Rethinking the Grunge era

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Let's define it (somewhat arbitrarily) as beginning with the release of Surfer Rosa, and ending with the Limp Bizkit riot at Woodstock '99. eg beginning with the release of music from the American indie underground with pop appeal, ending with the complete sell-out & jockification of pop with roots in punk & distortion.

best & worst, rise and fall of the slacker empire. When did you first notice a sea change in popular music? When did you feel like it had completely gone to the dogs?

Did the brief commercial success of Nirvana, Lollapalooza & Sassy Magazine achieve anything?

fritz, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

btw... surfer rosa is just an example - I know there are tons of other records that fit the description.

fritz, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

The kids I see in the nu-metal section of big record stores don't look 'jockified' to me, particularly.

The killing-the-father rhetoric surrounding grunge vis a vis metal was a big mythic selling point but also trapped grunge rather when it came to reincorporating pop ideas and hooks, or rather being open about the reincorporation that had been going on all along.

I think grunge does need rethinking because the idealising of 1991 is crippling a generation of rock writers.

Did it "achieve anything"? It depends what you think was there to be achieved. It 'commodified' rebellion - was this a bad thing, though? I don't know. Smart and alive kids will find ways to think for themselves anyway, other kids maybe won't: having a how-to-punk guide in a lifestyle magazine might inspire howls of outrage among people who've already 'made it', critical-thinking wise (or think they have), but to a.n. kid it might be a start.

And you might argue that the commodification made visible what had been invisible (the codes and strata and bullshit of 'punk' as it had become), and thus moved the debate (which is never only a public debate anyway) on.

Musically, I hardly noticed. Enlighten me.

Tom, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

I would begn the era in 1991 becasue it only became "grunge" when big labels made it a genre. NIrvana was likeable to me for about as long as it took for MTV to get their meathooks into them. ALl I can offer is I never wanted to hear a distorted guitar again by the year 1998. It was worse than Disco

Mike Hanle y, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

the best part of it all was kurt cobain a sensitive guy with powerful guitar riffs but I strongly dislike the heroin tasting return of faux romantic conception of the artist as a person who as a better perspective on ordinary world because of ...suffering . it became a boring cliche in the second part of the 90's . even if I can still remember, with fun , arguments between brit_pop( I guess this wasn't so big in u.s.) supporters and grunge supporters

francesco, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

high: the "anybody can start a band" ethic.

low: everybody started a band.

fritz, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Tangent, but actual quote from the end of a VH1 special I flipped past the other night: "And while the alternative rock movement only lasted a few short years..." Apparently American bands like that only existed between 1991 and 1994.

I have loads of thoughts on the era but no overarching impression. The main annoyance, from my point of view, was that the public (the American public, anyway) conceived of "alternative" or "indie" as being a rock phenomenon, a howling emotive beast primarily influenced by near-heavy metal and muddy guitar heroics. An entire underground was painted with this brush, despite 90% of the bands in that underground working from either a post-punk or a hardcore aesthetic. It seems almost ridiculous to say, VH1-style, that "the underground" emerged at this point, when what we got was Soundgarden and STP, and not, say, Superchunk or Fugazi. This was probably one phenomenon where one can safely say that most participants Missed the Point Entirely, and I think that's key in understanding today's beefy rockers: weirdly enough, the mainstream of culture co-opted a movement but wound up co-opting precisely those things that were anomalous to the movement.

Nitsuh, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

"Alternative" wasn't a movement 'till the media touched it. It was a bunch of bands in various local "scenes". Much like there have been and will be 'till the end of time. These partic. bands happened to be A) quite good, and B) particularly authenticity-obsessed. End social story.

Begin musical story. So? STP? Interstate Love Song was a great track, and teriffic video. Where's Maura? We need her to praise Superunknown. Hole, as I always discuss, was magnificent -- troubled and turgid, a whole mess of elsewhere-discussed gender issues embodied in a rock queen.

Nirvana as as band? We've done this before. Consensus: pretty tunes.

The loud/soft dynamic? GRATE at time, certainly largely faded by 1995, today not hardly evident at all in the nu-metal kidz. Transformed, I think, in the 2nd gen. bands (who were largely less good -- Better Than Ezra, anyone?) into a dull verse, amp up the power chords in the chorus type thing. But let us not forget the 2nd generation orig. "grunge" creature of Garbage. Garbage deserve props. Also that "grunge" opened the way for punk acts like Bad Religion, at least temporarily.

Sterling Clover, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

My view will by slightly slanted, because I grew up during that era. Nirvana was the second band I've ever liked in my life (Aerosmith being the first). I had no concept of music as anything but something you listened to, so to define it theoretically and historically is impossible for me. As cliché as it sounds, grunge touched me, and though I could start seeing a pattern repeating and originality slowly fading away, I got into Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, STP, Soundgarden and even the nth-wave of imitators like Candlebox or Bush. Those were my first years as music fans, so obviously, grunge achieved in drawing me in. For me, 'The Colour & the Shape' was the last great grunge album.

