Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Where were you in '92?! Grunge revisited



I've been reading a book called "Grunge Is Dead" this week. It ain't a particularly great read, being completely made up of dubiously edited comments like a book version of a talking-head style documentary, but it's put together with obvious empathy and love for the Seattle scene. It's got me feeling all nostalgic that even the music of the teenhood of a whippersnapper like myself is ripe for retrospective re-appraisal already.

But in the grand scheme of things did grunge really matter? Was it all just a media construct? Did it register on the radar of anyone outside of the middle-class white angsty teenager demographic? Did it change anything?
Maybe i'm biased, but I like to think it did. It may have been short-lived (destroyed by horrific Daily Mail pullots of how to "dress grunge" and such like, oh..and heroin; lots and lots of heroin) and only produced a handful of decent bands, but I think it's impact on making the alternative into the mainstream can't be underestimated. Before Nirvana it was all poser rock (Bon Jovi etc) and Mariah Carey until the grungers made dressing down and being a bit of a loser a virtue. When Kurt wore Captain America T-shirts in photoshoots, it became normal for one of the world's biggest stars to talk about lo-fi Scottish indie on the same footing that people talked about U2. and that, despite my indie-elitist tendencies, has got to be a good thing.


Anyway, here's a track each from the Big Five (rather obvious ones i'm afraid) to remind you of those heady days that meant so much to me at the time but which seem to have been forgotten about. The music still sounds fresh to my ears; Mudhoney is brilliantly chaotic and Pearl Jam sound urgent and powerful and fully realised despite this being an early single:


Nirvana
Mudhoney
Soundgarden
Pearl Jam
Alice In Chains

52 comments:

sourpus said...

I think Grunge was more significant in the trajectory of North America than Britain. To use a much abused word, it was the beginning of US 'mainstream' acceptance of punk ideals, or perhaps, more importantly, a final move away from the FM Rock standard bottom line, which had been pretty much holding the bag of counter-cultural signification since the seventies.

Indie stalwarts in the UK had heard it all before and arguable better, so for many, the best that could be said about Grunge was that it was refreshing after the horror-wash of Eighties synthed-up excess. Sure Grunge was white and middle class at a time when the really cool ones in the UK were still becoming E'd up, multi-culturalist, classless, ravers, but there was an undeniable energy to Grunge which was damned hard to escape.

My enduring memory was of being in an midlands UK indie club when Teen Spirit was played, perhaps even for the first time ever. The club physically erupted in a way I hadn't seen since punk and it was (I have to admit) an awesome sight.

Everybody in the room 'got' that particular lyric (and sound) like a bullet up the behind.

sourpus said...

That said, in 92 I had just joined (one year earlier) a band with records being played on the Radio. Consequently, I was right into what I was doing and there wasnt much room for anything else. I attended a few raves and warehouse parties and that was about it.

ShariVari said...

I was twelve in '92 so didn't really pick up on grunge until about two years later. Groups directly or loosely associated with the phenomenon are probably responsible for half my favourite rock records though.

There was always an emotional and sonic ugliness to the music that i don't think the mainstream has really revisited properly since. There wasn't much arch or clever about it, in comparison to most of the big indie-rock acts of the last fifteen years, but it was so much more vital and powerful to me.

I was watching a few old videos on Youtube a couple of weeks ago and a live TV performance of Violet by Hole really stood out as something that it'd be difficult to imagine being smuggled on to prime time shows today. On one hand, it made me nostalgic for a period when naked, non-ironic, unphotogenic, elemental emotion could conquer the charts. On the other, it served as a reminder than many of the leading lights had severe mental and substance-abuse issues and the fetishisation of that by mildly-disaffected teenagers and young adults might be something better left in the distance. I don't know.

Blippety Blop said...

No Pumpkins?!!?!?!

zag said...

In 1992 I was in the early stages of turning into an accountant. I don't think grunge featured on the syllabus. Luckily by 1994 I had decided that accountancy was boring (and more specifically the exams were not to my liking) and moved to IT instead.

z

zag said...

Forgot to add . . . I don't think grunge itself was anything new for similar reasons as sourpus - the UK music scene had already been there and done that quite some time ago in my view but it definitely has an enduring image and impact as a 'movement'.

z

zag said...

