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Hannah Levin - Tacoma to today

The music journalist reflects on her career and Tacoma experiences

HANNAH LEVIN: She has a soft spot for Frisko Freeze. Courtesy photo

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If you've had your ear anywhere close to the heart of the Northwest music scene in the last 10-15 years, you've heard of Hannah Levin. You know she's a DJ for KEXP's Seek and Destroy and Audioasis, you've read her words in The Stranger, Seattle Weekly and City Arts, and you know she's helped make the Northwest music scene what it is today.

But what you might not know is that she's also a strong advocate for women's welfare, she spent her formative years in Tacoma, and she has a soft spot for Frisko Freeze.

"I was just the nerdy daughter of a Presbyterian minister who loved Olivia Newton-John and Star Wars - I wasn't very cool," says Levin, who moved to Tacoma from the Midwest when she was 9. "My teenage years were significantly more enjoyable, thanks to discovering metal and harder rock - though I doubt my father would characterize them as ‘more enjoyable.'"

Spending time at Wilson High School, Levin says academically, she didn't get much out of it, "Save for one truly exceptional English composition teacher named Al Davis. He's probably one of the primary reasons I decided to become a journalist later in life."

Levin went on to study at Pierce College, where instructor Doug Emory introduced her to authors Gore Vidal and Studs Terkel.

"Falling in love with those writers drove me to focus on critical and analytic writing skills, especially when it came to social justice issues and pop culture criticism," says Levin. "Emory eventually gave me a job as his assistant and helped me get into the University of Washington, where I went on to major in Women's Studies."

Levin moved to Seattle in 1991 - the same week Nirvana's Nevermind went ballistic. And while the Emerald City is where she now calls home, Levin says, "I will always have fond memories of Frisko Freeze!"

After a career of freelancing with heavy hitters such as Bust, Rolling Stone and the aforementioned Seattle rags, and interviewing Lemmy from Motorhead, Judas Priest's Rob Halford and funk pioneer Betty Davis, as well as boatloads of local bands, Levin is taking a self-imposed break from writing and took a full-time job last fall working for the Greater Good, an organization focused primarily on women's healthcare and welfare issues, specifically breast cancer, poverty and hunger.

"Before I entered the music industry, I ran clinical research projects at Planned Parenthood, so it's really satisfying to have a job that lets me apply the writing skills I've accumulated to social justice issues again," says Levin.

Levin tells me she's not breaking from music completely; she still writes occasionally for City Arts, she still pays attention to what's hot and she still keeps Tacoma on her radar, stating that she's into Bob's Java Jive, New Frontier and bands like Argonaut, Lozen and The Fucking Eagles

And, true to her roots, she still has feelings about the state of the Northwest music scene. "Honestly, I think we're in a semi-fallow period," she says. "And there's nothing wrong with the fallow periods; it's a very natural cycle. If we were exploding all the time, s--- would get very boring - and very mediocre in the long run. I like the idea that someone we've never heard of is working like crazy in a basement somewhere on music that will blow everyone's minds in a couple of years."

Six Reasons Why We Love Hannah Levin

She is a self-proclaimed nerd and rebel: If you've seen Footloose, I imagine you could tell how well behaved I was in high school."

When it comes to Tacoma, she has a soft spot for NoMeansNo and Frisko Freeze: "I firmly believe that Tacoma is the best place to see NoMeansNo. I actually wrote a whole article about Tacoma's love affair with NoMeansNo for City Arts.. When I do come down to Tacoma, it's usually to visit my parents, who still live there. Or to go to FriskoFreeze. Like I said, I will always have fond memories of Frisko Freeze!"

She loves our locals: "I've been a big fan of both Helms Alee and Lozen for quite a while, both bands with roots in Tacoma," says Levin. "I try and catch Ian Moore whenever and wherever he plays. I think the ladies of Lemolo are exquisite and there's no good reason they shouldn't be huge. Absolute Monarchs are consistently impressive. I'm also keeping an eye on a baby punk band called Agatha that remind me of a more polished version of Bikini Kill. But truth be told, there are few local bands of any age that beat Mudhoney in the live performance department."

She appreciates a good DJ segue: "Nothing's more satisfying than pulling off a victorious segue," says Levin. "It's either that or the fact that I'm blessed enough to work for a radio station open-minded enough to let me throw on a Jesus Lizard record in the middle of the day."

She's resting her freelancer's pen to be an advocate for women's welfare: "I'm on a self-imposed hiatus at the moment," explains Levin. "I've been a freelancer forever, and honestly, I got tired of running around with no health insurance, chasing down checks and watching the pay rates for journalists dwindle so dramatically. I took a full-time job last fall writing for a really fantastic organization called The Greater Good, a role that keeps me focused primarily on women's healthcare and welfare issues, specifically breast cancer, poverty, and hunger. It's also really satisfying to have health insurance."

She wrote a faux-obituary about Courtney Love in The Stranger: "That caused a big ruckus," says Levin, "but it meant more to me personally in terms of admitting that an artist whom I used to admire had seriously let me down. It was essentially a eulogy for her career, which sounds a bit twisted, but it was also a love letter from a former fan to a fallen idol."

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