I can't speak for eveyone who was starting high school (aka the Hell years) when they first heard 'Nevermind', but though the grunge era produced a lot of retrospectively embarrassing mopey lyrics, those words made sense for a 13-year-old kid.

alex in montreal, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

My view is likewise slanted, since I came of age musically *before* that era. Grunge was no surprise to me, since it was midwestern "flannel rock" before it was grunge. I started seeing 70s-rock-in-indie-clothing in the mid-80s. As I hated most of it, it deserved co-optation and eventual exhaustion. I don't think it deserved its status as *the* punk trajectory. It didn't mean anything to *me*, because it was so backward-looking and so *white* and narrow. And I liked Black Sabbath and AC/DC in junior high, I really did. My background is pretty similar to a lot of "grunge" folk One of the L7 chicks grew up a few miles from me, as well as someone from Soundgarden or one of those bands. I didn't like how this music was said to be "representative" of a certain demographic, though, because that's not what *I* was all about.

I have really mixed feelings about its impact. I feel like the culture has changed so dramatically since then that anything that happened immediately before (i.e., early nineties) doesn't really matter - from my vantage point, it seems that there's been a leveling of musics. These indie vs. mainstream issues just don't feel so urgent to me. Perhaps that's just wishful thinking. Re-visiting the "grunge days" just sounds so boring because I think in more idiosyncratic pick-and-choose terms now.

Kerry Keane, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Alex: I came of age in roughly the same context, but for whatever reason, I was slightly put off by the heavy-rock overtones of "grunge" and moved in a more Anglophile direction instead. Perhaps I'm just slightly older than you, and thus was seized by the Cure and the Smiths (retrospectively) in the years just before grunge broke? Or perhaps I'm just sort of a pansy, and was more drawn to mopey English bands than noisy unkempt Americans?

Re: Nirvana, I thought I'd share a theory that occurred to me last week. Guitar-wise, Kurt's songs were all about Frank Black's structural trick, which was to play a fairly standard chord progression but use major chords where there would normally be minor chords (and occasionally vice versa), for that off-kilter "one note in this chord is one half-step off" feel. (Those of you who play guitar surely know exactly what I mean.) What struck me, while listening to an old tape with "Pay to Play" on it, was that while the Pixies circumvented that tonal oddity with vocals that were sort of speaky-screamy, and therefore didn't need to acknowledge the unexpected sharps, Kurt's pop leanings led him to write melodies that actually worked through those off steps. I'd never noticed before, but when you think about a song like "Lithium," he's accomodating those sharps and flats in a really sophisticated way: hum over the line "but today I've found my friends," or consider the differences between the two long "Yeahs" in the chorus. I think this is the heart of what makes the band interesting -- the fact that their presentation is that of a banged-out three-chord punk rock outfit, but their songs have that note of melodic complication that makes them linger in the head much longer.

Forgive me if that's a statement of the very obvious. But even though I'm not particularly huge on the band, this seems like an unassailable retort to those who say they were essentially ripping the Pixies. (Along with "Nuh-uh, it was the Vaselines.")

Nitsuh, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Nitsuh: are you (North) American? I was roughly 13 when Nevermind exploded and I've never heard of the Smiths or the Cure (besides being "that band who sang Friday I'm in Love"). If you are American and were the same age, how did you hear about these bands?

Hmm, maybe I was/am just a sheep...

alex in montreal, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

I read somewhere where Kurt said he wished he could have been in a Pixies cover band. I think at some level he WAS aping the Pixies, but since he was an interesting and talented guy in his own right, it came out wrong/better/different.

Sean, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Ahhh... Bush. At the time everyone was ripping them as teenybopper grunge. Remember those days when girls would swoon over rockstars instead of popstars? *sigh*. And, oh yes, "Come Back Down" is a major contribution to culture, as was the grit that covered most of Blur's songs, sort of a reverse production sheen, the texture of a rough cement sidewalk w/cobblestones and all after ppl. have walked over it for a good 20 years. Even Everclear sounded better back in the grunge days. Now Silverchair? Search: Nirvana. Destroy: Australia.

Sterling Clover, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

OK, here are the essential albums of my grunge fandom:

In Utero: I lost Nevermind on tape, so this was the only one I had for a while, thus the one that got played constantly. Can't really add anything that hasn't already been said.

Versus: the only PJ album that I ever liked. From the get-go, I was resolved not to like them (esp. since Kurt didn't), but then I heard 'Daughter'.

Core: back then, it wasn't a matter of STP blatantly ripping off bands left and right, it just seemed convenient for me to have everything I like in grunge in one album. I thought that AIC never made a single as good as 'Sex Type Thing' or PJ never did anything better than 'Plush', so chalk it up to innocent, uncritical ears.

Dirt: Heroin and suicide, that's what I think of when I put on this album. It was by far the most depressing shit I had.

Live Through This: I bought into the belief that Kurt basically wrote it, so by proxy, must be good, thought I. It was. Then I got Pretty on the Inside, which was shit shit shit.

Colour & Shape: This is more of a nostalgic pick, because by then, I had started to bridge out to other genres. This one brought me back to that short three-year period of my life. Kinda like a tribute to grunge for me.