Sorry for the recurring posts, but I'm listening through the playlist at the moment and I have to say that if you close your eyes the Nirvana song could easily be accompanied by a B&W film of the early Beatles, complete with mopheads. It just seems very happy and bouncy to me. Apologies to any grunge afficionados out there.

Shoey said...

Very fond of this stuff, as I think I've mentioned. Emigrated to the US in 1990 & caught the grunge wave - almost like going through punk & post punk again. Except, most Grungers, unlike punk, did not discard what went before. They kept their rock heroes, guitar solos etc. Also tended to be much better musicians.

Japanther said...

interesting responses everyone.

@sourpus - i was too young, grunge was pretty much the first kind of music i got into, what bands are you thinking of when you say the UK had heard it all before? (and i'm dying to know what band you were in...!)

@SV - you're dead right about the glamourisation of some fucked-up personalities. Reading about the demise of Layne Staley in the book was heartbreaking and Courtney, whilst being a true and raw rock star obviously had a lot of problems that she seemed to drag others into....

@zag - spot on about the Beatles reference. Kurt wore his pop sensibilities on his shirt and i'm sure if he was alive today he'd be playing guitar with The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart or someone like that. that was what put Nirvana so far ahead of the pack

@Blimpy - Smashing Pumpkins were always some way outside of the grunge bubble, although their first two albums are undoubtedly grunge in essence, i don't know, they never quite fit in somehow...which was maybe a good thing for them 'cos it allowed them to outlast a lot of their grunge contemporaries

@shoey - speaking of rock heroes, Duff McKagan (him of Guns'N'Roses of course) features heavily in the book as a Seattle native who was on the fringes of grunge but escaped to LA to live the rock star dream instead of struggling on in DIY punk underground obscurity like the rest of them.....until "Nevermind" that is.....

Blimpy said...

My top 5 "grunge" bands:

1. Nirvana
2. Pumpkins
3. Screaming Trees
4. Hole
5. Pearl Jam

Being 15 when grunge broke, I bloody loved it!

ToffeeBoy said...

Grunge passed me by, I'm afraid. My oldest daughter was born that year and almost everything else escaped my notice!

lambretinha said...

Ideally, the next three things will happen at the same time, but, for most bands, this is how it is for me... Some music and bands I like, others I admire, and others I love. These are bands I love (even if I don't listen to them anymore, in many cases)

Basically, while I'm a few years older, I had the same experience that Shari had, judging by his post above. I missed punk, new wave and post punk, because I was too young at the time, and stuff like C86, shoegaze etc were, to be honest, something completely marginal in Spain (and hip hop, because of the language barrier, was beyond most people's grasp around these parts), so I think Grunge is the only "movement", lacking a better word, I was young enough to feel like I was part of, and old enough to experience first hand.

It has been said it was derivative, and didn't have a lot of musical depth, and those claims are well founded, but I think they're missing the point somewhat. I've heard much better records than "Ten" or "Dirt" before and after the early nineties. But these records, while very personal, were saying something about people of a certain age back then no one else was saying. By that time, and I think it's happening today again, there was too much irony, too much cynicism, everybody was trying to be more cool than everybody else. Of course, what happened when these bands became successful was that the airwaves (remember those?) were saturated by overearnest bands with not a lot to say, but looking for a chance to prove they meant it, and for every "Black" or "Would" there were a hundred Nicklebacks, Candleboxes or 7 Mary Trees...
But this was the last time a significant chunk of a generation of kids worldwide chose music to define themselves. The way things are going, with people mainly getting music through their computers, and listening to it on their iPods and the likes, (which means music is more of an individual experience than it has ever been before) I don't think we're seeing anything like grunge (let alone punk) happening again anytime soon.

Also, I'd like to add that what these bands have in common is not their music (Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soungarden... and I'd add here Screaming Trees and the Afghan Whigs, are more or less one thing, and Nirvana, Mudhoney, L7 or Hole are another), but a certain sense of identity. In a way, it's good and healthy that most bands today are only speaking on their own behalf (I think the "JesusChrist Pose" sort of rock star is something we won't see again, and I don't think it will be missed) but the price to pay seems to be that new bands are just too happy to be there and putting out records. I'm not a revolutionary type of guy by any stretch of the imagination, (and if I was, I wouldn't want musicians to be the banner of it!) But sometimes I'm struggling with the idea of music being just another commodity. That's part of what it is, but I think it should aim for something else too...

