
Unfortunately, they weren't able to completely break ties with the evil fuck. "We were getting most of our food donated in boxes, and itquit showing up for quite a while. So one day [after we moved out of the basement], my dad is up in the preacher's office and he sees all of these boxes with 'Brock' written on it. The only thing left in them is string beans, which the preacher didn't like [to eat]." The good news is that should the sect's gospel be on target--hell, damnation, all that kind of junk--the preacher is, right at this very moment, bonding with Isaac's beloved devil. "He died a while back. When he died our whole family was so excited--and I am sure we were not the only ones."
Isaac and his family moved to Issaquah in 1986. Soon after they hit town, the house Isaac shared with his mother Kris, his aunt, his siblings, and his stepfather Mike Adair flooded, so the family was forced to find new lodgings. "We used to live in a trailer park," Brock says, "although it wasn't a place that I would say I would have liked to have grown up. There's not much pride in saying that you grew up eating government cheese and food that came in boxes, [delivered] by hillbillies."
This living situation wasn't ideal, but as is the case with much of his personal history, the truth about his level of destitution was likely somewhat exaggerated. His mother Kris Adair notes that the family trailer wasn't a stereotypical get-blown-away-in-a-tornado Winnebago, but rather a mobile home resembling a one-story ranch house, homey and tastefully decorated. (Among the trailer's many knickknacks is what Kris calls a "whatsit," a half-painted clay something-or-other that Isaac made in high school. One might speculate it's an unrecognized bong.) A landscaper by trade, Mike turned the area surrounding the "mome" into a miniature Japanese garden loaded with flowers, bushes, and various sorts of greenery. All that said, the trailer wasn't equipped to house a full family, so Isaac was forced to live in neighbors' basements, and then eventually in a shed next to the trailer. "One of the reasons I moved around so much is because there was never really room for me at home."
The Adairs both worked at City Lights, a local video store that doubled as a coffee bar, and money was tight, so if Isaac wanted something--like, say, a round of gymnastics classes--he had to figure out how to pay for it himself, an early lesson in the D. I. Y, lo-fi lifestyle that would eventually serve him well. "When he was eleven," Kris says, "he wanted to be a Jedi Knight or some such thing, [so he] spent everySaturday cleaning the Gymnastics East gym in Bellevue to help pay for his [gymnastics] classes."
He never made it onto the U.S. Men's Olympic Gymnastic Team, and light sabers were tough to come by in Washington State, so Isaac went back to work. "I've had a shitload of [jobs]," he says. "I sold oil changes for Firestone door-to-door, {during which} I had people threaten to shoot me and shit. It was a freaky job. Going from door-to-door, you realize how bleak it is, what people are doing. It's like, everyone's watching the same program on the television set. Everyone. No matter what house you go to, [people are} watching TV, doing absolutely nothing. It was, like, depressing, you know? It's the poor people you'd all be having to sell this shit to, because the rich people don't give a shit whether they save money or not." Brock seems almost proud that he wasn't the best worker to ever grace the Firestone payroll. "They paid me by the hour, not the sale, which was a dumb move."
 
Isaac was once asked if he had a happy childhood. Yes, he told the interviewer, but added, "I was so neurotic I'd pull all my hair out and wake up every morning in a pool of blood. But I was happy nonetheless."