OK, enough posts for me in this thread. Sorry everyone, it just struck a major (instead of minor, ha!) chord with me.

alex in montreal, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

* Did the brief commercial success of Nirvana, Lollapalooza & Sassy Magazine achieve anything?

Er, well, just last weekend I moved into a house with wonderful views of the Preston Park area of Brighton, if that makes you feel any better.

* Kurt wanted to be in a Pixies cover band.

Spookily enough, Nirvana's old soundman Craig Montgomery *is* in a Pixies cover band.

Jerry, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Also worth reevaluating the worth of the scene that Nirvana "killed" -- not just hair metal, but plenty of great r&b, hip-hop party crossover music like House of Pain, the smashing Boys II Men (who, granted, weren't killed, but still), REM was already big, U2 was still doing good stuff... music didn't rilly need to be saved, honestly, did it?

Sterling Clover, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Alex: Yes, North American. I was in Colorado at the time, to be more specific. But if we posit Nirvana's "blowing up" to have been 1991, then I was 14, which obviously explains why I was infinitely cooler and more informed than piddly little "so junior high" 13-year-old you. :)

I can't really explain how I started on those bands except to posit the usual channels of cooler older kids, basically. Possibly it was just my school, which had a pretty big Morrissey-fan contingent for southern Colorado. And surely Disintegration was pretty widely known to people throughout the UK, US, and Canada?

One good thing I can say for the grunge explosion: much like the web's explosion, a lot of money got tossed at bringing rock music to the kids. Most of the results were stupid, and the whole thing went bust just as quickly, but for a roughly six months, even my southern- Colorado prairie town had a decent "alternative" radio station, which was were I first heard things like Velocity Girl, Red House Painters, and the Trash Can Sinatras. Which is really quite good for commercial radio, don't you think?

Nitsuh, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

I don't know, I always thougth The Pixies were a little too deliberately "arty" for that moniker... it seemed like it spawned with Green River, the first couple of Soundgarden ep's, Blood Circus, Melvins... etc. At least initially, it had alot more to do with Motorhead than Pere Ubu. It was basically rockers who liked punk... there's always been a little cross-pollination like that anyway. It effectively died as a "hipster" genre about the time of Nevermind, and when the likes of jocks like Helmet and rockstars like Bush got ahold of it... well, just listen to the 'extreme' car commercial music these days.... "Detroit built 4X4 action..." with Sabbathy riffs in the back...

Andy, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Oh, but weren't Screaming Trees really the first? Like 1984 or whatever?

Andy, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

The other day I was thinking about the possibility of "grunge nostalgia." It occurred to me that it might never happen, at least not in the same way as disco, hair metal, 80s synth pop, or even 60s and 70s rock. It seems like a true nostalgia movement only occurs when the nostalgia object had an air of "fun" surrounding it the first time around. Nobody thinks of Alice & Chains that way, do they? At least with Zep there are memories of getting loaded in high school and grooving to "The Battle of Evermore." High school stoners listening to Soundgarden (and I'm sure there were millions) were just too knowing, and they've probably moved on for good.

Mark, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Well maybe it was a bit grim but I still had fun.

Josh, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

i remember when kurt cobain proclaimed himself a 'cutie'.

keith, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Same as Kerry, I'd already "come of age" by that time & didn't see any "revolution", there'd been '70s-rock-in-indie-clothing (as she called it) around since SST got diarrhoeic (anyone still listen to DC3 or SWA or Wurm?) (who did then?) in - what? - 1984? - & all it looked like from where I was was that that stuff graduallygot more popular acceptance as the memory of that anti-pre-'76-rock ideology faded. Like most things, the more there was of it & the more popular it became the less I liked it. Although, I won't lie, I played in '70s-rock-influenced bands in the '80s myself, so you know, there was something in the air.

duane, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink


duane, Wednesday, 1 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Sociologically - grunge will be forgotten, just like everything else to do with the b.1965-1975 forgotten demographic, the baby boomers took all the jobs and real estate and our right to smoke in public, then bought their disgusting nu-metal-listening, snowboarding offspring all the toys and computers. Meanwhile, everybody who should've been having kids and swelling Generation X was out having abortions or growing their body hair on communes or getting their asses shot off in Nam, goddam them.

Musically - Nirvana = Led Zep, huge at the time but in retrospect not really all that influential or original (a few steps to the left of 'Definitely Maybe', with 'Cheap Trick Live at Budokan' equidistant between them), while Faith No More/Soundgarden = Sabbath, more important musically now than they were then.

dave q, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Dave's right - I wasted my years of demographic relevance not making any important purchases.

Kerry Keane, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

I was six at the time. I listened to NPR.

Meanwhile, where's MY snowboard? How deprived I am.

