Do you people realize, there are individuals in the world whose personal high school narratives were accompanied by a post-grunge soundtrack of Third Eye Blind, Everclear and Smashmouth?
Do you people understand how heartbreakingly sad that is?!
I’m biased, I admit it. Despite my admitted and unabashed love for all things hip to the hop, I was fourteen when Nevermind dropped, spending my days playing Sega Genesis in an autoworker commuter town. I was primed and ready for a musical revolution. Did we get one or what?
I have a definite bipolar relationship to the decade of my adolescence, as longtime readers may know. But as the 20th Anniversary retrospectives for Nirvana’s major label début, Pearl Jam’s Ten, and the scene’s explosion as a whole swing into high gear, I find myself prone to fits of nostalgia as much as anyone.
I haven’t listened to Nirvana on purpose in easily ten years. But I still can’t undersell how important they were to my friends and I growing up. A month after that album came out, it seemed like everyone had joined a band, myself included. I had the added bonus of living in a town that had a vibrant live music venue within walking distance [since everything was in walking distance] that bands would travel to play at. Two bucks for a night of live original music? In a town of 10,000 tops? Unheard of!
It wasn’t even just the music, the fashion, or utter lack of, played a major role in my high school happiness as well. Suddenly, it was laughable to care about who made your jeans, or if you had the right logo on your t-shirt. The weirder, the cheaper your clothes, the better. I found a brown plaid shirt in my high school art room that someone had scrawled ‘ASS’ on and my friends thought it was the find of the century. The only brand that carried any weight, maybe, was Doc Martens, but having or not having them didn’t carry any factor of coolness.
The celebratory books have started trickling in at work, quick cash-ins looking to milk a few dollars, authorized compendiums from Pearl Jam. But the one I’ve been loving is Mark Yarm’s Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge. I’m a sucker for oral histories, the meandering way they tell the story of events by the people who were there. It might be a little too deep for casual fans, I’m a third through the book and chronologically the book’s still hanging around in the mid 1980’s, but hearing stories I already knew from the people who were there and hearing new ones [who knew Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan was such a figure in early Seattle punk?] has been comforting like throwing on a beloved hooded sweatshirt you’ve had for years that still fits.
To this day, it doesn’t make any sense to me that it could have happened. None of these bands really had anything in common other than the town they were based out of. Nirvana was punk, Pearl Jam classic rock, Alice in Chains metal and Soundgarden prog. Yet it still felt cohesive at the time.
It was doomed to fail, of course. The drugs notwithstanding, what drew so many of us to the music was the authenticity of it. Even the lies seemed to come from a real place. Sure a lot of it was miserable gibberish, but we were miserable together. For a brief window of time, the perennial miseries of adolescence weren’t expected to be shoved down inside yourself. Just head to the rock show and slam it out for a couple of hours.
I don’t think it’s a moment that could ever be repeated. Which is probably a good thing, but also a sign that it was real, and special. That moment when you realized the stuff you were into was the stuff everyone was into, when the zeitgeist lined up with you perfectly before the drugs and money and success brought it all down.
I must sound just as bad as the old farts who drone on about how amazing the 60s were. So be it. It was special, and it was ours. Everyone should grow up so lucky.