I think I've stopped making sense a few paragraphs ago, so I'll leave it here.

saneshane said...

was it the long line of alternative rock.. mutating?
(it all depends on your age)

pixies
dinosaur jr
sonic youth
jane's addiction
flaming lips



they all fitted into the indie disco.. and jumping around to 'smell like...' fitted in perfectly, alongside new wave/ goth/ 60's 70's rock/ alternative ..you know filter out your idea of shit.. cream off the good stuff and decent noise continues to be enjoyed.. loved it..

..then we found a field and listened to a sound system all weekend.. luckily the brain serrrvivvedddd.

.. then to brit pop the antithesis of those dastardly americans so will could become common people as one... and...
by the time it was a movement I had created all the bands that you ever thought were cool and broke them up before it got boring... I am the god of indie pop .. (opps cauli cheese is bubbling away in the oven and the tatties need a shake..)

CaroleBristol said...

I never really saw grunge as anything more than a back-to-basics guitar rock type of thing.

I suppose I was too old for the teenage rebellion bit. I quite like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden though, although I am not sure if Soundgarden are really grunge.

I liked (and still like) a lot of late 80s and early 90s US alt-rock stuff, like the various Throwing Muses/Belly/Breeders albums and the Pixies will always be great.

Sonic Youth are, of course, unique.

steenbeck said...

I just listened to this list, and it was a weirdly nostalgic and very queazy feeling. I had the same reaction when I started watching Empire Records the other week (I had just seen Cadillac Records, and I forgot I'd already seen ER until about 1/2 hour in.) Boy did it suck! Boy did the 90s suck! Sorry!

I was 22 in 1992, maybe I was living on the wrong coast, I dunno. I remember I was making a film, and this boy followed me up to my attic room to play me a cassette tape of Nirvana (then pretty much unheard of) to tell me that it was revelatory music that I had to use in my film. He was so passionate about it. He was quoting lyrics to me--I've had people quoting Nirvana lyrics at me for years - like Cobain was some kind of Rimbaud-esqe misunderstood poet genius. Meh. Sorry!! It sounds like mall-angst to me. Really really sorry. It's just never appealed to me. Maybe I was too old for it already. It just seemed like smug, self-righteous, self-satisfied, self-manufactured problems. I like things that are musically raw, but these bands all sound like they're following a pattern of musical rawness--in the same way that you can buy pre-distressed grungy clothes.

Phew! Who knew I had so much anti-grunge emotion saved up? I like Mudhoney most of all of these. Sorry - I generally have a don't say anything if you don't like it policy - when I started I didn't know this would become so negative.

Lambretinha - I always like reading your posts. you're so articulate, it's hard to believe English isn't your first language.

Exodus said...

I think Sourpus and Saneshane have said it for me. (Although I think I may have lost Shane in that last paragraph)

ejay said...

Yeah Lambretinha, you're starting to make me look bad. Now people won't excuse my dodgy writings on just the fact that English isn't my first language!
On grunge, I haven't listened to the songs yet, but in 1992, at 11 years old, and in "genre-war" mode, I followed my brother's hip-hop leanings. However, we did acknowledge Smeels Like's superior riff, but it didn't mean anything to us I preferred the Weird Al spoof and my brother was just waiting for somebody to sample the riff (they did, it was a UK hip hop band too). I also liked the Black Hole Sun video. All my friends were into Nirvana though, so it was played at parties and stuff. So that was at the time. In the last couple of years I heard the Unplugged album in a magical place in Brazil while eatng crepes surrounded by surfers, a place where a lot of reggae was being played as well. Anyway my point is that now some aspects of grunge stil bother me like the vocal stylings best characterised by the singers from Alice In Chains and Soundgarden, and the production is sometimes a bit too "metallic", not sure if that's what I mean, but I've gone on too long anyway.

shane wanted food said...

Exodus
I might need a second opinion on the brain surviving...

(the cauliflower cheese and roast potatoes went down a treat.. )

Blimpy said...

i totes agree with Ejay about the vocal stylings of bands like Alice, STP, Soundgarden - that's what put me off them, and still does. And look what happened since with Nickleback and Creed and Puddle Of Mudd and all that stuff. Ugh.

tincanman said...

