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“On the Seemingly Hopeless Situation of Anachronistic ‘Grunge'”

For some reason, “grunge” just never took off as a style, and part of it certainly has to do with the smoldering vapors of indignation that emanated from the Seattle camp, and the west coast in general. They just refused to let it materialize, though in a way it’s maybe understandable.

People tried to call Nirvana “punk,” even though the songs that put them on the map, even by their own admission, were a Boston – “More than a Feeling” ripoff (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”) [1] and a Pixies (“Gigantic,” et. al.) -type soft/loud/soft verse/chorus scheme (“Come as You Are”) [2]. This is people in Seattle, or the west coast, I’m talking about, who forever reason didn’t want grunge “propagated” as a stalwart style of popular rock music a la something like ska, or swing, each of which boomed in the late ’90’s (or emo, or goth, which did a little later).
And that’s fine, you know, whatever. The record industry machine certainly did invade their territory to a grotesque extent, interviewing the band Seaweed who hadn’t played a show or recorded in a year [3], and to make matters worse they had bad taste — they signed The Posies (sorry Posies, but you kind of live up to your name in the whole rock-and-roll horsepower type realm) and ignored the catchy and infectious pop/punk of Flop. [4].
I’m not sure what bothers me more: the people who when you mention grunge give you this sort of “Oh! Egh!”, or the people who say the LIKE “grunge,” but then say nothing about it. Grunge is not Johnny Cochran, ironically enough. It’s a low-budget Mississippi attorney with frayed cuff links. It’s Mumia the Panther: to fail to behoove and represent it semantically in conversation is a crime against humanity, for any person who’s ever enjoyed the music of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden or Alice in Chains, to say nothing of the indispensable progenitors that came before: The Stooges, The U-Men, Mudhoney, the Melvins, etc.
If nothing else, there’s ONE phenomenon, at very least, that should be addressed anytime “grunge” is brought up in conversation, whether it’s in Colorado or Istanbul: the undeniable awesomeness of the major bands’ outputs following the suicide of Kurt Cobain. An especially acute case of this is Pearl Jam, who basically just sucked while Kurt Cobain was alive. After the Nirvana singer’s death, whether it’s coincidence or not, the band went to producer Brendan O’ Brien, and made four beautiful, tautologically listenable albums: Vitalogy, No Code, Yield and Binaural.
Obviously, by 1994, mainstream rock was going in a lot of different directions, with the emergence of Green Day, Weezer and the Counting Crows — radio thereupon got infused equally with an element of punk, androgyny and rockabilly. This only seemed to intensify these band’s drives. 
Mad Magazine rated Soundgarden’s Superunknown from 1994 as the best album of the ’90’s. While I sort of certainly think it’s stupid to rate it ahead of Nirvana, I will readily attest that it is one of the most anthemic rockers of the rock and roll era, actually Soundgarden’s shining moment, Soundgarden who began as a band in 1986, writing misanthropic, squalling and twisted blues. And it gets better. There’s a sense of URGENCY about it, as if the death of Kurt Cobain were a definitive gut check. Down on the Upside, too, is underrated, and would carry the torch nicely for the band’s unifying, festival type rocker shtick. The standards were set insanely high, and every band felt Cobain watching down on them, evident right down to Alice in Chains, who similarly put out an underrated album in the middle of the ’90’s, simply self-titled.
So this is how grunge has always stayed in Seattle: the Seattle bands simply made themselves better than everybody else. It’s written into universal law, it’s written into the DNA of the psilocybin mushrooms indigenous to those parts. Grunge is forever Seattle’s, the rest of us our second-class citizens, and we’ve just got to expect it. And from what I hear, there’s a long line on I-5 these days to become a FIRST class citizen.
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[1] In self-mockery, the band even “teases” “More than a Feeling” at one of their shows before going into “Spirit.”
[2] The “Welcome to Aberdeen” sign at Cobain’s original hometown now says “Come as You Are.”
[3] As of course is documented in the timeless masterpiece documentary Hype!
[4] Flop is also on Hype!, featured by only one song, but hey, one marketable song was more than enough to make you famous in early ’90’s Seattle!

 

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