15 February 2024

The Summer That Almost Was, and Definitely Wasn't

Obie looked around. From his perch overlooking the stage from the sound platform he could easily see out over the heads of the rapidly dwindling crowd. For the first time he noticed gumball lights strobing the upper parts of the Dipper’s walls—light coming in through the club’s floor-to-ceiling front windows.

He jutted his chin in the direction of the front doors. “Wonder what that’s all about.”

Hoffman shrugged. “Spokane’s Finest,” he said. “They show up around Last Call from time to time. ‘Showing the flag,’ and all that. Shoulda seen ’em a couple of months back. Mudhoney was here. Place was packed to the rafters. Fire marshal came and shut things down before the band even took the stage. Cops hauled in a lot of people on possession beefs that day.”

“You were here for that?”

“Nah. A buddy of mine is their guitar tech. Heard about it from him. We had Blues Fest up at Winthrop that weekend. Plus, with us being out of Seattle now, don’t get over here as often as I’d like. But I’ve seen them pull this kind of shit before. Plenty of times.”

Obie said, “Doesn’t really change, does it?”

Hoffman lit a cigarette. “What’s that?”

“The cycle. The spinning wheel. What goes up must come down. Art pushes society. Society pushes back.”

Hoffman nodded and offered the pack to Obie. Obie shook his head and jutted his chin again, meaningfully. “Got one in, thanks.”

From "The Catherine Wheel," featured as part of the new Murder, Neat: A Sleuthsayers Anthology

A genuine Spokane institution

One of the most memorable concerts in the Dipper's more recent history happened on a warm July night in 1991. A mass of alt-rock-loving kids packed into the venue to see Seattle's up-and-coming grunge group Mudhoney. Before the band even took the stage, the Spokane fire marshal shut the venue down.  

                                                                                                      – The Inlander, February 27th, 2014

I was at that Mudhoney non-event. I was not one of those arrested for possession of marijuana. (Weed has just never been my thing.). 

And over thirty years later, I made a tangential reference to it in a crime fiction story.

As readers of this blog will know by now, Murder, Neat: A Sleuthsayers Anthology dropped a couple of days back, on Tuesday, February 13th. I have a story in it, entitled "The Catherine Wheel" (excerpted above.), wherein I tried to recapture the feel of that certain summer within the context of a fictional event: a closing time shooting in the dive bar across the street from the live music venue highlighted above, The Big Dipper.

Writing fiction set in the past requires an awful lot of sense memory transcription: the way the strobe lights hanging from the ceiling blossomed into dozens of rainbows refracted by the prism of the sweat running into your eyes as you laid everything you had down on that massive dance floor at the Dipper. The way the cigarettes that guy smoked always stank. the way that girl stood. The look on your friend's face that he only got when he was struggling to not pass gas.

Not these guys-my story's about a mysticism-embodying tattoo. not a nineties English shoegaze band.

In the end these are moments, flashes we remember, or have convinced ourselves we do, and which we try to preserve like flies in so much amber. A love letter, if you will, to that magic summer between my junior and senior years of college. The summer when Mudhoney never quite played the Big Dipper. The summer when someone got murdered across the street in the Manhattan. A summer of late night philosophical discussions. A summer when there was just enough money left in your pocket for one last round to close out the evening. A summer of secrets. A summer of watching the way this girl took a drink of her beer. A summer of seeing that guy again, going home with a new one. A summer of cycles. Of eliptical orbits.

A Catherine Wheel summer.


  1. You make the past sound like heaven, Brian! So full of the future. Will look forward to reading your story - Melodie

    1. Thanks Melodie! I hope it lives up to the advance PR for you!

  2. You nailed the atmosphere, Brian! Good one!


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