Living in Vancouver Canada, an easy 3-hr drive from Seattle, it was easy to follow grunge. I had liked Neil Young's grungy period, and I really liked Hole, but the rest didn't grab me in any culturally shocking way. Perhaps it was 'cause Seattle is so suburban and whitebread; it does have its decay and homeless and oppressed of course, but not to the extent of many American cities. The grungers weren't talking about that anyway as far as I knew. Mainly it seemed petulant teen angst about curfews and stuff, and I was a little old for that then. Decent enough bands, and I'm enjoying Chris Cornell these days, but it was a youth thing like every generation has and this one doesn't really stand the test of time methinks.

Blimpy said...

I think I liked the bands that were more on the indie/alt rock/shoegaze side of things than those who leaned more towards metal.

even when the pumpkins were doing their heaviest riffing, they always had an eye on the stars. unlike mebbe STP who were a turgid hard rock/ metal band with no imagination.

has anyone heard wayne and garth doing "pain cave" by the way?

Blimpy said...

that said, i am now listening to STP's "sex type thing" on spotify and still liking it.

Blimpy said...

i miss my long hair, ripped jeans, long sleeve band t-shirt, check shirt and docs. . .

Makinavaja said...

Repeating what has already been said, I think these things have a lot to do with your age at the time and your peer group. I was 15 in '77 and fell hook, line and sinker for punk and all the accompanying rhetoric. I really thought they had re-invented the wheel. And while a lot of what came out of that movement was good and (to my mind), has stood the test of time, I must say that having had the chance to catch up on stuff that came beforehand, it's clear that they were drawing on influences. I don't know enough about the music, Seattle or being 19 in 1992 to have an opinion about the relevance of grunge, I'm afraid.

Japanther said...

I think lambrethina (amazing post by the way!) hit the nail on the head of what I wanted to add, which was that it was a complete youth movement with a visual/musical identity, rather than just a load of bands chucking out some songs. it may have been a commercial construct, but it was one that this 15 year old bought hook, line and sinker!

STP were the beginning of the end of grunge for me, the tipping point where genuine angst (if that means anything) gave way to whining..

I was on the more leaning towards the metal side....Faith No More were my favourite band for a couple of years. Another great alternative rock band who dragged the mainstream along with them rather than following it

Japanther said...

@blimpy - ahh..me too!

there was a special assembly convened in our school to issue a ban on Doc Martens and steel toe-capped boots (I went to school in a MASSIVE pair of paratrooper boots at the time)! which we all took great delight in completely ignoring!

and I remember this girl I was going out with's mum (she WAS kinds posh- played the flute and everything) banned her from seeing me after she saw me out in town looking like a homeless refugee..!! good times..

Blimpy said...

i'm now rocking out to Jane's on spotify and remembering how the battle lines were drawn between the alt. kids and the townies (we called them 'bazzers & shazzers' cos they were mostly named barry and sharon.

you could easily get a kicking for looking grunge. metal pubs were one of the only safe places to hang out.

teen spirit was the first thing i learned on guitar, but the band i was in - we were more into playing like the clash or the sex pistols than grunge.

Blimpy said...

i just tried to make a grunge spotify play;list to share with you, but a lack of Sugar, Sloan, & Superchunk made me give up almost instantly.

Spotty does have Frail and Bedazzled by the Pumpkins though, which is bloody ace.

Blimpy said...

"Sugar, Sloan, & Superchunk - Your Trusty Alt. Rock Solicitors"

Blimpy said...

"Pretend We're Dead" - classic!!!

CaroleBristol said...

Speaking of the Pumpkins, Siamese Dream is a fantastic album.

Blimpy said...

"Violet" by Hole still sounds 100% full-on!

Blimpy said...

@Carole - "Siamese Dream" is in my top ten LPs of all time!

Blimpy said...

When did bands take their foot off the distortion pedal, huh?

TracyK said...

