Rocket Queen: Livin’, Lovin’, She’s Just a Woman

When local luminary Kim Warnick turns 50, everybody parties.

Shortly before the legendary Seattle band called it quits in 2002, I caught the Fastbacks playing at the Showbox's Green Room. The space was newly opened as an annex to the main showroom, and both the artists and the audience were getting used to how awkwardly bright the room sounded and how difficult it was to see the stage in the bar's subterranean back room. Myself and grand Sub Pop pooh-bah Jonathan Poneman were craning our necks around the stairwell and marveling at the spectacular sight that was band co-leader (in tandem with Kurt Bloch) Kim Warnick. "Rock 'n' roll keeps you young," said Poneman, smiling proudly as Warnick sweetly wailed and thrashed her way through one of the band's signature pop-punk anthems. Warnick turned 50 years young last Tuesday, and a near-complete roll call of Seattle rock royalty turned up at the Crocodile to celebrate the occasion. The day prior, the widely beloved bassist and I had chatted about our mutual mystification regarding women who lie about their age. "How does one not embrace it?" she asked, sounding truly puzzled. "It's weird to me. We're all getting older every second of every day. Not a bad thing. This is what happens. Isn't it more about what you've done in this world? Turns out I really do not care about age. I do care about people who have become wiser and hopefully have learned something along the way." Warnick's certainly acquired plenty of hard-won wisdom in those 50 years, alongside a massive creative community in Seattle and beyond who love her. Just over 12 months ago, she was given a grim prognosis after doctors found two tumors—both benign, but substantial in size and aggressive in scope—fused to her spine. Despite doctors' fears that she might never walk again, Warnick made a full recovery after several surgeries and many, many months of bed rest. "When you are a badass, you just walk," she says matter-of-factly. "There was never a choice in my stubborn mind." Her impressive recovery was also helped by a generous outpouring of support from the music community: Benefits were held, and both MusiCares and Sweet Relief (organizations that help subsidize the health-care needs of the many uninsured folks in the music business) stepped in to help cover Warnick's avalanche of hospital bills—assistance she is deeply grateful for. "They really did save me," she says. Warnick used the landmark occasion of her birthday to give back to MusiCares, asking all who attended the celebration last week to donate $5 at the door (ultimately, more than $1,300 was raised). The house was packed to the rafters with well-wishers of multiple generations—from the giddy MCs behind Champagne Champagne (still high after a very successful turn at SXSW) to No Depression co-founder Kyla Fairchild (thrilled to have finally nailed down July 11 as the date for ND's first music festival at Marymoor Park)—and a bustling backstage packed with a jaw-dropping cast of musicians kicking out Warnick's favorite jams. The reliably wisecracking and honey-voiced Rachel Flotard (with whom Warnick played in Visqueen until her retirement from performing in 2004) went the acoustic route with help from former Flop leader Rusty Willoughby and Screaming Trees' Barrett Martin, serenading the birthday girl with a cover of Aretha Franklin's "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man," while a perpetually shifting all-star lineup burned through a slew of covers from two of Warnick's favorite bands, Sweet and the Faces. Current and former members of the Cops, the Posies, the Presidents of the U.S.A., Thee Sgt. Major III, and Mudhoney also offered up jubilant and apropos versions of songs by the Kinks, the Beatles, and the Ramones. Warnick was front and center the whole time, rocking out next to her former Fastbacks bandmates, all of whom finally managed to cajole Warnick into joining them in singing a couple of Fastbacks songs toward the end of the night. Taking the stage with a giant bouquet of yellow flowers and a smile nearly a yard wide, she told the audience to get ready for her 60th birthday, because she planned on "taking it to Key Arena!!" By the time I left the club shortly after 12:30, I had hugged so many people that my collarbone ached; the collective love in that room was almost overwhelming. "It was easily the most over-the-top night I've ever had in my life," said Warnick a few days later. "So many decades all in one room; the only sad part was that I wasn't able to talk to each one for more than a minute. So much history and so many amazing people. And that is what I get for living in this city for 50 years! I get a lifetime of friends. Oh, and I also got a killer guitar!" Sure enough, longtime pal and Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard gave her a Gibson Flying V guitar. "I woke up with it next to my bed and felt almost 49 again!"

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