Lyra, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

grunge lasted up until 5 April, 94. After that NIN, Smashing pumpkins and to a lesser extent Pearl Jam took over the aternative thing, but that really only lasted until late 96, where Melancholy reigned, and PJ did No Code (still their best work, imo). Grunge was gone for along ti,e though - limp bizkit have mroe to do with aerosmith circa walk this way, or poison than nirvana

Geoff, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

I came around to all of this wild, wacky stuff just as I was getting out of high school, just as it was cresting. By that time, I had been exposed to almost everything - classical music from my mom, rap music from my neighborhood friends, Top 40 R&B pop from the area radio stations, and rock music (of a decidedly classic variety) from high school. I distinctly remember a get-together at a friend's house, studying for a math exam, with _Ten_ playing in the background, and thinking that this sounded GREAT. It sounded like something that I'd make, if I could make music. It sounded strong, but not in an agressive, off-putting manner. It was expressive. It sounded like something I could call my own.

I remember buying a tape of _Ten_ and a tape of _Janet_ (Ms. Jackson, if you're nasty) on the same day, at this Record Town store in a local mall. Ah, to be naive enough that I could have such alien things co-exist in the same tape drawer and same aesthetic foundation. I was fine, drifting out of his school, switching up between the Chili Peppers and the Spin Doctors and Ralph Tresvant and Pearl Jam. Granted, Pearl Jam (and then Temple of the Dog) grew to monumental stature in my mind, but that didn't mean much. It was all music, with one scratching certain types of itches that another just couldn't reach. Isn't it great that this is a world that can have all these disparate expressions co-exist peacefully?

And then I went to college, where the lines were drawn with more fervor and spite. I'd be lying if the merciless mocking I took (insecure, unsure, meek and shy) lead me to stow away those natty R&B tapes - no more Mariah, no more Boyz II Men. It's funny that all these different people in my dorm - the power-pop / AC/DC freak, the glam-rock / G&R freak, my Rush / E-Z listening neighbor, the "alternative" guy on the other side of the floor - took me to task on a constant basis. It was good-natured teasing, sure, but I (insecure, unsure, meek and shy) took to it like silk takes to rain.

Of course, wanting to know more about this type of music lead me to the magazines, which lead to the usual reference points, which lead to even BETTER music, music that was so much more about me than this bombastic would-be-classic-rock. And, after enough reading, I realized that, yes, this new music - this "indie" music - was SUPPOSED to be better than what was in power. This IS the good music, and all the other music that isn't "indie" is just crap. And this is the beginning of a new renaissance! So this is the dogma I used as my shield and my guide through the rest of my abortive college years.

Of course, eventually this dogma lead to me renouncing the "grunge" that brought me to this "indie" epiphany, which is pretty funny, since it was the idealized DIY punk aesthetic (which became perverted, exclusionary, didactic, and stultifying) that fueled the fires of what became "grunge". Of course, now that I'm older, and a bit more secure in myself, and I look back on all this, and my half- hearted faith in "the movement" is a bit silly.

So - "did the brief commercial success of Nirvana, Lollapalooza, & Sassy achieve anything?" If anything, it brought two worlds crashing head-first into each other. It uprooted a lot of underground bands prematurely, it gave overground bands a chance to hop trends & feign credibility. The parlance of the punk world ("selling out", "cred") is now firmly ensconced in the popular music vocabulary; meanwhile, the underground has a better idea of how the "corporate world" works, and how unidealized the underground actually is. Ideally, major labels might realize the sense in letting a band DEVELOP, instead of trying to thrust them straight into the world of multi-platinum excess - instead, when the "alternative" / "punk" scene started to peter out & prove unlucrative, they just cut bait and scampered off looking for another trend.

I don't recall who mentioned the dotcom boom in conjunction with this thread, but that's a damn fine connection to make. The Big Guys that existed at the beginning are still there; the little guys that didn't lose their pants regrouped and soldier on; a lot of other people got caught in the wake of the crashing roller-coaster, and were decimated. Everyone that can't fall back on excess amounts of capital continues on their way a little more wary, a little less trusting, realizing that the goal isn't to topple the Big Guys, but to find their own niche and survive.

Sorry for rambling on like this. (It's a bit ponderous in the last few paragraphs, too, isn't it?)

David Raposa, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Damn it, and I forgot to tie up the ends re: my own development as a music fan. I'll keep it short.

While "grunge" did open up this grand new world to me, and all the creative fervor contained therein, it also introduced me to the damaging rhetoric that was attached to this creativity, which certainly kept my ass in the dark about lots of things. Eventually, though, I realized that it's silly to just dismiss things because of "cred" and "cool"ness, which I found myself inadvertently doing (and still do, when I'm not paying attention). That's more a personal failing than anything else, though.

So now I'm done babbling. Thanks (for all you that actually read your way down to this very last period & parenthesis).

David Raposa, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

I think the Vancouver band, Slow, started grunge. Their "Against the Glass" EP from 1985 sounds to me like it was a big influence on the grungesters, not far away in Seattle. Just a theory.

Mudhoney's first LP, too, was one of the first grungy things that seemed to be a bit of a sea change, if in a smaller way than Nirvana.