Hmm, Shane and Blimpy and Carole have all summed up what I felt. I wa sin my last year of uni when grunge really broke, and as I'd come through indie via The Cure, The Smiths and The Pixies, I was into what was then grebo (Carter, Neds,PWEI, TWS et al), so, as Carole notes, grunge seemed to flow from the alt/college rock scene. Back then indie encompassed all the weird tribes who got kickings in "Bazzer and Shazzer" places (and with my name, Shaz was a constant assumption: cheers Viz!), so grunge was just a new flavour of indie. I do remember wearing a white broderie anglaise dress to our local scumpit, being pushed oevr during Teen Spirit and crawlign from teh floor with my beautiful dressed drenched ina delightful hue of beer-and-blood. RATM and sodding House of pain has a lot to fecking answer for.

I never really rated Nirvana but Simaese Dream I loved and indeed still do. Fun times but really not as important as is assumed. Interesting posts everyone!

TracyK said...

Bloody spelling, bloody English teachers, bloody nora.

DarceysDad said...

Um, apart from the long hair (two decades gone!), the last time I wore ripped jeans, long-sleeve band T-shirt, check shirt and boots was ... er ... today! And that was at work !!

But on the broader point about grunge, I was 27/28 at around that point, so I was beyond buying into fads or movements, but I still remember the first time I heard Pearl Jam's Alive. A MASSIVE WTF moment. I just had to pull over to the side of the road to turn up the volume and stare open-mouthed at my car radio waiting for it to end, almost holding my breath forfear of not hearing just what the hell that was. It was a real shot in the arm for my ailing rock fandom.

I'd been getting quite seriously disenchanted with heavy rock as the 80s came to an end (G'n'R notwithstanding). I was hacked off with spandex & backcombed shredders feeling all-too-pleased with themselves; it said absolutely nothing to me. I was bloody delighted to find a black cloud to immerse myself in, and there are elements of that time that over the years have become cornerstones of my collection - Chris Cornell, Mark Lanegan, and so on. No-one has yet mentioned the Temple Of The Dog album: I'd stake the mortgage (if I had one) on steenbeck hating that album, but it's one of my all-time Top Ten.

But here's the thing; connecting with grunge per se didn't mean I adopted everything contained therein - I'm no great Nirvana fan, though I admit I regret the decision not to "waste" a day's holiday to see them here at Bradford Uni (I worked permanent late shifts at the time, less than a mile from that gig); Mudhoney's ramshackleness (cripes, is that even a word?) meant I dismissed them early on; even Pearl Jam have not managed to arrest the law-of-diminishing-returns slide in my affections. I respect them more now than ever, but I don't love them at all. I haven't even sought out Backspacer once online or at my local library yet.

Others have made good points about the heartfelt-but-ultimately-trivial lyrical angst of a lot of grunge lyrics, and I have always been troubled by the media's loathsome delight in watching some of the scene's central characters self-destruct, but I for one am really glad that so many of Seattle's local musicians managed to go global. Without the attention grunge got, there's no way I'd have ever heard Brad or Satchel; without grunge blurring the lines between metal and alt-rock, I doubt much of my preferred listening now would have ever managed to get past my outer defences.

And now I'm rambling too ... must be something in the water!

tincanman said...

Oh yeah, props to Lanegan too DsD. I've only recently been connecting all the career dots with him.

I didn't come on to post that thugh, he he. Your comment just appeared when I clicked post a comment.

My question for the class is, what is the current or next punk or grunge? As in what are teens or soon to be teens listening to or drifting towards that will be their rebellion music?

lambretinha said...

I might try to answer that tin, but only from the accepted premise that I'm talking bollocks, ok?

I seriously doubt the concept of "rebellion music" is, or is going to be, currency for people born in the nineties and onward. If you're meaning "rebellion against the mainstream" you'd be bound to answer first what does mainstream mean anymore. Nothing, apparently. If you mean "let's change the world with music" rebellion, well, I think those fireworks have been thrown many years ago. The world smiled, and kept on going. (Or, paraphrasing George Carlin, integrated it into a new paradigm: the world, with rebellious music).

That doesn't mean young people are just sitting on their hands, though. In the noughties, the revolution, if there has been one, has been technological. But it has been mainly about access and distribution, not about content. And it has been led, again, by young people, because they have a relationship with technology more "integral" than our own.

Talking bollocks indeed! Somebody shoot me...

