Legendary Seattle alt-rock DJ Marco Collins inspires documentary, benefit concert
With the flick of a button, he blew up Seattle.
To the bloated remnants of ‘80s corporate rock, radio DJ Marco Collins was a weapon of mass destruction. Those who believe that the grunge revolt of ’91 emanated from nowhere, part of a continuing cycle of smash and trash as one generation is pushed aside by the next, are completely wrong. It was Collins – handsome, youthful, and brimming with reckless energy and a limitless passion for new cutting edge sounds – that pulled the trigger.
As the Music Director and nighttime DJ of Seattle’s FM modern-rock powerhouse KNDD (107.7 The End), Collins awoke the Emerald City to the infectious noise that was buzzing through its dingy bars. It may be hard for today’s kids to imagine it now, but in those pre-Internet days there was no file sharing, no Facebook-liking, and certainly no YouTube-embedding to discover the Next Big Thing. There were a handful of low-wattage college radio stations, a few fanzines, and supermarket-distributed SPIN to create some awareness. However, there was nothing on the level of MTV in the early ‘80s. Seattle had plenty of rain but no thunder and lightning; the sparks only flew when Collins arrived in town.
In the summer of 1991, Seattle didn’t even have a KROQ like Los Angeles had; there were no commercial rock stations for the cool kids. The city’s two AOR outlets competed for the gray-haired dollar; post-punk acts such as the Cure and Love and Rockets were only added once Top-40 made them acceptably weird, and barely at that. As far as local music was concerned, Queensrÿche was hot stuff; Soundgarden and Alice in Chains were one-hit wonders. However, Seattle’s independent visionaries, the Sub Pop on the fringes of Alternative Nation, were only acknowledged on weeknights.
Then, on August 23, 1991 – that all changed.
KNDD debuted, and with Collins at the helm, the freak flag was held aloft. Radio sounded edgy and dangerous again. Collins’ unyielding affection for a regional power trio, Nirvana, immediately elevated the group to WTF status on the station’s request lines and subsequently the national Billboard charts, later topping Michael Jackson. Suddenly, the flannel was flying everywhere. Throughout the ‘90s, Collins became the decade’s equivalent of Wolfman Jack. He spoke to his thousands of listeners in their own language; after all, he lived it, all of it, including the Seattle music scene’s eventual downfall with drugs. Despite the excesses, Collins remained eerily prophetic in his musical discoveries; artists such as Beck, Prodigy, Garbage, Weezer, and Harvey Danger, to name a few, were plucked from obscurity and into stardom.
Collins departed from Seattle in early 1998, and as the years passed it started to seem as if the city had moved on from him, too. The new indie kids, raised on Napster, were not even familiar with him. However, in 2010, Collins was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, his legacy as one of Seattle’s most important and influential DJs finally solidified. But the story doesn’t end there. Collins’ colorful, high-speed roll and subsequent spinning out of control is chronicled in the upcoming documentary, The Glamour and The Squalor. Directed by Mark Evans, The Glamour and The Squalor peers unflinchingly at Collins’ ups and downs, professionally and personally.
Even before the film was announced, Collins’ presence in Seattle as an entertainment personality was starting to glow again; he seems to be entering a new phase in his life, one that involves a multimedia platform and public championing of social issues that mean everything to him, such as gay marriage. As the Nostradamus of rock & roll, Collins remains unchallenged; the movie’s fund-raising benefit concert at the EMP in Seattle on October 11 features a number of Collins’ future picks including IG88, the Young Evils, Mary Lambert, among others.
After nearly 30 years in the business, Collins’ love for music continues to be strong; it courses through his bloodstream. But wisdom and maturity have shown him that the rock & roll life has its boundaries, too. As Cheap Trick once sang, “Surrender, surrender, but don’t give yourself away.”