Interview with Dan ’10 Things’ Halligan
Dan Halligan has been a fixture on the Seattle and national punk scene for over half his life. He started the 10 Things Jesus Wants You to Know zine in his early 20s to focus on all things Seattle, most notably the rise of local punk bands. Nearly two decades later and Dan hasn’t lost a step. He is still a big fan of punk rock and attends live shows regularly.
In addition to his punk addiction, Dan is also an avid gamer – not Xbox, PlayStation or Wii-type gamer, but the old-school stand-up arcade style gamer. His basement is lined up with such classics as Donkey Kong, Frogger and Centipede, as well as with a host of pinball machines. By day, Dan is your typical librarian geek…by night, anything goes.
Dan with his arcade games
photo by Amy Halligan
One Louder: How were you introduced to punk rock, Dan?
Dan Halligan: When I was a kid I’d watch this old late night cable show called “Night Flight” that featured movies like Urgh! A Music War, Breaking Glass, and Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. That was really my first exposure to punk rock and it was usually British and mixed in with new wave bands. I picked up cassette tapes by Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, the Misfits and the Ramones too, but that was all when I was listening to quite a wide variety of music.
In high school during the ’80s I listened to a mix of new wave, punk and goth music. I went to a few larger punk shows, but it really wasn’t until around 1986 when I started listening mostly to just punk rock and going to punk shows more and more. It was an evolution of my underground music tastes towards more aggressive and meaningful music.
OL: You have been a part of the punk scene for a long time now. What are the most notable differences you see in the local scene compared to the past (i.e. the fans/music)?
DH: The biggest difference, sad to say, is hipsters. It wasn’t cool to be into underground music in the ’80s, especially punk. I can’t tell you how many times I got harassed, chased, punched, and fucked with for having blue spiked out hair or Doc Martens up to my knees. We were misfits, messed up kids, or in the case of a lot of my friends, socially awkward dorks that never fit in growing up. The punk rock scene, while violent and harsh at times, was pretty damn accepting of weirdos. There wasn’t a lot of attitude in the lean years of the later ’80s. You saw a kid walking down the Ave or Broadway in a punk band shirt and you would talk to him or her. Nirvana changed everything. Suddenly you didn’t have to mail-order Docs and Manic Panic from the UK; you could buy that stuff at the mall. Every other kid on the street had funny hair colors and clothes. It was no longer threatening to look punk and you no longer got threatened being punk. It was totally acceptable… heck, it was actually cool. Along with that came a lot of attitude and bullshit that is 20 times worse today. I guess that happens to anything that gets big though, and it always takes some of the fun out of it. Killed by hype.
OL: Ah yes, Nirvana did change everything, didn’t they? Let’s talk about the grunge scene explosion since you were in Seattle to experience it first-hand. Tell us more.
DH: I kind of feel like there were two grunge scenes. The local underground rock bands that I saw live a bunch was one and the other was the one that media created that wasn’t really a Seattle music movement. And the two kind of crossed over and the lines got blurred at some point which made me run away from it and the hype. But I certainly saw the bands like Tad, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney a lot live. I pretty soon lost interest in Soundgarden and never cared for more of the arena rock bands like Pearl Jam, Temple of the Dog, and Alice in Chains. Those bands to me were like the Led Zeppelin of the ’90s and I wanted music that was faster, dirtier and creepier.
There was a label that for a long time was a competitor of Sub Pop‘s called Amphetamine Reptile that was more my style. They put out bands like Helmet, The Unsane, Lubricated Goat and The Melvins. Heavy shit. And all those bands released ridiculously limited colored 7″ records and toured here, usually playing The Off Ramp on like a Tuesday night. The same people were at every one of those shows drunk out of their minds on Texas Sized Margaritas and thrashing wildly until the music stopped and they tried to sober us up with Hash After the Bash.
My best grunge-era story is this one.
OL: What are your thoughts on old punk versus new punk, including the pop-punk explosion?