(Thanks for your kind words, people. Oh, and steenbeck, I'm afraid to confess, but I'm a lot less articulate when I'm trying to speak the language. Fortunately, writing english is a much easier task than actually speaking it!)

TonNL said...

Being around 30 in the early 90's, I can identify with DsD's story, being (too) busy at that time with a starting up company I wasn't paying too much interest in what was happening in music at that time but had my WTF moment in (what is still) the best record shop in the world (Sounds in Venlo NL....) when suddenly Nirvana's 'Love Buzz' blasted through the speakers, WTF is this? how TF do they know this song? Immediately bought the 'Bleach' cd and regained my interest in loud guitars & music in general again....

steenbeck said...

Ejay, I was actually going to compare Lambretinha's eloquence to yours, (favorably for both of you) because you're both so articulate and reasonable and witty, but I was afraid I'd sound patronizing. I'm jealous of you both for speaking more gooder English than I.

Lambretinha, I bet with a few beers in you you'd be plenty eloquent speaking English.

tincanman said...

Nirvana impressed me most when I heard their unplugged album. I was so so impressed by how good the underlying songs were. That was one of the few CDs I bought in those days.

tincanman said...

Oh and lambi, good of you to remind us English is your second language 'cause I keep forgetting. Honestly - your posts don't read like someone translating or struggling with the right word.
Your of the language superstructures flapjacks mine often at times quite regularly per diem.

Japanther said...

i have to say that it's certainly heartening to hear that grunge wasn't as much of a radar blip as i had feared...and it at least had some kind of impact whatever the age or musical persuasion, whether good or bad....mostly good it seems. Thanks for the thoughtful responses everyone!

Japanther said...

oh, and I think that Emo is the latest youth movement that seems to have really captured the imagination of the suburban kids and given then a visual/musical/social identity in the same way that grunge did for me.
It's all over Europe and the US (a little in Japan too) and is easily as big as grunge was..

bishbosh said...

Blimey, who'd a thunk this thread would take off in such a major way? I almost didn't bother clicking through, but what a fascinating read!

I can identify with a lot of what a lot of people (sourpus, steenbeck, tin) have said. I guess I was 20-ish when grunge broke big, so I was perhaps a little beyond being swept up in a 'movement'. But a few things struck me about grunge - and put me off it at the time.

First off, it felt so very American - in quite an insular, exclusive way. Not wishing in any way to denigrate our cousins across the water, but I just didn't connect with it in any meaningful way as a result.

Second, it seemed so workaday and mundane after what had come before. Maybe this was just what rock needed, but to someone who had grown up idolising the pop peacocks of the 80s (the Annie Lennoxes and Marc Almonds), I couldn't see the appeal. It was all just so straight. And male. And generic. Checked shirts? Ripped jeans? Manky sweaters?! Where was the androgyny? The glamour? The individuality? The diversity? I guess this is why, of all the bands, I was most drawn to the Smashing Pumpkins and Hole. They didn't just seem like white, middle-class, US college boys. I could see that they might have something to be justifiably angsty about! Otherwise, I was a little put off by the 'complaint rock' nature of it all (as Clueless so delightfully termed it).

Likewise, where was the erudition and poetry of a Morrissey or a Michael Stipe or an Ian McCulloch? Where was the whimsy of a Robert Smith? Even the record sleeves looked prosaic in comparison to the exotic 4AD beauty of immediate forebears The Pixies/Breeders/Throwing Muses. It all just felt a little lumpen and unambitious to me. Even the term: grunge?! Listening now of course, it’s clear that there is a huge amount of poetry - and a real, bleak beauty - in Kurt’s music, in particular. I think it was just the presentation that didn’t appeal to me at the time!

I guess what I wanted (want?) from my popstars was someone to identify with but also to look up to: someone who could show me that they understood but that - crucially - it would get better. I wanted empathy and hope, not nihilism. To quote Oscar Wilde, I wanted someone to tell me that, yes, "we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars". Maybe also grunge didn't appeal because it was the first musical movement I encountered whose leading lights were roughly my peers, age-wise. And they were telling me that, sorry, this is it. And it's shit. That life is tedious and mundane and occasionally squalid - and a heartbreaking disappointment.

