Greetings KEXP Listeners. Michele Myers here, producer of KEXP Documentaries. Our series “Poets and Music” continues this week with an episode on Seattle-based poet Steven Jesse Bernstein. Born in 1950, Steven Jesse Bernstein struggled with mental illness and drug addiction all through his life, though he was sober through most of the 80’s, the decade when he did his best work. He also became a regular master of ceremonies for Seattle counterculture rock shows, opening for bands like Soundgarden, The Crows and Nirvana. It was not only his gutter-level, dark poetry that made him an icon on the scene, but also his onstage antics, which included urinating on a heckler, reading a poem while holding a live rodent in his mouth and throwing things at the audience like beer bottles or his wallet.
Steven Jesse Bernstein was signed to the (at the time very young) label Sub Pop. For his debut full-length, they wanted to record Jesse singing and playing his guitar live at a local prison. Kind of a Johnny Cash Fulsom Prison Blues project, where the inmates’ cheering and yells would also be on the recording. But the attempt didn’t bring about anything the label thought would be marketable. So they asked local producer/multi-instrumentalist Steve Fisk to create sound collages/songs to play behind Steven Jesse’s spoken word pieces. Jesse killed himself during the production of this album, Prison. And Fisk was forced to finish the record according to his own vision.
KEXP Documentaries are created by Michele Myers with assistance from John Felthous, Tiffany Grobelski, Mary Janisch and Executive Producer Kevin Cole. If you would like to follow along more closely in the creation of these radio stories, we post research materials, songs and videos on our Facebook page and on Twitter.