DH: I got into punk in the latter half of the ’80s, but was instantly drawn to a lot of ’70s punk, including popular bands of that era and what would now be called Killed By Death bands. But I never really got stuck in an era. I love a lot of ’80s and ’90s bands too, as well as plenty of bands today. I was pretty into the ’90s pop-punk explosion, but not the really polished stuff. Bands like Sicko, Screeching Weasel, Zoinks!, NOFX and the Hard Ons were more my style. I dug the early Offspring stuff though, but I knew Dexter via an early punk list-serve, so I probably gave them more of a chance than Green Day. I hated Green Day early on. They were just too wimpy. It’s funny though, now I like their newer stuff a lot more.
OL: Are any of the great punk bands of years past still relevant today? Who?
DH: Absolutely! Tons of bands for tons of reasons. I’m not even sure how to approach this question. So many early punk bands pioneered new sounds, directions, genres, or did or sang things that were meaningful socially, politically or just wrote songs that still clearly kick ass over 99% of the music being produced today. The same could be said for the originators of rock ‘n roll, the blues, country-western or really any genre of music.
OL: Any thoughts on British Punk versus American Punk?
DH: Both are fun. I really like a lot of the first wave of British punk and the first wave of LA punk (and early Aussie punk too!). I’ve never been one to get caught up in sub-genres or music from specific regions. If it rocks, it rocks.
OL: So who are you listening to now?
DH: Oh gawd, quite a wide variety of stuff from old punk to current indie pop. I’ve been on a ’90s garage punk kick lately after seeing Eric Davidson from the New Bomb Turks do a reading from his new book on that scene. Also listening to a bunch of old dancehall era Toots and the Maytals. I probably listen to Neko Case every other day. And local punk bands like The Damage Done, The Hollowpoints, The Briefs, The Spits and The Cute Lepers.
OL: Your love of punk prompted you start up the 10 Things Jesus Wants You to Know zine in the early ‘90s. Tell us about how 10 Things came to fruition.
DH: 10 Things began as a conversation at a wedding in 1990 with David Parker, a guy I’d just met at the wedding, who it turns out I went to high school with, but had never met before. We started talking about music and how there weren’t really any good underground fanzines in Seattle covering the music we liked which was punk, underground rock and noise bands. The mainstream media and local press was already beginning to focus on the grunge scene. We loved plenty of those bands, but they were completely ignoring a bunch of other great bands that were coming out of Seattle at the time. There was really a need for a local publication that focused on the underground scene to help promote it both locally and nationally. So David and I talked a bunch of our friends into helping out and we put together the first issue and released it in 1991 to the unsuspecting public.
OL: It used to be print only, but is now solely web-based, right?
DH: It began as a print zine, but we put it on the web, too, back in the early ’90s. It was actually one of the first punk rock e-zines, which garnered it a bunch of press when e-zines got their 15 minutes of fame as the web started taking off. I stopped publishing 10 Things in 2000 when I was getting burned out on it. At the same time, some people talked me into joining them in launching a bi-weekly Seattle paper to offer an alternative to The Stranger and Seattle Weekly, which we named Tablet. When Tablet folded five years later, I resumed 10 Things as a blog, mainly in an attempt to document all the old Seattle bands from back in the ’80s and ’90s with photos, histories and discographies. It’s more a hobby now than anything serious.
OL: So you and David were the co-founders of 10 Things, but were there others involved or did you two drive the machine yourselves?
DH: David Parker and I co-published it for the first eight to ten issues. At some point he stopped in production process and I took over all of the responsibility. But there were always tons of people involved. At times I had a dozen photographers and artists, 20 columnists, 50 music and zine reviewers, high school and college interns and many other people helping out in all aspects of the fanzine. All for free I might add! We all did it out of our love for the music and wanting to be involved in the music scene.
OL: Other local rags [most notably The Rocket from 1979-2000] have also been available. Were they friends, foes, or not an issue?
