I was driving home from the Capitol Hill Block Party two Sunday nights ago. I had a Ford Expedition full of five kids, some out-of-town friends, and my wife Susan. I had just played a really fun gig with some Seattle pals, and was just kind of living in the moment of a sunny evening with teenage girls and rock and roll.
Susan was checking the news on her iPhone, and gently but suddenly announced that J.P. Patches had passed away. I slowed down . . . it was a huge shot in the gut. I stopped the car.
My kids could never know the importance of the passing of J.P. to me. Our out-of-town guests most certainly couldn't either. Everyone in the car did notice the teardrop down my right cheek. Suddenly the car got quiet, and Susan awkwardly tried to explain J.P. Patches to all these kids and out-of-towners.
The importance of J.P. Patches may not make any sense to any of you under the age of, say, 34 or 35—and will certainly not make any sense to those of you outside our area—but J.P. Patches, to people like me who grew up under his watchful and hilarious eye, informed us all about a unique sense of humor that had so much to do with the formation of the identity of this town. I'm serious.
J.P.'s TV show ran here daily for 20 years. It was for kids, and ran in the morning as we were all getting ready for school. We didn't know the difference, but it was improv at its best, and played to two levels of humor (we always wondered why our parents would watch along with us and chuckle at some skit whose humor was above our heads). All that we kids knew—we "Patches Pals," as we were known—was that we had the coolest morning show in the world.
Back then, from the early '60s to the early '80s, Seattle was a full-on working-class town. All we really had was Boeing and timber, and to the rest of the world, we were thought of as lumberjacks living in teepees. We were "way up THERE."
When I moved to Los Angeles in the mid-'80s, it became very apparent that all these people who I was meeting who weren't from Seattle didn't get some of my humor. I realized then that a lot of my humor came from J.P. and Gertrude and Boris S. Wort and Ketchikan the Animal Man. I was on my own little lonely humor island down there.
But then bands from Seattle started to come down to L.A., and I would get a kick out of the swath of Los Angelenos scratching their heads at the inside jokes after bands like the U-Men, Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, and early Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains would come to town. I realized then that the J.P. Patches show had put a very unique slant on our town—and I can even make the statement that if you like the "vibe" of a lot of those bands I just mentioned, then somehow you were getting a secondhand look into how J.P. had made us here in the Pacific Northwest just a bit different.
In the '90s, when I first met Susan, we did that thing all young couples do—we informed each other of the things that influenced us. My "most important things" that she HAD to know were a love for early punk rock and Prince, a love of the Seattle SuperSonics (a deal-breaker)—and she had to understand J.P. Patches. I think once she saw that J.P. Patches TV special, she suddenly got a huge insight into my psyche as a whole . . . and I don't think that I am overstating this.
On Sunday night and Monday morning, a bunch of guys my age started texting and calling each other. These are a bunch of tough dudes, if you ask me, but these tough dudes were all like myself . . . a bit lost now with the fact that J.P. Patches had passed away.
Some of you may assume that we guys are just more acutely aware of the passage of time, and that the death of a childhood icon just signals another signpost. But it's more than that. If you are from Seattle or the surrounding area and older than 34 or 35, J.P. Patches still made you feel like a kid, still made you laugh, and still made you unique and proud to be different in whatever wacky way that was.
Godspeed, J.P. Patches. Rest in peace, Chris Wedes. You will be greatly missed, and thank you for making Seattle feel like we were special.