Like any empire, it rose, it fell, there was some good, and a lot of crap. I liked Nirvana, they had great pop tunes nicely twisted. Liked some Mudhoney. Not much else. The Black Sabbath influence on the more heavy metal side of grunge completely baffled me, since I didn't think much of Sabbath at the time. Still don't like metal. The worst thing about grunge was that it led to lots of bands doing that head- shaking thing with their long hair all in unison. Well, at least that part was funny.

pauls00, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

what 'started' grunge was nothing that made its debut in the early 1980s -- you had your blue cheer, you had your black sabbath, etc etc. what grunge did was fuse that sludgy early-'70s rock with the more gender-friendly attitudes of postpunk -- remember, it was *kathleen hanna* who's responsible for the 'smells like teen spirit' coinage -- it was a much more female-friendly rock attitude than it is now, both in terms of bands (do we not all remember the 'foxcore' term?) and attitudes towards fans (cf. kurt's 'incesticide' liner notes which took rapists to task & talked a lot about the raincoats).

i should also point out that if i'd never heard of sub pop records i wouldn't have been buying unrest albums in high school. well, no, maybe i would have, since 'imperial ffrr' got namechecked by spin in what was it, '91? the year that 'bandwagonesque' was its #1 album?

grunge albums that are classics: 'badmotorfinger' -- crazed, yet rooted in a pop sensibility; 'temple of the dog' -- epic, absolutely epic; 'apple' -- if andrew wood had lived, would fred durst be wearing more eyeliner now? it's worth a thought; 'sweet oblivion'; 'dirt'; that mudhoney reissue with 'touch me i'm sick.'

the era died with kurt, i'd agree with that; there were a million rocker-come-latelies in his place, and they all had no qualms about being big huge smiling-all-the-time rock stars. but 'my brother the cow' is still a pretty great record.

and hey, i had -- and still have -- tons of good times listening to my records from that era. a spin through the myriad versions of 'swallow my pride' alone (2 green river, 1 soundgarden, 1 fastbacks, and that version with eddie vedder & mark arm that's on some fan club single). it wasn't all posturing; it's not like pearl jam is effing creed, you know.

maura, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

... and of course, what a lot of this resulted in was watered-down lilith fairism, which devolved into every year being wrongly dubbed 'the year of the woman' and then of course the BACKLASH hit, one that has resulted in women being pretty much banned from the alternative rock realm, unless they're bettie page lookalikes serving as extras in the next mcG-directed bit of sun-drenched tripe.

maura, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

I just want to say that Mudhoney were on the "Bill Nye the Science Guy" tv program once & they covered his wonderful theme song. Bill Nye is from Seattle too, you know.

1 1 2 3 5, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Yeah, and weren't the "first generation" grunge bands actually *fun*?

Kerry Keane, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

david - that's one of the best short-essays on how early-mid 90s music worked... also Hype the movie frames the whole thing well i think, especially ending it with the muzac teen spirit.

Geoff, Friday, 3 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

My favorite Seattle band ever these days is the Squirrels. I think this explains much about me. ;-)

Ned Raggett, Friday, 3 August 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

two months pass...

, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

You don't say.

Sterling Clover, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

what do the first 14 kurtcobainrulzes think tho? or indeed rethink?

mark s, Tuesday, 16 October 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

this would be a good moment to plug my book, wouldn't it? how grunge didn't exist, how beat happening rule and how drunk i could get. fuck it. i hate my book now. buy the charles cross version of history instead. at least that will tie in with what you want to believe. (sarcasm, as italics don't work here.)

Jerry, Wednesday, 17 October 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Yes they do.

Tom, Wednesday, 17 October 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

No they don't.

Jerry, Wednesday, 17 October 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

seven years pass...

Twenty years ago this weekend, Nirvana released Love Buzz, the first single by the band who would ignite grunge from an interesting local scene to a global phenomenon.

And this is significant why? Because grunge wasn't just another musical or youth trend - it was the ultimate expression and fusion of most of the defining cultural, ideological and social threads of the modern western world. Feminism, liberalism, irony, apathy, cynicism/idealism (those opposite sides of one frustrated coin), anti-authoritarianism, wry post-modernism, and not least a love of dirty, abrasive music; grunge reconciled all these into a seminal whole.

For Generation X-ers, male grungers represented all that is good in men. They were the fabled "New Man" with the volume turned up to 10, gentle-natured but discordant and angry. The women were intelligent, non-conformist, cool. Each took the best aspects of their opposite gender and retained the best of their own. Grunge took back loud music from poodle-rock and gave it a heart, soul and brain. It married a love of noise with thoughtfulness and sensitivity, putting a trash soundtrack to lofty principles and uncommon erudition. It turned old paradigms on their head, like the one that said rock music was made by "real men" and feminism was for ball-busting harpies and emasculated weirdoes.

Grunge wasn't nihilist or moany - they really did want a better world for everyone. It was misrepresented as being self-absorbed, but actually addressed big themes, things outside the artists' private concerns - a rare thing in popular music.

These bands weren't restricted by the limits and ideologies of genres like punk, which insist that you write certain kinds of music and lyrics. They didn't recycle banal cliches but tackled weighty subjects - one could almost describe Soundgarden, for instance, as existential.