DH: I was working in The Rocket mailroom at the time we started 10 Things and everyone there were my friends and supportive of what I was doing. Dawn from Backfire/Backlash has always been cool. Other punk zinesters like Mark from Thorozine, Jay from Point of Interest and Wez from Pool Dust were all friends, so we were comrades in self-publishing and promoting the underground music scene.
OL: That’s cool! So how can interested parties check out 10 Things?
DH: All the original print versions of 10 Things, along with many other classic punk zines, can be found at the Punk Zine Archive.
My 10 Things zine blog is here: http://10thingszine.blogspot.com/
Dan with Steve Wiebe from the The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
photo by Amy Halligan
OL: Another one of your hobbies is collecting classic arcade games and pinball machines. Why the interest?
DH: I’ve loved arcade and pinball games since I was a kid. I had an Atari 2600 (and Super Pong before it!) but that never really did it for me. Every time I went to a bowling alley or Shakey’s pizza, I was begging quarters off my folks and running off to the Space Invaders, Centipede or Pac Man in the corner. When arcades really started taking off, my friends and I would ride bikes and hop busses and travel for hours to check out new arcades and spend all of our chore money playing video games and pinball. I lived right through the big arcade boom of the ’80s as a kid and was knee deep in it. I went to college at the UW and there were three arcades within walking distance where I’d score my weed, meet my friends, or just kill a few hours trying to learn new games or put up high scores on the ones I was good at.
Even back when I was a 12 year old kid, out of quarters and sipping my Slurpee out on the curb in front of the 7-Eleven with my friends, we’d talk about owning our own arcade game some day. I totally forgot about that until I went to a party at a rich dude’s house in the late ’90s and he had a game room with a few pinball machines and ’80s arcade games. I was floored a person could own them. Then I went to a party at a house a bunch of skateboarders lived in and they had three arcade games in their kitchen. I played them all night and was determined to track some games down for myself. I started picking them up at garage sales and through The Little Nickel and eventually it blossomed into a pretty hardcore hobby for me.
OL: You regularly buy and sell machines, including repairing broken ones. How did you learn to fix them and where did that interest come from?
DH: Most of the games I collect are at least 20 years old. Electronics and moving parts just don’t last that long without needing replacement or repair. So it just became a necessity with collecting to deal with breakdowns. At first I hired people to fix them, but over the years I learned how to do a lot of the repairs myself. I really can only do basic troubleshooting and repair. I still turn to people that know electronics a lot better than me for the stuff I just can’t figure out. Luckily, there are a lot of online guides, collecting forums, and some really great local pinball and arcade collectors that are willing to help out with advice or occasionally do repairs.
OL: You swap games out regularly, but are there any that are absolute keepers?
DH: My Black Knight pinball machine I’ll always keep. It was a big game when I was a kid, huge to the evolution of pinball, and is still really fun to play even after owning it for over 10 years. For arcade games it tends to be the really unique ones like Tron, 720, Tempest and Centipede. Games with more generic controls and cabinets I now start to put into multi-game cabinets, just so I can maximize the number of games in my basement arcade.
Dan and the Black Knight
photo by Amy Halligan
OL: What are some of your favorite local gaming hot spots?
DH: Shorty’s in Belltown is hands down the best place to play pinball in Seattle. It has the most games, beer and hotdogs. Plus they host various pinball tournaments and always sponsor the yearly NW Pinball and Gameroom Show. Pink Gorilla in the U-District has probably the largest local collection of classic arcade games plus some of the latest cool Japanese arcade games. It’s an awesome spot people should check out. There’s a brand new Seattle Pinball Museum in the International District that’s got probably the largest local collection of pinball machines. There are a couple of new spots too. Dorky’s Arcade down in Tacoma and Another Castle up in Edmonds. There’s a bit of a classic arcade game and pinball renaissance going on with all of these new places, but there are also tons of bars around the area that have decent collections of pins and vids tucked into a corner.
OL: Game consoles would save a lot of time, money and space, so why don’t you play them?
