“The ’90’s as Affective Temporal Epicenter in Art (When Maybe, Adherents to Culture Were Actually The Catalyzing Ones?)”

I’ve just made the startling, unsettling discovery that… young people are exactly like us! Aahoohaahoohaahoohaah! (This is my obligatory Ace Ventura yell here.)
Actually, I guess this is less scary than if they were different, since it’s always the brain’s inclination to deem itself the most sovereign cultural arbiter, and apropos of this I did see a Pulp Fiction poster on this current college kid’s wall, and the musical P.E. #1 for him was “disco.” [1] But we should still all do our civic duty and PRETEND to be bent out of shape, because the componential aping being practiced by millennials in music and movie taste does ascertain what at least in the mid-’00’s was a thriving, bulbous concern: that “everything had been done.” [2]
The ’90’s? Geez, compare that to today’s music landscape, it may as well be Gregorian Chants under Louis XIV. Obviously, the internet didn’t exist, least of all in the form of file sharing, and when a band like Third Eye Blind sang about snorting meth, or Eminem quipped “We ain’t eager to be legal / So please leave me with the keys to your Jeep Eagle,” there was still an EDGE about it — it was the way ‘Nem coyly mixed humor with such garish, apocalyptic atrocity, juxtaposing the two unscrupulously and with dizzying prolixity.
There were STATEMENTS being made on wax — music was still in a state where it was shaping people’s lives. Outkast came around with the crazy “Anne Frank” verse in “So Fresh, So Clean,” while meanwhile Missy Elliott was slowing things down and reinventing “cool” with “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly).” The Beasties reemerged with Hello Nasty, one of the funniest, most challenging albums of all time, hip-hop or outside. So now, the youngsters look back to that, just like, to an extent, we ’80’s babies growing up listened to the Beatles and The Doors.
Now, ironically, I’ve discussed the late-’90’s here extensively, but not the early ’90’s, the latter of which being typically the espousing epoch of music groundswell (grunge and “old school hip-hop” as we know it). What did these “inventions,” so to speak, serve to accomplish regarding one’s fellow musicians? Well, I think they established creative comfort zones, if you will. Grunge was basically heavy metal rendered as serious, blues-influenced music, rather than coy girl-chasing and stupid hair. Then, founding boom-bap ran forth with one clear message: know these facts, about AIDS, about Black History and about Kung-Fu, but at the end of the day, stand your own as an individual anyway. Both of these MESSAGES made sense, and so both of these musical styles, as well, made sense.
But amidst what indeed became the bevy of stylistic outliers, from your Jamiroquai’s to your Eiffel 65’s, to your jam bands to your O.A.R.’s, another beast would raise its head and shine with more grandiosity than all: Alternative Rock.
Just the other night I was in a bar, and the bartender asked me “Are you good at picking music?” She gave me three bucks. After harboring brief delusions that I could graft an ostensible “rockabilly set,” my opener of Lucinda Williams’ “Drunken Angel” [3] quickly devolved into Hootie & The Blowfish’s “I Only Wanna Be with You” and Fastball’s “Fire Escape” and “Out of My Head.” I got so hooked that I ended up tossing some of my own money in, and this next time I favored the Black Crowes’ “Jealous Again” before The Strokes’ “Soma” and something else I can’t remember now.
Hip-hop would not have worked here, because it’s day-time, black music, it’s not white music of relaxation, and grunge would not have worked here, because it’s too depressing. Now, this certainly begs the question: is music that caters to FORTUNATE situations of the same value as music which caters to UNFORTUNATE situations? I’d hardly say so. Alice in Chains was forever my post-work, push-up doing soundtrack, and not exaggerating, I could not get through a single day at this one book warehouse without A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory and Inspectah Deck’s Uncontrolled Substance on my iPod, or some equivalent, maybe DOOM’s Born Like This or Black Milk’s Tronic. Still, along with grunge and boom bap, we see now how Alternative Rock [4] aptly completes the trifecta of the ’90’s, and ironically, it’s the acts which most ENCAPSULATE these stock conglomerate styles which continue to be relevant today, while “groovy” outliers like the Dave Matthews Band, the Disco Biscuits and maybe Jamiroquai seem to lose popularity at a disproportionate rate, for what was originally disguised as their “eclecticism.”
[1] For gen-x-ers, see the Chicago White Sox’ radio promotion “Disco Demolition” (turned into a near-fatal, game-squashing stampede), and Everclear’s “Disco Still Sucks” shirts of the late ’90’s.
[2] Since 2007 I’ve been known to produce the ugly point that music can’t GET very much more basic than it is now: vocalists no longer sing, they YELL at us in terms of rock or rap, and yet, our presidency is still essentially a clown show, we elect and extol imperial liars, and equate consumption with success.
[3] The jukebox failed me the “Still I Long for Your Kiss” option.
[4] A key additive to the genus of which would be the Counting Crows, although they indeed are a little more potent, and depressing, than the average.

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