But to be honest, I'm kind of talking out of my arse. That's what comes of going on first impressions of anything (and therefore rejecting it)! Maybe it's time I finally invested in a copy of "Nevermind"...

Abahachi said...

I was just too young for punk; by the early 1990s I'd caught up on it, perhaps with a bit of a tendency to mythologise certain aspects, and that's really how I reacted to grunge: back to basics, anyone can start a band and make a fantastic noise, check, and some great singles - but where was the soul (it seemed incredibly white, understandable given its origins but still in contrast to the punk/new wave engagement with reggae) and where were the politics? This last point was especially important to me at the time; it wasn't the nihilism I objected to so much as the solipsism and self-obsession of some of the most prominent figures of the movement. Yes, some great songs, as I say, but the main contribution of grunge to my musical development was to introduce me to earlier or related bands like Husker Du, Pixies etc., and to confirm my feeling that the really interesting stuff was happening away from conventional guitar bands.

Exodus said...

The only one of the 'grunge' bands I've really listened to much are Nirvana, although I've heard a few other bits & pieces, but never really engaged with them. Having listened to the five tracks here, there's nothing much to make me change my mind, Nirvana's still the only one that grabbed me. I do like the Alice in Chains track that was on one of the northern social cd's (sorry can't remember title offhand or whose CD it was!) & used to have quite a good time jumping up and down to a Rage Against The Machine (were they grunge?) track that got played regularly at a club night I used to go to.

DR said...

Hi Japanther,

I agree that it was more than just a marketing construct, at least initially.

I saw a documentary on The Velvet Underground that had a TV clip of a swingin' Rock N' Roll beach party style thing. Neatly encapsulating a world where music had somehow died.

You could say the same of the late eighties of course, and there was a sense at the time that a band was going to come along and cross over in a big way, the Pixies almost managed it but maybe it was a bit too early.

There's an excellent book by Michael Azerrad called you Our Band Could Be Your Life which has a chapter on Dinosaur JR, which neatly encapsulates this ominous sense of impending success. Look out for Lou Barlow shouting at J Mascis towards the end of the chapter.

I think some sort of crossover would have happened even without Nirvana, it was just plain luck that the band that broke were a synthesis of the best music I'd ever heardn and they did change the landscape if only for a short time: a perfect moment then.

Without sounding like I view people who buy mainstream music as corporate shills (see the following link) it's interesing how quickly anything slightly outside the mainstream is sublimated. You can't really compare The Strokes with Nirvana and an argument of how Rock N' Roll the former were is an argument for another time.

But it's like Grunge served as a case study in cultural appropriation. Once The Strokes released their first record, Strokes sounding shampoo commercials appeared in about two seconds flat.

I don't know where that leaves white guitar music but I'm guessing the next sub-cultcha moment won't come from that direction.

Link

treefrogdemon said...

A senior citizen writes: in 1992 I was 43 and had just embarked on the most personally satisfying decade of my life (so far): I'd finally got financially viable again - it was only 10 years before that I'd been homeless and rehoused on a sink estate - and had bought a house and got involved with the folk music and theatre scene in Milton Keynes, with loads of new friends...so while (as a Guardian reader) I was aware of grunge it didn't have much effect on me. I just approved of it because the young folk were doing something different.

I did enjoy the Nirvana Unplugged TV programme but I think Kurt was already dead by then.

nilpferd said...

Think I have to second Bishbosh on this. I heard Nirvana et al in '92, but the sensitivity passed me by, it was just the music blaring out of cars driven by bunches of guys looking for "gays" to harass. I doubt they really got the true meaning of the music either, maybe that's one reason KC killed himself.
At the time I preferred the indie rock of Pixies/MBV/SY/3Ds/Shihad/Straitjacket Fits, and in any case I was getting into electric Miles around that time.
Though a friend did get me semi-hooked on In Utero for a while, I'll admit. But I never really owned a "grunge" record. Probably the nearest thing I do have is the industrial/grunge sound of Shihad's Killjoy.

Japanther said...

@DR - i was hoping you would stop by and thanks for the link, I love those kind of people!

I think you're right that something would have given sooner or later and Nirvana were the perfect band for it to happen to....although it may have cost Kurt his life...

I haven't got round to reading This Band Could Be Your Life yet, but it's recommended by several friends and is on my christmas list