Grunge: The Last Great Era

by: Kidman J. Williams

Friday April 8th, 1994.. I was just fifteen years old. I wasn’t old enough to drive, vote or drink legally; although in a brief and awkward carnal meeting that made Adam Sandler look like Don Juan, I did lose my virginity. Our faithful music reporter and generational ambassador Kurt Loder of MTV reported “Hi, I’m Kurt Loder with an MTV News special report on a very sad day.” He went on to tell us that Kurt Cobain (27) was found dead in his home from a suspected self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

A generation wept.

What really destroyed the Grunge Era? It isn’t what you would think. To understand this, we need to start from the true beginnings of this movement.

I figure with the 90’s coming back into fashion I better set the record straight as to what this decade really had to offer. Some of these offerings even resulted in death, but it certainly cemented their legacy. They spoke to our micro generation known as “The Lost Generation” when nobody else could. They understood us and the ones that lived through it still do!

In the year of our Lord 1992, if you believe in such things, I heard and saw the video that would change my life forever on what used to be known as Music Television. I saw a shabby looking man climb to the balcony, hang from the scaffolding by one arm while his worrisome band members watched in amazement. He stood there on the balcony for a moment staring at the crowd below. He twisted his drenched body as he dropped himself backside first into a sea of concert goers as I heard the muddled cries of “Eeeee-ven-flow-oh!”

From the Video for Even Flow

There was an instant connection in my underdeveloped brain to this sweaty looking long-hair who seemed to command the crowds like Saint Peter and the snakes. When you heard the first explosive crunch of the guitars and his voice in the beginning of the video you knew you were looking at what legends were made of.

The 1980’s were filled with vain showboating and decadent behavior. The 80’s were yuppies listening to New Wave and post disco sounds and rock music was about hair metal bands that spoke about drugs and partying more than a party filled with Cardi B wannabes.

The 1980’s saw children playing outside until the street lights came on, long bike rides into the back roads of your local town and tons of skater kids all looking up to Tony Hawk. There were no cell phones unless your parents were rich. We grew up listening to what our parents listened to. I grew up in a musician household. My grandparents were even (as the kids said back then) hip. My grandfather was playing songs by The Animals and old blues tunes. My grandma was an Elvis freak. I was raised on a heavy blend of 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s rock tunes along with the hillbilly rebels like Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr, and of course Willie Nelson.

I was lucky to live in a family that didn’t have any limits past “it better be talented.”

My real musical tastes started around the same time as most kids, I was around twelve years old when I started venturing a little bit. Like I said, my parents were very open to modern music unlike a lot of my friends’.

The Grunge era brought me into my teenage years which also brought in weed, underage drinking, and eventually, promiscuous sex (thank you to that sweet grungy skater girl).

My entrance into grunge may have come later than others as I found out from friends who introduced me to Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, and the virtuoso Alice In Chains.

For most of us kids born on the younger side of the movement, we went from innocent children who lived for backyard football and ice cream cones; we were catapulted into a life of self-awareness, social/political injustice, mental illness, and spoon men.

The Beginning of Grunge

There is a significant amount of debate about who really started grunge music. If you talk to many Millennials and Zennials they might just say Nirvana. The idea that Nirvana was the start of Grunge is what some refer to as a shortcut to thinking.

There is no debate that the decadent 80’s is what brought these dingy young men AND women into the forefront of the worldwide music scene with their thought-provoking lyrics and punk-like attitudes. Nobody could ever dispute that, but Grunge music in Seattle also didn’t start in the 90’s. The underground scene was building in the 80’s and their influences didn’t start in 70’s punk music like many historians like to say.

There are a multitude of morons who would love to tell you that the “Grandfather of Grunge” is none other than– Canadian born folk rocker Neil Young.

Yes, yes! The scraggly, unkept, flannel wearing hit maker Neil “Old Man” Young. Absolutely NOT!

The biological grand-dads of Grunge began in 1961, just a quick ride south on I-5 to Tacoma, Washington. This was the birth of The Sonics! Though the band really didn’t get their classic lineup set until 1964.

The members included, Rob Lind (saxophone, vocals, harmonica), Gerry Roslie (organ, piano, lead vocals), Andy Parypa (bass guitar), Larry Parypa (lead guitar, vocals), and Bob Bennett (drums). Their debut album Here Are The Sonics hit the scene in early 1965 and was produced at Audio Recording in Seattle, Washington. The album was famously recorded with a simple two-track tape recorder with only one microphone to pick up the sound of the drum kit. This was made well-known when Kurt Cobain himself said in an interview on CiTR-FM about The Sonics, “I, I have to admit… The Sonics recorded very, very cheaply on a two-track you know, and they just used one microphone over the drums, and they got the most amazing drum sound I’ve ever heard. Still to this day, it’s still my favorite drum sound. It sounds like he’s hitting harder than anyone I’ve ever known.”

The Sonics were incredibly unique to the 60’s garage rock scene and a lot of the music that was coming out from their contemporaries. They were heavier, louder, and had a bigger nastier growl. Their sound was so nasty (in the best possible way) that a lot of punk bands even cite The Sonics as influences along with the Screaming Trees and even The Hives.

