Traveling, to me, is more than just going somewhere you haven’t been before to take a bunch of pictures and possibly relax at a beach or whatever other amenities present themselves. It’s an opportunity to step outside of one’s self and, be it a neighboring city or a distant country thousands of miles away, ponder the different approaches to life that you could have taken and may still. In preparation for my travels, I always like to read up on the history and culture of my intended destination, and in all my pre-travel readings I have never read a book that excited me so much and primed me for where I was headed as when Seattle was in my sights and I happened upon Seattle and the Demons of Ambition.
Fred Moody, the author of this humorous and highly personal introduction to the Emerald City, documents the growth of his city from its formative years as a Boeing company town to the modern, international metropolis that it is today. Bearing uncanny overlaps with many of the crucial moments in Seattle’s recent history, Moody’s experiences make him an ideal individual to tell the tale from the perspective of someone who watched it all happened.
Moody resigned from his position as managing director of the Seattle Weekly in 1999 and walked directly into the Seattle Riots as protestors and police clashed in a violent conflict over the WTO Conference that was to be hosted in the city. That’s where the story begins. From this key moment Moody looks back, remembering the Seattle of his childhood, and chronicles the rapid years of change that would soon render that city almost unrecognizable to itself. He did contract jobs for a burgeoning Microsoft before the rest of the world knew the name Bill Gates and worked in the same office building as the founders of Sub Pop, who used to pester him to cover the scene they were helping to create before Nevermind made Grunge a household term. These broader strokes of global consequence are juxtaposed with less monumental anecdotes about the peculiar driving habits of Seattleites when it comes to braking, and having mixed feelings about the Space Needle. The end result is a multi-faceted exploration of the Gateway to the Pacific Northwest, half struggling for world recognition while the other half desperately clings to the benefits of secluded anonymity.
Moody’s voice is unique, holding some resemblance to a less drug-crazed Hunter S. Thompson due to the cross breed of his journalistic style and openly subjective approach. The story of Seattle is the story of his own life, and he strikes a perfect balance of integrating of the two, giving a human face to his narrative that makes it relatable, yet never losing sight of the main character: Seattle. There is also a charming wit and dry sense of humor that persists throughout these pages, painting an amicable, slacker-like image of Moody as a perfect drinking buddy/local historian offering to be the Virgil to our Dante as he leads us through the ruins and skyscrapers of an intriguing world that he knows all too well.
Since it is no longer in print, Seattle and the Demons of Ambition is easiest to come by through shopping on-line (not surprisingly, the Seattle-based Amazon.com is a viable option). Whether you’re interested in gaining some insight into the birth of the Seattle sound in rock or how such an idiosyncratic city could produce such corporate giants as Starbucks, or just fascinated by modern Seattle in general, Seattle and the Demons of Ambition is an essential introduction and an extremely enjoyable read. - C. Jefferson Thom
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.