So Pearl Jam wrote about domestic abuse, illiteracy, the maltreatment of the mentally ill. Nirvana looked at alienation, rape, stultifying conformity. Alice in Chains dug deeply into the black hole of addiction. Soundgarden pondered the search for meaning in an indifferent universe. Courtney Love wrote ferocious lyrics about misogyny, eating disorders, sexual predators.

Aesthetically, they eschewed babes, booze and fast cars for cropped hair, college degrees and ever-present frowns. And they lived out their principles in concrete, courageous ways.

Most grunge bands were politically active. Lollapalooza combined music with information stalls on everything from organic food to voter registration. Pearl Jam fought a ruinous battle with Ticketmaster and refused to make promos; Nirvana constantly antagonised their new, macho audience.

It was a long way from Axl Rose thrusting his crotch in your face on MTV, and of course it couldn't last. Grunge was replaced by frat-boy rock, pimp-wannabe gangsta rappers and hyper-sexualised Britney/Barbie dolls. Plus ça change ...

For my generation, grunge was more than just music: it was subterfuge, knowledge, philosophy, empathy, wit, courage, love, desire and anger, and it saddens me that nothing has truly replaced it. Sure, there will always be musicians who are politically aware, socially concerned, risk-taking; not everyone is Fred Durst. But the days when gender constructs became virtually meaningless, when brains and coolness and sex appeal weren't incompatible, when mass popular culture transcended humble origins to become something profound, subversive and greater than itself … those days are gone. They're in the grave with Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley and Kristen Pfaff.

the pinefox, Friday, 31 October 2008 22:14 (nine years ago) Permalink

*rolls eyes*

Alex in SF, Friday, 31 October 2008 22:16 (nine years ago) Permalink

good lord

M@tt He1ges0n, Friday, 31 October 2008 22:19 (nine years ago) Permalink

what a boring and misleading and stupid narrative.

which is even worse because that type of stuff covers up what could be much more interesting story, of that weird time when the remnants of 80s metal, thrash, and nascent "alternative" rock all coexisted in sort of strange and cool ways...

i graduated in 1993, so i was of the age, but i remember just weird juxtapositions of taste in me and all my listening to jane's addiction's "nothing's shocking" while waiting to buy "use your illusion" at a midnight opening for musicland....or being excited that soundgarden was opening for metallica....and all those forgotten "intelligent" metal bands that sort of straddled the era like mind funk and warriorsoul and even queensryche....

M@tt He1ges0n, Friday, 31 October 2008 22:27 (nine years ago) Permalink

the beauty of grunge is in the palm of your hand.

❤ⓛⓞⓥⓔ❤ (CaptainLorax), Friday, 31 October 2008 22:41 (nine years ago) Permalink

Smashing Pumpkins (if you wanna count them as grunge) also took some cues from shoegaze on the other side.

MikoMcha, Monday, 8 July 2013 15:47 (five years ago) Permalink

Neil Halstead: “When Nirvana came along and grunge came over, it kind of kicked shoegaze out of the water. Oddly enough, a lot of the bands had similar roots to bands we were into.”

MikoMcha, Monday, 8 July 2013 15:49 (five years ago) Permalink

Smashing Pumpkins early on seemed to escape grunge labelling. They were "alternative," but not ever viewed as part of the grunge explosion.

Ⓓⓡ. (Johnny Fever), Monday, 8 July 2013 15:49 (five years ago) Permalink

catherine wheel's chrome might actually be my fave grunge album.

scott seward, Monday, 8 July 2013 15:51 (five years ago) Permalink

shoegaze and grunge were of the same ilk to me. They didn't sound too much the same, but both were good for being a 13-year-old practicing using a lighter all afternoon.

how's life, Monday, 8 July 2013 15:54 (five years ago) Permalink

re: SP. Yeah, sure. They weren't from Seattle, I was quite strict about those kinds of things as a teenager ;)

MikoMcha, Monday, 8 July 2013 15:55 (five years ago) Permalink

chrome had the soft/loud thing. sounded cool. actually that spacemen 3 album with when tomorrow hits on it might be my fave grunge album. just for that song.

scott seward, Monday, 8 July 2013 16:03 (five years ago) Permalink

Only "grunge" I really had much interest in was Hammerbox, but Carrie's vox and the guitarist's effects (way more than just a Big Muff) made them only tangentially related anyway imo.

New Authentic Everybootsy Collins (Dan Peterson), Monday, 8 July 2013 16:09 (five years ago) Permalink

never could get into hammerbox. or much of anything on c/z, tbh.

twerking for obvious reasons (contenderizer), Monday, 8 July 2013 16:16 (five years ago) Permalink

I used to run a challops racket involving claiming the best grunge band was actually Stone Temple Pilots, but now I just admit that it's Soundgarden.

i don't even have an internet (Hurting 2), Monday, 8 July 2013 16:16 (five years ago) Permalink

in seattle, punk-rooted dumbass grunge seemed to compete with a strain grown more obviously from metal, prog, funk and jazzy art rock (that intersection defining a HUGE amount of what was going on in town, musically). c/z skewed slightly toward the latter, and i camped with the former.

twerking for obvious reasons (contenderizer), Monday, 8 July 2013 16:20 (five years ago) Permalink

^^^ yeah, that'd be an interesting take sides: Sub Pop vc. C/Z. I'm not all that familiar with either catalog tbh.