Now, the beginning of actual Grunge is shrouded in debate and who stands to get the better PR out of it.

Many researchers including Sub Pop Records and even those money humpers at Rolling Stone attribute Green River as the beginning of the Grunge movement in Seattle.

They would be wrong. Thank you, try again, so sorry you lost, but I do have some parting gifts for you in the form of a thorned dildo.

Have you ever heard of a little-known band out of Seattle named Bam Bam with Tina Bell as the frontwoman? No? Not only was she a woman singing aggressive music in the early 80’s, but she was a beautiful black woman fronting this avant-garde group of rebels. They also hit the scene in 1983 unlike Green River who hit the scene in 1985.

They displayed a raw energy that any good punker would lace his/her combat boots to, but there was something extra. Tina brought this real poetic and heartfelt reasoning to the music. Songs like “Ground Zero” or “Going to a Party” both from 1984. They were not like the rest of the music that was out there for consumption and the rest of Seattle was taking a sharp notice because it wasn’t Punk and it certainly wasn’t what most thought of when they listened to the rock music coming out in the mid-1980’s.

The music was unpolished, aggressive, and most of all, ahead of its time. They were laying the groundwork for the future of music whether they knew it or not. One of those bands I’m speaking of was in fact Green River.

Tina Bell of Bam Bam

Green River, in my opinion probably gets the credit from most writers and historians for starting the movement because of their founders which included Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard of Mother Love Bone, Temple of the Dog, and of course Pearl Jam fame. Plus, they probably had the better public relations.

You need to remember that Soundgarden also came out on the heels of Green River. Soundgarden recorded 6 Songs for Bruce in April of 1985 and Green River released their first EP “Come on Down” in October of 1985. 6 Songs for Bruce was actually a 4-track demo giving Green River the true first release.

The fact is that if you look at all of the bands that you usually attribute to being “grunge” they all came out around the same time. Most of them came out swinging in the mid to late 80’s. I already covered, Bam Bam, Green River, and Soundgarden. You also had Screaming Trees (1985), Pixies (1986), Alice in Chains (1987), Mother Love Bone (1987), Mudhoney (1988), and Nirvana (1987). Just to name a few.

A Reckoning

The tides started to change direction as we hit the 90’s. Bands that celebrated strippers, tight leather pants, and big hair were becoming tiresome, and the ozone layer was depleting due to Poison and Aqua Net. We swapped out the party scene for social and political awareness. We ate from the Tree of Knowledge, and NOTHING was ever going to be the same.

Grunge in the 90’s took over the world. The bands didn’t wear designer outfits, they weren’t playing wildly difficult guitar solos, and if they were singing about girls, it was usually about abuse; they were the blue-collar activist/musicians. They were our prophets taking us into the next century.

As the decade was rolling on other bands were popping up outside of the Seattle music scene. There were bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, and so many more that held the same musical style and convictions that the originals deeply felt. A lot of them also favored the same drugs.

I could go over the great accolades of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Alice in Chains, etc., but these stories have been told repeatedly; to the point that they have become almost mundane and monotonous.

We know how great they were!

Earlier I compared them to Adam and Eve. I know you caught that. I brought it up because there were consequences to it. I know in today’s society consequences can be a foreign concept, but nevertheless, there were. We lost so many of these great warriors too soon.

As a 12 year old kid seeing these great bands it personally woke me up to a bleak look at life, liberty, and the future; they also made me question if there was going to be one.

Most of the musicians that died from that era, we just threw it up as, “they were junkies” and we just moved on. We talk about how great they were. We write about the wonderful music they left behind for us. We praise them for bringing awareness to the world through their music. What we don’t do is look at them with compassion. We don’t look at the real problem that many of them had. Kurt Cobain was NOT the only Grunge artist that died.

I know this is going to sound, God knows what this is going to sound like in this Woke society we live in, but this might be the FINAL LESSON that these great artists left for us.

They left this world depressed, addicted, and empty, yet we never acknowledge that addiction along with being a disease is also a coping mechanism.

Andrew Wood, the vocalist of Mother Love Bone was the first casualty. He died before their debut even hit. He left this world from an overdose on heroin in 1990. Then we lost Cobain in 1994 which is what ended the Grunge era itself.

Layne Staley from Alice in Chains couldn’t keep his drug habits from destroying himself. He died at 34 in 2002 at just 86 pounds on the same day that Cobain died.

Mike Starr of Alice in Chains died as well from a long-time struggle with addiction in 2012.

The late great Chris Cornell died in 2017 from a suicide. His family went on record stating that they believe Cornell was under the influence of prescription medications but suffered from depression for many years before.

Scott Weiland who left us in 2015 from a drug overdose was also suffering mentally. Weiland was dealing with a horrible child support battle and was very vocal about missing and not being able to see his children. Even after his death his ex wants more money as she is going after Weiland’s estate.

There was also Stefanie Sargent of 7 year bitch, Kristen Pfaff of Live, and Mia Zapata of the Gits. Wherever these great teachers have gone, they left us with a lifetime of epic music, a new perspective of the world, and they also left us with a warning to all who deal with mental illness and depression.