DH: I’ve never owned a home gaming system and really the only computer games I play are time killers on my phone and online poker. I used to play networked Quake with some friends, but I just never got the rush I do from playing with a bigger game where you move and shake it and have big controls to hang onto. I love modern arcade games and the newest pinball machines, but most home console games still feel like some smaller home version to me. I’m really in love with the size, artwork, design and feel of full-sized games.
OL: You are involved with the annual Northwest Pinball Convention. What’s your role?
DH: I handle the press and promotions for the Northwest Pinball and Gameroom Show. My work is mostly behind the scenes. I get the poster and promotional materials designed and printed, send out press releases, handle advertising, sign promotions and sponsorship deals, flyer the town and sweet talk all my friends in the press to covering the event. And yes, I always bring some of my games. Everyone that helps out with the show – and it’s a good 50 people – all do it for free out of a love for classic games and wanting to promote the hobby. The community that puts on the show is really great. It’s a diverse, fun group of people and the amount of effort they put into promoting pinball and arcade game collecting and repair is inspiring.
There are tons of online forums, but these are great ones for news, links and info.
OL: Dan, you are a busy guy with 10 Things, The Tablet, other punk rock callings, pinball conventions and more. But that can’t be how you earn a living. What is your day job?
DH: I’m a manager at the Foster Business Library at the University of Washington, but I’m not a librarian since I don’t have a MLIS.
OL: You work at a library? Awesome! So does this mean you’re an avid reader? Do you have any favorite books and/or authors?
DH: I read constantly, both online and in print. Currently I’m reading my way through two graphic novel series, The Walking Dead and Scott Pilgrim. I’m also reading Guillermo Del Toro’s Strain. I lean toward horror, cyberpunk, science fiction and music history.
OL: Have you ever had to tell anyone to “shush”?
DH: Nope, libraries have changed a lot. You can drink coffee, eat a bagel, watch a movie, meet with a group, read your email, read a zine, and more at most libraries today. The rules have changed, the information game has changed, and not surprisingly, libraries are on the forefront. And best of all, most of the services they provide are still totally free. Modern libraries have meeting rooms, can have more DVDs than your local rental place, the NY Times top seller list, the newest graphic novels, e-books, tons of full text databases, and in the case of the UW, stuff like huge archives of historical Northwest photos and the soundboard archive recordings from the Crocodile Cafe.
OL: Thanks for your time, Dan! We’ll wrap this up with two final music-related questions. First, if you were stranded on a desert island but could take the collected works of five artists, who would the five be and why?
DH: Stiff Little Fingers – Their first two albums are both in my top 10 punk albums of all time. ’70s Irish punk that perfectly captured the feelings of alienation and rebellion that punk was about, coupled by great lyrics and really catchy music, but still rough around the edges.
The Glory Holes – Probably, along with The Valentine Killers, my favorite Seattle garage punk band. And since The Valentine Killers only put out one album, these guys win out. Singer Doug White is one of the most exciting live singers in Seattle in the past 20 years.
3 Inches of Blood – For my metal fix I almost said Motorhead, but that’s too easy and these guys just fucking destroy, plus they are from the Northwest and sing about killing orcs.
The Ramones – This is a no brainer for me. First, it’s collected works and they put out about 500 albums. Plus they just narrowed punk rock down to its 3-chord basics and still managed to write more hit songs than almost any band on the planet. They are just so much fun.
Neko Case – Another local nod, although she fled the Northwest for Chicago. “Come back Neko!” For more mellow music, her blend of country and alt rock with a punk attitude has always lured me in. She writes both catchy and totally haunting music and does some of the best country covers. The one time I met her in person she was super friendly to boot.
OL: Who is your guilty listening pleasure? In other words, who would we be surprised to see in your music collection?
DH: I own every album by Swedish new wavey pop band The Sounds as well as The Cure. Oh, and Tegan and Sara. I’ve actually been getting back into indie pop and electronica these past couple of years. Totally not punk rock, but lots of fun.