New Authentic Everybootsy Collins (Dan Peterson), Monday, 8 July 2013 16:25 (five years ago) Permalink


New Authentic Everybootsy Collins (Dan Peterson), Monday, 8 July 2013 16:25 (five years ago) Permalink

problem is that c/z never generated a breakout mainstream act, where sub pop fielded nirvana, mudhoney and soundgarden (the latter an outlier on the label's roster in that they refused to play dumb, flashed sick chops & drew on influences outside sludgy punk & hard rock).

i guess 7 year bitch were c/z's biggest band (in terms of visibility, if not sales). maybe that first built to spill album?

twerking for obvious reasons (contenderizer), Monday, 8 July 2013 16:36 (five years ago) Permalink

Skin Yard was the best band on C/Z, don't really like much else though.

Most underrated Sub Pop band of the era was Rein Sanction, who kind of sounded like a jazzier Dinosaur Jr with maybe a dash less Crazy Horse in their blood and a bit more of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Broc's Cabin still sounds incredible to me.

hoops i did it mccann (NickB), Monday, 8 July 2013 16:43 (five years ago) Permalink

The Gits, you fools

Just noise and screaming and no musical value at all. (Colonel Poo), Monday, 8 July 2013 16:46 (five years ago) Permalink

Where is the love for Big Poo Generator?

hoops i did it mccann (NickB), Monday, 8 July 2013 16:48 (five years ago) Permalink

are the grifters grunge?

marcos, Monday, 8 July 2013 16:51 (five years ago) Permalink

i don't know if they always caught that label but they seem to represent the best aspects of grunge imo

marcos, Monday, 8 July 2013 16:52 (five years ago) Permalink

I think my most-played C/Z LP was by Slack, Portland wacky funk that hasn't aged well. Tone Dogs were on C/Z too (love Amy Denio!) but we're far removed from grunge there...

New Authentic Everybootsy Collins (Dan Peterson), Monday, 8 July 2013 16:55 (five years ago) Permalink

C/Z's very first release (Deep Six LP from 1986) was more grunge than anything Sub Pop ever produced:

Green River – "10,000 Things" – 3:37
Melvins – "Scared" – 2:19
Melvins – "Blessing the Operation" – 0:44
Malfunkshun – "With Yo' Heart (Not Yo' Hands)" – 3:54
Skin Yard – "Throb" – 5:29
Soundgarden – "Heretic" – 3:22
Soundgarden – "Tears to Forget" – 2:06
Malfunkshun – "Stars-N-You" – 1:46
Melvins – "Grinding Process" – 2:09
Melvins – "She Waits" – 0:40
Skin Yard – "The Birds" - 3:56
Soundgarden – "All Your Lies" – 3:53
Green River – "Your Own Best Friend" – 6:21
The U-Men – "They" – 3:32

Jersey Al (Albert R. Broccoli), Monday, 8 July 2013 17:01 (five years ago) Permalink

Sub Pop 200 tracklist is pretty grunge though:

"Sex God Missy" - Tad
"Is It Day I'm Seeing?" - The Fluid
"Spank Thru" - Nirvana
"Come Out Tonight" - Steven J. Bernstein
"The Rose" - Mudhoney
"Got No Chains" - The Walkabouts
"Dead Is Dead" - Terry Lee Hale
"Sub Pop Rock City" - Soundgarden
"Hangin' Tree" - Green River
"Swallow My Pride" - Fastbacks
"The Outback" - Blood Circus
"Zoo" - Swallow
"Underground" - Chemistry Set
"Gonna Find a Cave" - Girl Trouble
"Split" - The Nights And Days
"Big Cigar" - Cat Butt
"Pajama Party in a Haunted Hive" - Beat Happening
"Love or Confusion" - Screaming Trees (Jimi Hendrix cover)
"Untitled" - Steve Fisk
"You Lost It" - The Thrown Ups

Ralph Vogon Williams (NickB), Monday, 8 July 2013 17:05 (five years ago) Permalink

I used to run a challops racket involving claiming the best grunge band was actually Stone Temple Pilots, but now I just admit that it's Soundgarden.


Tad > Mudhoney pre-1990 > Soundgarden > Mudhoney post-1990 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Pearl Jam >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Nirvana

誤訳侮辱, Monday, 8 July 2013 17:09 (five years ago) Permalink

yeah, deep six was awesome, love most of those songs. heavy as hell and probably the single best document of grunge ground zero. way more ferociously single-minded in its attack than either of the early sub-pop comps. if you culled a bunch of the best SP tracks from 87-90, you could beat it, but that's hardly fair.

twerking for obvious reasons (contenderizer), Monday, 8 July 2013 17:19 (five years ago) Permalink

my list would probably go (not worrying about what phase of who):

melvins > mudhoney > nirvana > tad > soundgarden > screaming trees > the fluid >>>>>> some other stuff

twerking for obvious reasons (contenderizer), Monday, 8 July 2013 17:28 (five years ago) Permalink

I have never thought of the Melvins as a grunge band. But I never liked them until they assimilated Big Business.

誤訳侮辱, Monday, 8 July 2013 17:48 (five years ago) Permalink

they're not grunge canon, but the label fits them better than most who carry it. huge inspiration to (and contemporary of) the bands for whom the term was coined.

twerking for obvious reasons (contenderizer), Monday, 8 July 2013 17:56 (five years ago) Permalink

it is hard for me to accept the existence of those who would deny lysol & bullhead

twerking for obvious reasons (contenderizer), Monday, 8 July 2013 17:57 (five years ago) Permalink

I do kinda like Lysol, actually, but mostly for the cover songs.

誤訳侮辱, Monday, 8 July 2013 18:31 (five years ago) Permalink

i've tried with melvins i really have. well, in a youtube way anyway. i never hear anything i really like. they allude me. and they totally sound like grunge every time i hear them.

scott seward, Monday, 8 July 2013 19:59 (five years ago) Permalink

i think the only grungy thing i own is that Only Living Witness double CD that Decibel magazine made me buy cuz everyone at Decibel loves them. or Albert did anyway. pretty good. though they weren't technically grunge. too metallic. but they had kind of an alice in chains thing going on. i'd rather listen to Kyuss though. i really like Kyuss.

scott seward, Monday, 8 July 2013 20:02 (five years ago) Permalink

i mean this is totally grungy

scott seward, Monday, 8 July 2013 20:04 (five years ago) Permalink

Melvins are pretty good live. If they're playing, say, a block from your house (or your store), and it's free, you should totally check them out.

誤訳侮辱, Monday, 8 July 2013 20:05 (five years ago) Permalink

Seems like there's a little bit of grunginess creeping up in the last few years of the garage rock scene. Kurt Vile seems kind of grunge-y to me. Or at least Mascis-y. And I saw that Jeff The Brotherhood band open for somebody last summer and it felt like a real grunge flashback... and some of that late-period Jay Reatard stuff reminded me a lot of early Nirvana's poppier stuff.

But I don't listen to any of this stuff or grunge much so I may be making this up as I go along.

brio, Monday, 8 July 2013 23:47 (five years ago) Permalink

"Kurt Vile seems kind of grunge-y to me. Or at least Mascis-y."

i think "sleepy" is the word...

scott seward, Monday, 8 July 2013 23:56 (five years ago) Permalink

ty segall is pretty grungey too

wk, Monday, 8 July 2013 23:57 (five years ago) Permalink

someone mention sic alps and then all the people that make me sleepy will be accounted for.

scott seward, Monday, 8 July 2013 23:58 (five years ago) Permalink

ha i think i might actually have meant ty seagall, i get him and kurt vile mixed up

brio, Monday, 8 July 2013 23:59 (five years ago) Permalink

just don't call my new fave band grungy

are FIDLAR the best new rock band?

scott seward, Tuesday, 9 July 2013 00:01 (five years ago) Permalink

Heh I saw Sic Alps last Thursday and the support band was way Dinosaur Jr sounding. Can't remember what they were called tho.

Also Purling Hiss.

Just noise and screaming and no musical value at all. (Colonel Poo), Tuesday, 9 July 2013 07:54 (five years ago) Permalink

also milk music

ty segall's songwriting has always struck me as p strongly influenced by nirvana (or if not influenced, esque). just the tunes, i mean, even without the fuzz & roar.

and yeah, i thought about jeff the brotherhood in relation to this thread yesterday. they bring up a lot of associations (stoner rock, weezer pop), but the grunge is definitely in there somewhere.

twerking for obvious reasons (contenderizer), Tuesday, 9 July 2013 10:55 (five years ago) Permalink

ok i was thinking about kurt vile as beeing mascisy/sleepy, but agree about ty seagall

brio, Tuesday, 9 July 2013 15:43 (five years ago) Permalink

four years pass...

poor jawbox <3

mookieproof, Friday, 12 January 2018 16:35 (nine months ago) Permalink

i'm sure some people are nostalgic for it, but virtually all of the notable "grunge" bands still sound pretty bad to me.

tylerw, Friday, 12 January 2018 17:06 (nine months ago) Permalink

looking back, still the worst thing about it was the the perpetual flu season aesthetic of flannel shirts, overlong sleeves and lack of vitamin d. not a healthy scene.

tonga, Friday, 12 January 2018 17:20 (nine months ago) Permalink

"aesthetic of flannel shirts, overlong sleeves and lack of vitamin d"

Also known as Canada.

MarkoP, Friday, 12 January 2018 17:24 (nine months ago) Permalink

Great piece but (in reference to the opening anecdote) two sides to every story -- here's a blog entry from the drag queen mentioned but not identified in the shoot, which was a David LaChappelle one. And personally I'd love to have a photo shoot from him!

Ned Raggett, Friday, 12 January 2018 17:25 (nine months ago) Permalink

it's a great look

brimstead, Friday, 12 January 2018 17:26 (nine months ago) Permalink

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